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“Be Prepared For An Escalation”: How Republicans Foster Election Day Fear With An “Army For Trump” Politics

On Wednesday, Donald Trump again urged his supporters to “Join us and be an election observer,” the president wrote in a tweet, “Fight for President Trump.” There was also a link to the page where volunteers can sign up for the “Army for Trump”.

“Election observers” and “fighting” seem incompatible at first glance. However, in Trump’s world, they fit together, yes, they even belong together. Because the “observers” he means are certainly not just observers.

Republicans use “election observers” to prevent citizens from voting

Opinion polls are a tradition in the United States and are rooted in national election rules. All parties involved in the election have the right to register observers with the local electoral authorities. What these can and cannot do is regulated. In Pennsylvania, for example, poll watchers must be from the district in which they vote. They can be present at the polling station if they suspect a violation, but do not intervene themselves, but must notify the chairman of the relevant polling station.

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However, Republicans in particular have repeatedly been accused of encouraging their election observers to deter voters. A high turnout is good for Democrats. Measures to prevent citizens from voting are therefore part of the Republican strategy. Trump even said this openly in an interview with the broadcaster “Fox” in March. He commented on a Covid-19 aid package from the Democrats, which would include money for organizing the ballot by mail, saying, “They had things in it, a level of voter turnout would, if you agreed to it. , never happen again in this country. Elected Republicans. “

In 1981 the Republicans went to extremes

In 1981, during an election in New Jersey, Republicans pushed it so far that a judge required the party’s National Organizing Committee to obtain pre-approval for election observation measures. At the time, they were said to have deliberately recruited former police officers to monitor street voters in predominantly African-American neighborhoods. However, this scheme expired in 2018. Observers suspect that the Republicans could make use of this in these elections.

According to its own information, the party has already recruited 50,000 “poll watchers”. Broadcaster ABC recently received a video recording of one of the training sessions for the observers. The attorney leading the hearing correctly explains in the video that the election observers should not hinder voters. But he also encourages them to ask questions, saying, “Be prepared for escalation.”

“Bad things are happening in Philadelphia,” Trump claims

The president himself does what he can to create a threatening backdrop. He likes to talk about the “poll watcher” – because that also pays off with his current topic, the supposedly expected election fraud. In the first TV game, Trump said, “I urge my supporters to go to polling stations and look very closely, because that’s what needs to be done.” Poll watchers were “thrown out” at polling stations in a Pennsylvania town. been. ‘And do you know why? Because bad things are happening in Philadelphia. It was the same duel in which he also called on the “Proud Boys”, an extreme right-wing group: “Wait a minute and be prepared. Why Philadelphia of all places?

“No more suppression of voters” – a volunteer checks her cell phone at a polling station at the Overbrook Elementary … Photo: Anna Sauerbrey

Preventing citizens from voting is especially valuable where it is scarce and even a few votes can have a big effect. The state of Pennsylvania and the city of Philadelphia are one such place. In 2016, Pennsylvania fell to a Republican: Donald Trump for the first time in six consecutive elections. He was able to overthrow three previously democratic districts, including in de-industrialized mining areas. Results in the liberal cities of Pittsburgh and Philadelphia couldn’t make up for it. Trump seems to want to repeat that. So it is important to him that there is less voting in the major cities of Pennsylvania.

Scaring off voters is especially worthwhile in countries with a shortage of funds

Since this time, the majority of votes will be cast by postal vote or area code, Trump’s campaign team has tried to influence area code and postal vote with “poll watchers”. By the end of October, more than 420,000 people had voted in Philadelphia, and the city normally has about 700,000 votes in presidential elections.

In October, 15 additional ballot distribution points were opened in Philadelphia, in addition to City Hall, where voters could fill in and submit their ballots. Trump’s election campaign team then sent volunteers to these places as so-called “poll watchers.” They were not allowed in – and Trump then referred to this incident in the TV duel. However, the “election observers” were not even registered according to the election regulations. The city also argued that the postal polling stations were not polling stations, but administrative divisions. The Republicans complained about it, but lost in both first and second instance. The fact that they were looking for the legal battle shows how hard the battle is.

Two men are said to have photographed voters and abused a helper

Since the court ruling, the upstream voting process, where citizens can personally take their election documents with them, has generally been peaceful. Volunteers from two primary offices, the one in the city center and one in a neighborhood mostly inhabited by blacks, report seeing no poll watchers and experiencing no disturbances – with a few exceptions.

Cory Mast and a colleague volunteer for the impartial non-governmental organization Working Families Party … Photo: Anna Sauerbrey

Cory Mast, a 30-year-old volunteer from California, shares a single experience. Mast works for the impartial NGO “Working Families Party”. At the time of the interview he was working at the town hall; a few days earlier, he helped voters at Overbrook Elementary School, an elementary school in a predominantly black neighborhood. There were two men with camping chairs, one wearing a Trump cap. The men took photos and claimed that some voters had sent in multiple letters with ballot papers. They even followed a volunteer to her car when she went home.

One woman keeps volunteers in suspense for hours

At the town hall itself, he and a colleague would have had a strange experience, which they couldn’t quite attribute. “An elderly Russian woman was here for a day, she hardly spoke English,” says Mast. She carried a ballot from Trump’s campaign team and claimed it was her ballots. It was here for hours and everyone loved their job. It all seemed very strange to me. At one point I wondered if she was just playing it or if she was really crazy, but I don’t know. “

Here, too, there have been no problems so far: voters wait in front of Philadelphia City Hall to request voting papers by mail Photo: Anna Sauerbrey

The Overbrook Elementary School incident appears to have been a one-off. Jahira Nixon, a young woman who went to school here herself and who regularly helps out, including for the Working Families Party, says she never noticed anything special. “The election is a great success around here,” she says, “we really have the best people here.” Also other volunteers who help at school have no experience with “election observers”.

An expert is convinced: “We are prepared for anything.”

David Thornburgh observes the election process for the civil rights organization “Committee of Seventy”. The chairman of the organization is in close contact with those responsible in the city administration. There are also no known incidents. He attributes the quietness of the election to the court’s rulings against the Trump campaign. And that the city’s Democratic mayor, Jim Kennedy, was very clear. The election officials are responsible for election security, “not the ‘Prouds Boys’ vigilantes who prevent people from going to polling stations,” Kennedy said in October. “When you get to Philadelphia on Election Day, the polls are safe.”

Thornburgh looks forward to election day with concerned serenity. “It’s a very, very special choice. We are prepared for anything, ”he says. He does not think it is particularly likely that there will be riots for the polling stations: “It will of course be an intense day for volunteers from both parties. You will attend and encourage people to vote for their candidate. There can also be verbal arguments. We take the choice very seriously here. “

Read more about the US election here

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But concerns about disruptions persist. Not least because, for example, the “Proud Boys” recently showed their presence in the city. In late September, they went in riot gear to Independence Hall – the site where both the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution were passed – and sang the national anthem there.

Trump’s campaign is working: the fear of election day is there

A city crisis team also met in September. Also present: representatives of the city council, the police and the fire brigade. According to information from participants’ Philadelphia Inquirer, those responsible played by responses in the event that there was unrest in the city, for example because Trump first leads Pennsylvania, then becomes a loser due to the “blue wave” of postal votes. And just in case there are disputes in and around election offices.

Perhaps it’s a small win for Trump’s “poll watcher” campaign that such scenario games take place at all. Because that’s what it’s all about: the fear of election day.

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