Trump's New Tactic: Vote Monitoring or Suppression?
Trump’s already questioning the potential results of the Presidential election. That’s not exactly new, especially given that Trump doubled down on that rhetoric during the final debate. What is a bit new is that Trump-affiliated websites (Vote Protectors & Stop the Steal) have created a bit of a problem for the RNC. These websites are providing guidance for citizen advocates to watch over polling stations1. This sound fairly benign and even, arguably, patriotic. That is, right up until it’s compared to RNC supported actions in 1981 in New Jersey that virtually mirrored this methodology in a gubernatorial election2. What is perhaps most noteworthy here is that the tactics used in that election resulted in legal action requiring the RNC to limit its methodology and efforts with regards to poll station and voter monitoring.
While voter fraud cannot and should not be completely dismissed, the reality is that it is a true rarity. As we increasingly embrace the digital age, hacking may offer a new concern in that regard but to date the evidence for this is lacking. Voter intimidation, however, has a very real history with one such example cited above (New Jersey in 1981). Examples certainly abound, though, and carry a more disturbing trend as one reaches a bit farther back into American history. While these efforts may seem noble or inspired at a glance, the ultimate takeaway is that they carry dark undertones.
More than that, though – I’m curious as to how this speaks about Trump’s efforts to engage minority communities. Trump has spoken repeatedly about attempting to be a more open candidate and made efforts to woo minority communities. It seems counter-intuitive to now embrace these particular polling station tactics unless those efforts have been abandoned. Why? Well – the tactics are traditionally associated with voter suppression. If Trump believed he was winning over minority voters – why engage in suppression tactics in these particular areas of focus?
What’s likely most concerning for Republicans in the know is that the limitations placed on RNC action at polling stations and with regards to vote monitoring are due to expire in 20172. A legal challenge to the actions being advocated by Vote Protectors and Stop the Steal could easily extend that expiration out farther. In essence, we’re seeing an effort to support Trump that may badly hurt the Republican party in the grander scheme of things. The question that must be asked, then, is how this act doesn’t reek more of desperation and ignorance than of patriotism. This isn’t an attack on conservativism so much as an effort to understand the logic at play. Given that the course of action Trump’s advocates are pursuing seems likely to badly hurt the party in the long term – why push for it?
I suspect the real answer is a simple one: many campaigns ultimately prioritize the success of their candidate over the long term interests of the party. This is hardly new, and given much of the Republican establishment is distancing itself from Trump the closer we draw to election day – it may well be difficult to blame his campaign for flagging loyalty to the party. What I’d like to refocus in on in closing, though, is not the betrayal of party that could be read into here. Instead – consider the implications of embracing tactics that reek of voter suppression. The clear counter is that this perception could be seen as overshadowed by historical attempts in a similar vein, but historical context remains the sole standard to compare against. This is not the tactical methodology of one expecting to win, but one expecting to need to manipulate the system to claim a win.
1 - http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/vote-protectors-voter-intimidation_us_580e4e63e4b0a03911ee03bc
2 - http://www.msnbc.com/rachel-maddow/watch/trump-poll-watching-call-lands-rnc-in-court-794546243979