Trump statements about election day raise concerns for clerks

Just what constitutes voter intimidation?


WEDNESDAY, Sept. 30 — What happens if Proud Boys show up on Nov. 3 to be President Trump’s special poll watchers?

“It is a little nerve wracking,” Lansing City Clerk Chris Swope said today about Trump’s remarks in last night’s so-called presidential debate with former Vice President Joseph Biden. Trump first called on supporters to “go into the polls and watch very carefully.” Later, he told members of the right-wing, neo-fascist Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by.”

Said Swope: “It seemed like a signal to his supporters so they should be ready to jump in. I don’t think there’s a role for that in elections.”

“Election workers are made up from both political parties—we don’t need anyone who perceives themselves to be a militia. I hope they would stay away.”

But if they don’t?

Observers are welcome within polling places, as long as they stay within the designated public viewing area and don’t talk to staff and voters, said Delta Township Clerk Mary Clark.

That could well mean even observers bearing arms in Michigan, with its liberal open-carry laws. 

Outside, they must remain 100 feet from the building, unless they are conducting exit polling, in which case they may talk to voters more than 20 feet from the building.

So what happens if skinheads in camouflage and toting semi-automatic weapons hang out in the parking lot?

“People have First Amendment and Second Amendment rights,” said Swope. “We don’t want to infringe on anyone’s right.

“But,” he added, “people also have a right to vote and we don’t anyone to infringe on that.”

So what constitutes infringing on the right to vote?

Swope quoted what the late Supreme Court Justice Potter Stuart said about recognizing pornography as he considered an obscenity case: “I know it when I see it.”

Voter intimidation “may be something you can’t judge until it’s actually occurring,” said Swope.

Swope, who is the president of the state clerks’ association, said it would help if Secretary of State Joclyn Benson, guided by the state attorney general, issued a statement on what constitutes crossing the line.

Clark said that after last night’s debate, she expects clerks will have a conversation with the state Board of Elections on what to do if the likes of the Proud Boys turn up at polling places.

“I think he opened a door that he didn’t have to open, but he chose to, so we will be extra vigilant,” she said. “We will be patrolling the parking areas and keep our eyes peeled for any potential violation.”

Clark said she will confer with the Eaton County sheriff to provide regular patrols, as happened in the primary election.

“I’m operating under the premise we have adults who will behave like adults,” she added.


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