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Republicans Recruiting Ex-Soldiers & Cops to Patrol 2020 Voting

Why not make sure existing election laws are enforced and leave the goon squad out of it?

We know that Coronavirus has infected not only our bodies but in some cases, our minds. Paranoia has hatched a nest of conspiracy theories large and small, with many subtly creeping into mass media on both sides of the aisle, Left and Right.

Well if you think 2016 unleashed a herd of scapegoats—the Russians helped Trump win, or alternately, Trump might have won the popular vote if millions hadn’t voted illegally—just wait until the virus fully overtakes the November election. In some ways, it is already happening. 

The latest: rightwing GOP activists are calling for military veterans—preferably Navy SEALS—and retired police officers to be stationed outside polling stations in districts with perceived high irregularities (read: urban, minitory neighborhoods) to “secure the ballot” and to ensure there will be no funny business, like people voting without the proper ID or voting twice. They believe they can get away with this form of voter intimidation because a judge lifted a 38-year-old ban on this practice in 2018.

“Continue to Serve,” is a new project by True the Vote, which “provides training, technology, and support to fellow citizens so that they can ensure election integrity in their own communities.” This new initiative, according to True the Vote founder Catherine Engelbrecht, will train veterans and “first responders” to act in “teams” to monitor sites on Election Day. She spoke of this at the recent Council For National Policy meeting, an annual confab of influential Evangelical conservative Republicans. Lee Fang and Nick Surgey of The Intercept reported from the notoriously secretive affair and were able to record her remarks.

 “You want to talk about people who understand and respect law and order, and chain of command you get SEALS in those polls,” she said to a knowing chuckle in the crowd, “and they’re gonna say ‘no, no, this is what it says, and this is how we’re gonna play this show.’ We need people who are unafraid to call it as they see it, all the way down the line. And the line is long.”

That’s exactly what we need: jacked up, cock-in-the-hoop former lawmen and soldiers, “patrolling” polling sites like Checkpoint Charlies. If the firearms aren’t restricted in certain communities, will these patriots be packing? Notice they are not recruiting nurses, ministers or school teachers, but professions we typically associate with control and armed authority. Any of this should be repulsive (and intimidating) to most American voters, not just those turning out in heavy minority and immigrant neighborhoods. 

The original consent decree which banned these kinds of GOP “security teams” came in 1982 when a judge declared the Republican National Committee went too far. From The Intercept:

(The) decree came as a result of the Ballot Security Task Force, a plan used by the RNC to sway the 1981 New Jersey gubernatorial election, which Republican Tom Kean clinched by a mere 1,797 votes.

That year, RNC officials sent nonforwardable letters to voters in heavily African American neighborhoods. The party then recruited off-duty police officers, many of whom reportedly carried holstered guns, to patrol nonwhite precincts with lists of people whose names appeared on the 45,000 bounced letters, claiming that the list was enough evidence to show they were illegally voting.

The Ballot Security Task Force placed posters nearing polling stations that read: “Warning: This Area Is Being Patrolled by the National Ballot Security Task Force: It Is a Crime to Falsify a Ballot or to Violate Election Laws,” along with an offer for a $1,000 reward for any “information leading to arrest and conviction of persons violating New Jersey election law.” There was no effort to make clear that the deployed officers were working for the GOP or any disclosure that RNC had paid for the posters.

Now that the decree has been lifted, Republican groups like True the Vote are in high gear with plans to renew these “secure the vote” task forces. They have also taken early aim at mail-in voting, which they say, absent real evidence, that the practice is open to tremendous fraud in favor of Democrats. Now that coronavirus has raised the possibility of an all-mail-in 2020 election, those theories are rampant, with even President Trump taking “a hard stand” against it.   

Five states already have almost entirely mail-in elections, while two-thirds of states offer it as an alternative without having to provide an excuse for not voting in person.

Republicans have long complained of voter fraud, and as history provides, there have been plenty of cases over time of dead men and pets voting, duplicate votes, people bussed in from other districts to vote illegally, vagrants paid to vote, and more. Widespread fraud that has shifted the entire balance of a national election, however, is more of a white whale because it’s so far unproven (though perhaps JFK’s election in 1960 comes close). 

The Heritage Foundation in 2017 reported on a Government Accountability Institute report that there might have been upwards of 45,000 duplicate votes in 2016. But the outfit only had access to 21 states’ data, which unearthed 8,471 “highly likely duplicate” votes. The group extrapolated this number to all 50 states to get the higher total. They also charged that there were 15,000 illegal addresses—voters registered to UPS boxes, public buildings, gas stations, and the like—among those 21 states. They claimed, too, that they found 45,880 votes cast by individuals whose dates of birth were more than 115 years before the election.

Republicans believe this kind of fraud always helps Democrats. Heritage has an online tracker to show how pervasive this is. But it is also ill-used and exaggerated. Trump tried to claim there were “millions” of illegal votes in 2016, but after True the Vote set out to prove it they eventually abandoned the audit, saying they lacked the resources to do it. It made them look stupid.

Meanwhile, we have spent four years mired in Democrats’ own attempts to delegitimize Trump’s election: the so-called Russian collusion investigation slogged through an independent counsel, and an impeachment, to no avail. All it did was split us further down the middle.

Now coronavirus provides new opportunities—to justify voter intimidation, to doubt the legality of voters, to blame each other for results we do not like. I for one do not like the idea of Republican appointed soldiers and cops playing neighborhood watch with my Constitutionally protected right to vote. We have election laws already, let’s just make sure they are enforced and leave the goon squad out of it.

Kelley Beaucar Vlahos is Executive Editor of TAC.


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