Trump election monitors resemble authoritarian vote rigging tactics
Previously called the “perfect African president” by Daily Show host Trevor Noah, Donald Trump is living up to the caricature with his drive to sign-up election monitoring volunteers. The Republican nominee for U.S. president went beyond calling the November election rigged and is actively recruiting people to act as “election observers.”
Trump’s website urges supporters to sign up in order to “Help Me Stop Crooked Hillary From Rigging This Election!”
By rousing suspicion among his supporters, Trump is also garnering concerns from his opponents. Last weekend, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights wrote a letter to the Poland-based Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to provide additional election monitors. The group charges that efforts to suppress voting through identification laws and the rhetoric by Trump may create more problems.
“The unprecedented weakening of the Voting Rights Act has led to a tidal wave of voter discrimination efforts nationwide and has required the United States to drastically scale back its own election monitoring program,” wrote Wade Henderson and Nancy Zirkin, leaders of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.
“In addition, a leading presidential candidate who has made the demonization of racial, ethnic, and religious minorities a hallmark of his campaign has recently urged supporters to challenge voters at polling sites nationwide.”
Ironically, it is the actions by Trump to prevent fraud may actually suppress voting. Such tactics have been used in the past in the U.S. and are still utilized elsewhere around the world. In the 19th century, poll monitors used varying tactics from intimidation to physical abuse to ensure people voted the “right” way. A series of reforms towards the end of the century helped rid the practice in the North and the the Voting Rights Act in the 1960’s mostly fixed the problem in the South, explained Jon Grinspan of the Smithsonian Museum, in a recent New York Times OpEd.
The orderly and well-organized voting process seen across the United States during each major election is a testament to the success of the reforms. It stands in sharp contrast with countries like Uganda, where President Yoweri Museveni won an election earlier this year to extend his three decades in power. Opposition candidate Kizza Besigye, who was jailed on numerous occasions before and after the election, accused Museveni of rigging the election.
People in some parts of the country waited for hours in line due vote due to a lack of capacity, opening late or missing ballots. It so happened that the places where ballots were hard to come by were also where support for Besigye was the strongest. In addition, there were reports of ballots already being marked for Museveni before people even voted and inaccurate counting of ballots.
“While the vote occurred without major unrest, we must acknowledge numerous reports of irregularities and official conduct that are deeply inconsistent with international standards and expectations for any democratic process,” said U.S. department of State spokesperson Mark Toner, in a statement following the elections. “Delays in the delivery of voting materials, reports of pre-checked ballots and vote buying, ongoing blockage of social media sites, and excessive use of force by the police, collectively undermine the integrity of the electoral process. The Ugandan people deserved better.”
The experience in Uganda is not unique. An analysis of the 2013 presidential election in Venezuela found that smaller polling areas had unusually high number of votes for the ruling party. Researchers from Cornell University suspect that smaller regions are used because they are less likely to be visited by election observers and there are fewer witnesses to improper activities. Needing a plurality vote, padding the numbers in a bunch of small towns can go a long way to securing an easy victory.
Current laws in the U.S. make it difficult for there to be voter fraud. While the idea that dead people are still casting votes in elections persists, it is more myth than fact. Researchers evaluating voting irregularities in the U.S. find that cases of fraud are few and far between.
Trump and Clinton will almost certainly get a fair election when Americans cast their ballots in early November — that is unless Trump-assigned election monitors interfere with the process.