In a
tumultuous election year climate where Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump is doubling down on “rigged election” claims and encouraging supporters to monitor polls when Americans vote Nov. 8 — the first presidential election in 50 years without the full protections of the Voting Rights Act — the Justice Department plans to deploy hundreds of federal election monitors in about half of U.S. states.

Wednesday, on the heels of U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch's
 announcement last week, a consortium of 87 national civil rights and
voting groups — The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human
 Rights, the NAACP, the AFL-CIO and others — called for more
oversight in a letter imploring election officials in all 50 states to
develop plans to deal with what they worry will be a circus-like
 atmosphere at some polls.
The Justice Department has been able to push back against a spate
 of laws passed by states after a 2013 U.S. Supreme Court ruling
 stripping the Voting Rights Act of provisions that required election
 officials in some states in the South to get pre-approval of their
election processes from the federal government, the groups said in
 a statement, but warned: “Voters have very little protection from
 local election changes, the misapplication and misunderstanding
of new voting restrictions by poll workers, or threats from
intimidation from polling place vigilantes.”
In her video statement last week, Lynch said that to ensure voters
can cast ballots free of intimidation and discrimination, monitors
would be watching for things like whether voters are treated
differently because of their race, whether polling stations are
accessible to the disabled, and whether bilingual material and
 assistance is provided in areas where they’re needed.
In the 2012 election, the Justice Department deployed more than
 780 monitors in 23 states. Since then, new voter identification laws
 have been approved in several states, including some the Justice
 Department has fought in court. The way for those laws was paved
 by the 2013 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Shelby v. Holder.
The ruling, Lynch said, “limited one of our most important tools to
 fight laws and policies that make it harder for many Americans,
especially low-income citizens and citizens of color, to cast their ballots.”

States Have a Role, Too: Activists

In the Wednesday letter to the election officials in the 50 states, the
 civil rights and voting groups said they were disturbed about the
potential for voter discrimination in the general election.
The Voting Rights Act changes and “the most racially bigoted
presidential campaign in generations [have] created the perfect
 storm for voter intimidation and voter discrimination,” Wade
 Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on
Civil and Human Rights, said in the statement.
“State election officials must address these unprecedented threats
head on by creating and publicizing clear plans to prevent intimidation
 and discrimination, and to make it unequivocally clear to the voters
they serve that the elections they oversee will be safe, fair, and free
 from intimidation, violence, and discrimination,” Henderson said.

Trump Doubles Down: Zombie Voters

With less than two weeks remaining before Americans cast ballots in
a historic election, Trump has stepped up his claims that the election
 has been “rigged” in favor of his Democratic opponent, former
 Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
His most recent claim is that dead voters will tip the election toward
 Clinton. “You have 1.8 million voters who are dead, who are registered
 to vote, and some of them absolutely vote,” Trump told Sean Hannity
of Fox News in an interview last week. “Now, tell me how they do that.”
He also claimed that 2.5 million people in the country are registered
in two states and are “voting twice.” Trump’s statistics come from a
2012 report by the Pew Center on the States, but there’s no evidence 
of large-scale fraud involving dead voters or voters whose registrations
 haven’t caught up with them after a move to another state, Politico

Get free real-time news alerts from the Farmington-Farmington Hills Patch.
As Politico explained it:
“For starters, he Pew report was written at the time to explain how

voter registration dates to the 19th century and is very much out of

step with modern technology and Americans’ mobile lifestyles. It

had nothing to do with the idea that people were actually voting in

two separate states in the same election, a scenario that the report’s

co-author said has resulted in just a ‘handful’ of prosecutions in

recent election cycles. Instead, the report was trying to highlight

a problem states face keeping tabs on their transitory residents as

they move from one place to another without also updating their

voter registration data.”
But Trump isn’t backing down. In the final presidential debate last
week, the New York businessman, real estate tycoon and reality
television star flashed his trademark impish grin when moderator
 Chris Wallace pressed him to answer whether he would accept the
results of the election.
“I will look at it,” Trump responded. “I’ll keep you in suspense.”
Conservative Fox News talk show host Bill O’Reilly turned on Trump
Tuesday night, saying “the vote cannot possibly be rigged two weeks
from tonight.” On “The O’Reilly Factor,” he said Trump “should accept
whatever happens at that vote unless there is some compelling evidence
of corruption.”
O’Reilly went on to say that “undermining our electoral system is not
 a patriotic thing,” but said Trump’s complaint that “so many journalists
are committed to the left” that news coverage has been “rigged” is valid.
Trump’s running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, has said that
volunteers are the “greatest vanguard for integrity in voting.” More
 recently, he has asked supporters to “respectfully” participate in the
election as poll watchers and other volunteers.

What the Law Says

Federal election law prohibits fraud and discrimination at the polls,
 including intimidating or bribing voters, buying and selling votes,
 impersonating voters, altering vote tallies, stuffing ballot boxes and
marking ballots for voters against their wishes or without their input.
The law also contains special protections for the rights of voters and
provides that they can vote free from acts that intimidate or harass
Harassment or intimidation, which might include videotaping,
questioning or challenging a voter’s right to cast a ballot under the
 guise of trying to uncover illegal voting, may violate federal voting
rights law, U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade of Michigan’s Eastern
 District said in a statement. Further, federal law protects the right
 of voters to mark their own ballot or to be assisted by a person of
 their choice.
“The franchise is the cornerstone of American democracy,” McQuade
 said. “We all must ensure that those who are entitled to the franchise
 exercise it if they choose, and that those who seek to corrupt it are
 brought to justice.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Dawn N. Ison will lead oversight for the
 Eastern District of Michigan and will report complaints of election
 fraud and voting rights abuses to Lynch’s office in Washington, D.C.

Feature image by NicoleKlauss via Flickr Commons; video via YouTube