Trump says he wants police at polling sites. Experts say thats unlawful.
The president was responding to a question from Sean Hannity.
August 21, 2020, 11:07 PM
5 min read
A day after Donald Trump told Sean Hannity he wanted law enforcement officers at polling places, a chorus of experts including multiple secretaries of state told ABC News the president can’t ask them to go there.
“Are you going to have poll watchers?” the Fox News host asked Trump on Thursday. “Are you going to have an ability to monitor, to avoid fraud and crosscheck whether or not these are registered voters?”
“We’re going to have everything,” Trump responded. “We’re going to have sheriffs, and we’re going to have law enforcement, and we’re going to have, hopefully, U.S. attorneys, and we’re going to have everybody, and attorney generals. But it’s very hard.”
Dale Ho, director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project, told ABC News the president can’t give orders to local sheriffs and can’t send federal forces into polling places.
“There’s no law that I’m aware of that permits, or that would authorize, the president to deploy federal law enforcement or military or anything like that for domestic use in and around in or around polling places,” Ho told ABC News. “Just checking someone’s ID at the door doesn’t really do anything from an election security perspective — from a voter intimidation perspective, I can see how having law enforcement ask people for IDs when you’re entering into a polling location could be intimidating.”
The law enforcement officers dispatched on Election Day to help maintain order typically aren’t checking IDs.
“While I can’t speak for every individual sheriff, I am not aware of any plans to operate outside of normal duties on Election Day,” David A. Mahoney, sheriff of Transylvania, North Carolina, told ABC News in an email. “I have not had any contact with the Department of Justice regarding polling places. I have no plans to conduct ID checks, and voters in Transylvania County should not expect anything out of the ordinary on Election Day.”
Under the Voting Rights Act, DOJ can deploy poll watchers to specified locations “to help assess compliance with the federal voting rights laws,” according to the department’s website.
The DOJ didn’t respond to a request for comment from ABC News.
Wendy Weiser, director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University’s School of Law, said Trump’s comments to Hannity were an “outrage.”
“The outrage isn’t that he can’t accomplish it, the outrage is that the president is actually trying to scare voters into thinking that there’s going to be an illegal presence of law enforcement at the polls, illegally checking IDs,” said Weiser, adding that Trump “has no authority over a state election administration official, and that many jurisdictions don’t even allow law enforcement in polling places.”
Nellie Gorbea, the Rhode Island’s secretary of state, similarly blasted Trump.
“The president needs to stop spreading misinformation,” Gorbea, the state’s top election official, said. “These are just tactics to suppress the vote.”
Steve Simon, Minnesota’s secretary of state, said police can’t be ordered to polling places.
“It’s not lawful,” Simon said. “Now, naturally, if there’s an incident in a polling place — if someone you know crumbles to the floor or there’s a robbery or something that merits calling law enforcement — of course you can always call police, but you can’t preemptively station or assign people to a polling place. You just can’t do it. It’s unlawful.”