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Trump pledges to have law enforcement at US polling locations

As Democrats spent the week emphasizing voting rights, Trump boasted to conservative media about voter-intimidation tactics.
Image: A voter fills out a ballot at a Harlem community center in New York on Nov. 8, 2016.
A voter fills out a ballot at a Harlem community center in New York on Nov. 8, 2016.Andrew Kelly / Reuters file

During Donald Trump's latest Fox News appearance, Sean Hannity asked the president to send "poll watchers" to the sites "to know that it's a real vote from a real American." The answer wasn't what voting-rights advocates wanted to hear.

President Donald Trump on Thursday night pledged to have law enforcement monitor polling places during the elections on November 3, dialing up his bogus claims of election fraud to another extreme.... "We're gonna have everything," the President replied. "We're gonna have sheriffs and we're gonna have law enforcement and we're going to have hopefully U.S. attorneys, and we're going to have everybody. And attorney generals [sic]."

Trump didn't say what, exactly, he intended to have sheriffs, federal prosecutors, and state attorneys general do at polling locations, but he apparently thinks this show of law-enforcement force would do ... something.

At the outset, it's worth emphasizing that there's no reason to accept the president's rhetoric at face value. In context, this seemed less like an official announcement and more like a politician trying to say something he thought would sound good in the moment.

Or put another way, Hannity asked if Trump intended to dispatch officials on Election Day, and the Republican realized that it wouldn't sound great to viewers at home if he replied, "No, of course I'm not doing that." Instead, he said, "We're gonna have everything," but that doesn't necessarily mean his vow has any meaningful connection to reality.

That said, Republicans have made no secret of their plans to launch an aggressive poll-watching operation, and it will be worth watching to see just how far Trump intends to go to bolster the partisan voter-intimidation scheme.

The fact that the president pushed such a line at all did, however, also help draw a sharper contrast between the parties. Around the same time Trump was telling a conservative-media ally about his preferred voter-suppression tactics, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms (D) was honoring John Lewis and his legacy at the Democratic National Convention.

"There are those who are disgracefully using this pandemic to spread misinformation and interfere with voting," she said, "forcing many in 2020 to still risk their lives to exercise their sacred right to vote, a right that has already been paid for with the blood, sweat, tears, and lives of so many. So let's stand up for our children, our children's children, and for this great democracy that our ancestors worked to build, and let's vote."

Postscript: As part of the same Fox interview, Trump said, in reference to the 2020 presidential race, "It's a fraudulent election. Everybody knows it."

Asked repeatedly last week what he's doing to make sure the United States has "a free and fair election," the president had no answer. Instead, he appears determined to undermine public confidence in his own country's electoral system.