While the president’s claim, based on the current law, was wrong, his statement at the first presidential debate achieved what his campaign and the National Republican Party claimed to be illegal in the key battlefield state – which “observers” polls “are not allowed to observe the voting in the case of absentee and mail votes, because those locations do not constitute polling stations.
“I urge my supporters to go to the polls and watch very carefully because that is what has to happen. I urge them to do it. As you know, today there was a big problem. In Philadelphia, they went to look, they were – they are called. Poll watchers. A very safe and very nice thing. They were thrown out. They were not allowed to watch. You know why? Because bad things happen in Philadelphia. Bad things, “Trump said during the last minutes of the debate, hours after tweeting a similar statement, the alleged “corruption” was the reason.
But city officials said no laws were violated.
“We are working on a plan now to make sure the polls are safe and secure,” Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney, a Democrat, told ABC News Wednesday, noting that plans are “definitely more intense” for this election. “The president of the United States asked supporters to go to the polling stations. I mean, this has never happened before.”
Kenney said that while certified observers in the poll on election day are legal, “just going to a polling station and wandering around and calling people’s names – it’s against the law.”
“Any extracurricular attempt to stop people from voting is illegal and will be treated this way,” he said.
Nevada Attorney General Aaron Ford responded to the president’s statement on Twitter, saying he “wasn’t talking about watching polls” when he urged his supporters to “watch very carefully” at polling stations.
“He was talking about voter intimidation,” Ford tweeted. “Voter intimidation is illegal in Nevada. Believe me when I say it: do it and you will be prosecuted.”
Tuesday marked the first day of in-person early voting in Philadelphia, the state’s largest city and also the state’s largest democratic stronghold. Following a claim that a Trump campaign staff member Mike Roman tweeted a few hours earlier, the president elevated the false claim to his tens of millions of Twitter followers.
But his tweet and subsequent statement during the debate were wrong on two fronts: poll observer certifications for early voting were not issued to anyone, including the Trump campaign; this in-person early vote is only in satellite polling offices, which are not polling stations, according to Nick Custodio, Deputy Chairman of the City of Philadelphia Commissioners, Lisa Deeley.
In these satellite locations, Philadelphia can register to vote, request ballots by mail, fill them out on the spot, and send them to employees, all in one visit.
Unless voters are there to use the services on site, they are not allowed, Custodio said.
“We don’t give anyone a poll observer certificate to … watch someone complete their ballot at the kitchen table,” Al Schmidt, a Republican and one of the city commissioners running the elections, told the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Officials are also limiting the number of people in polling offices due to the pandemic.
“This is particularly important in the current environment, as the city’s buildings and offices remain closed to the public due to COVID-19,” he said in the statement.
In a call with ABC News, Custodio pointed out that this is “not a biased thing.”
“The same rules apply to everyone, as well as to the general public,” he said. “Only those who are present to use the services of the office can enter the area”.
In July, the Trump campaign and the RNC sued Pennsylvania’s top electoral official, Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar, and all 67 counties in the state for this issue.
Under state electoral law, candidates can nominate two poll observers, and political parties are allowed to nominate three, per district, who are allowed within polling stations to observe the vote, but also contest the qualification of voters. Survey observers must be registered to vote in the county where the district they are observing is located.
In the complaint, the Trump campaign and the RNC not only claim that the survey observer’s residency requirement is unconstitutional, but also that they do not classify mail order and absentee voting sites as voting sites and that this ” poses a serious threat to the credibility, integrity and trust of the public in the Pennsylvania election. “
The Trump campaign lawsuit, which also disputed other state election practices, was halted by a federal judge until October 5, to give the state justice system time to intervene, and in early September, in a lawsuit filed. from the Pennsylvania Democratic Party, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court did, ruling that the election observer residency requirement was constitutional, citing the fact that elections are run by the county.
That ruling, however, did not address the question of whether these non-voting polling stations should be considered polling stations and allow election observers.
Over the past four decades, the RNC had been limited in its ability to engage in what it calls “election security” operations, but what critics, such as the Democratic Party, have termed voter suppression. A consent decree signed by the party in 1982 expired in 2018 and the party no longer needs to get court approval for these operations.
“The lack of this control, therefore, means that no one is trying in advance to ensure that these operations are not targeting voters in a discriminatory way or are not set up in a way that creates a real danger of voter intimidation,” Wendy Weiser, vice president of non-partisan think tank The Brennan Center, he told ABC News Wednesday. “There is a fear that without this control there is no effective mechanism to prevent it in advance.”
Weiser, and others at the Brennan Center, are attorneys for the parties involved in the Pennsylvania case of the Trump campaign. The reason for getting involved, Weiser said, was primarily because of the campaign challenging the use of safe ballot boxes, and concern over the “sweeping legal claims” that the campaign and the RNC are making, as well as mere observers of the polls, “it would be detrimental to voting rights and electoral administration written in large” if accepted by the courts.
Ronna McDaniel, president of the RNC, wrote in an August editorial in the Washington Post that with the expiration of the consent decree, Republicans and Democrats are on equal footing again.
“The Democrats are fielding an ‘army of poll watchers’ this November, and for the first time in decades, the Republican Party can do it too,” he wrote. “Although Democrats say they want to keep the RNC under this consensus decree forever because Republicans will intimidate voters in polling stations, it is clear they want to keep that court-imposed advantage over Republicans.”
McDaniel said that contrary to what Democratic critics have said, “Our access is about more people voting, not less. This is the opposite of Democrats’ claims of ‘voter suppression’.”
But Weiser said poll observers’ concern is when they go beyond observation, and actually “interfere … or interrupt” the voting process, and the NCR has a history of that.
“The fear is that this is what some are trying to mobilize in places like Pennsylvania,” Weiser said.
However, Weiser said voters should panic about it.
“There are a number of procedures in most jurisdictions regarding what poll workers and election officials will do to manage, reduce escalation and stop these kinds of disruptions when they occur,” he said. “There is still a number of authorities whose job is to ensure that every eligible voter can vote and to ensure that voting and voting is accessible.”
ABC News’ Kendall Karson and Elizabeth Thomas contributed to the reports.