On his official campaign website, Donald Trump is asking for volunteer “election observers” to help him “stop Crooked Hillary from rigging this election” — escalating his frequent emphasis on voter fraud to a direct appeal to his supporters and potentially violating rules against voter intimidation.
The page, which started attracting attention from reporters late Friday, asks Trump supporters to fill out their personal information to “receive more information about becoming a volunteer Trump Election Observer.” Once they sign up, they’re directed to a campaign donation page.
The form also urges applicants to ensure their contact information matches what appears on their voter registration forms.
The page is the GOP presidential nominee’s most brazen attempt yet to communicate to his supporters that the U.S. political system can’t be trusted.
Trump frequently raises the specter of election fraud. He claims the Democratic National Committee rigged the primary in favor of Hillary Clinton — even though Clinton won the popular vote — and tells his supporters that her campaign will only win battleground states this fall if “they cheat.” At a campaign rally in Pennsylvania on Friday, Trump told the crowd to “go down to certain areas” and “make sure other people don’t come in and vote five times.”
Trump’s rhetoric plays into a popular myth championed by Republican politicians. In fact, voter fraud is virtually non-existent and GOP-backed laws requiring voters to show photo IDs at the polls just make it more difficult for younger, low-income, and minority voters to participate in elections.
— Brendan Nyhan (@BrendanNyhan) August 13, 2016
But the Trump campaign’s aggressive insistence that Clinton may steal the election doesn’t only run counter to reality. It could also violate longstanding rules preventing the RNC from engaging in voter intimidation.
Under a “consent decree” between the two parties that dates back to 1982, the Republican National Committee is barred from engaging in additional “ballot security efforts” outside of court review. Essentially, after voter intimidation in minority areas during the 1970s and early 1980s, the RNC agreed that it would not challenge voters’ eligibility at the polls — a practice known as “voter caging” — without getting permission first. Though the RNC has appealed to vacate the decree, the Supreme Court decided to leave it in place as recently as 2013.
According to the Election Law Blog, Trump’s “election observer” stunt could violate this consent decree depending on whether you can plausibly argue that Trump is acting as an agent of the RNC.
If Trump is encouraging his supporters to deter qualified Democratic voters from voting in a way that disproportionately affects non-white people — by spreading misleading information about whether they need an ID to vote, for example — the DNC could argue he’s overstepping and ask for the consent decree to be extended for another eight years.