The Trump Administration’s Voter Suppression Efforts Call for Secret Service Presence in Polling Places

As news breaks that the Russian meddling investigation will come to a halt, Trump wastes no time in resuming his voter suppression policy efforts. If a provision in a pending Homeland Security Reauthorization bill is kept in the final legislation, Trump will have expanded executive power over Federal elections. The provision, Section 4012 of HR 2825, would allow the Secret Service unlimited access to polling places nationwide at the President’s request – just in time for a federal election in which the president of the United States may also be a candidate.

On March 9, a bi-partisan group of nearly twenty secretaries of state strongly denounced this provision, calling it “an alarming proposal which raises the possibility that armed federal agents will be patrolling neighborhood precincts and vote centers.” The letter, addressed to Senate leadership, reminds lawmakers why we don’t allow law enforcement in polling places and urges them to remove the provision.

Law enforcement at poll sites can be inherently intimidating to voters, particularly in communities of color where such presence has historical ties to efforts to impede voter access to the polls. U.S. electoral history is replete with examples of law enforcement being used as a tactic to deter voters of color from participating in elections.

Trump has long been vocal about his distrust of the political process. This is not the first time he has called for voter intimidation at the polls.

In 2016, during a Detroit rally, Trump urged the crowd to go to other people’s polls on Election Day: “You’ve been reading the same stories as I’ve been reading, so go to your place and vote, and then go pick some other place, and go sit there with your friends and make sure it’s on the up and up,” Trump said. He continued, “So go and watch these polling places. Make sure it’s on the up and up. Please.

Prior to the 2016 election, we uplifted the story of a man who professed his commitment to being an election observer on behalf of Trump’s voter suppression rhetoric. “Trump said to watch your precincts. I’m going to go, for sure,” said Steve Web, a 61-year-old carpenter from Fair fields, Ohio. “I’ll look for. . . well, it’s called racial profiling. Mexicans, Syrians, people who can’t speak American,” he said. “I’m going to go right up behind them. I want to see if they are accountable. I’m not going to do anything illegal. I’m going to make them a little bit nervous.”

Section 4012 is an extension of a racist Jim Crow rhetoric that serves to intimidate voters of color and attack their access to the ballot. It wasn’t too long ago when sheriffs stood outside of polling places preventing Black people from voting. Voters should feel like they can cast their ballots without fear or intimidation. Law enforcement like the Secret Service has no place at American polls – and organizations of election officials should stand with the Democrat and Republican Secretaries of State who have already spoken forcefully against this measure. Advancement Project and our partners across the country work every day to protect the rights of voters so that all people can participate in the democratic process.