Amid heightened concerns about voter intimidation involving the open carrying of firearms at polling locations on Election Day, a project called Guns Down is providing a resource for voters to report intimidation to voter protection advocates and to share their experiences on social media.
According to The Washington Post, “many election officials across the country are, for the very first time, bracing for intimidation or even violence on Election Day,” and these fears are compounded given that “most states have no laws regarding guns in polling places.”
Under federal law it is illegal to intimidate people trying to vote with guns or by other means.
Yet the Post reports that “state laws about guns and voter intimidation are a patchwork of wildly varying regulations,” and determinations of violations of voter intimidation laws can be difficult to ascertain because each one is “a fact-sensitive, context-based decision,” according to UCLA law professor Adam Winkler.(Further complicating determinations are discordant federal appeals courts rulings on what behavior constitutes voter intimidation).
This state of affairs has created an opening for individuals who wish to intimidate voters with guns at the polls while retaining some semblance of plausible deniability concerning the legality of their actions.
Voters who text “GUNSDOWN” to 91990 will receive information on a national voter protection hotline (866-OUR-VOTE) operated by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights. Appropriate reports will be passed on to law enforcement and election officials, and voters will have the opportunity, if they feel safe doing so, to share photos of voter intimidation on social media.
The project’s launch comes as several disturbing news reports raise the prospect of people carrying guns at the polls and engaging in other instances of possible voter intimidation -- including calls from racist far-right media outlets for an “army” of white nationalists to “watch” the polls:
Talking Points Memo reported that “some armed Trump supporters have shown an interest in making their presence known at voting sites,” and quoted NAACP Legal Defense Fund attorney Deuel Ross saying, “The idea that people would be standing outside the polls with guns, or even inside the polls with guns, clearly has the potential to turn people away. There’s a long history of this.”
The Trace spoke to gun activists who said that “some gun owners will bring their weapons with them to vote in places where they are allowed to do so” but claimed that these people would not bring weapons for the purpose of intimidation.
Stewart Rhodes, the leader of extremist group Oath Keepers, announced “Operation Sabot 2016,” instructing members to “go out into public on election day, dressed to blend in with the public … with video, still camera, and notepad in hand, to look for and document suspected criminal vote fraud or intimidation activities.” (A sabot is a device that helps keep a projectile centered as it passes through the barrel of a firearm or other delivery mechanism.) Rhodes told members not to bring guns, but the Oath Keepers are closely associated with open carry protests, including the open carrying of firearms during unrest in Ferguson, MO.
Virginia election officials are “worried about conflicts at the polls after Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump urged his supporters to ‘watch’ others at the voting booths,” according to The Washington Post. The Prince William County electoral board pushed for a one-day ban on guns at polling places but was rebuffed by a Republican lawmaker who said the board did not have the authority to enact a ban.
White nationalist media including The Daily Stormer and its neo-Nazi founder, Andrew Anglin, and anti-Semitic “alt-right” news website The Right Stuff are planning to send “an army of Alt-Right nationalists to watch the polls.” According to Politico, the plans include setting up “hidden cameras at polling places in Philadelphia” and distributing marijuana and alcohol in the “ghetto.” Politico also reported, “The National Socialist Movement, various factions of the Ku Klux Klan and the white nationalist American Freedom Party all are deploying members to watch polls.” According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the National Socialist Movement “specializes in theatrical and provocative protests.”
Neo-Nazi news website Infostormer sent “a little message for the Kikes who monitor this site on behalf of the SPLC, [Anti-Defamation League], and various other evil organizations” that “on November 8th, we will have a legitimate ARMY of supporters out in the streets to show solidarity with President (he’s going to win this) Donald J. Trump,” while claiming that neo-Nazi poll watchers will not engage in any illegal activity. The author of the November 2 article also wrote that his “pet idea is more on the lines of convincing (successfully so far) low IQ subhumans and White traitors that the actual Election Day is on November 9th, absentee voting will be allowed in all states until 11 PM on the 8th, and that thousands of KKK members are sealing off polling locations in cahoots with law enforcement.”