Six months before a presidential election in which turnout could matter more than persuasion, the Republican Party, the Trump campaign and conservative activists are mounting an aggressive national effort to shape who gets to vote in November — and whose ballots are counted.
Its premise is that a Republican victory in November is imperiled by widespread voter fraud, a baseless charge embraced by President Trump, but repeatedly debunked by research. Democrats and voting rights advocates say the driving factor is politics, not fraud — especially since Mr. Trump’s narrow win in 2016 underscored the potentially crucial value of depressing turnout by Democrats, particularly minorities.
The Republican program, which has gained steam in recent weeks, envisions recruiting up to 50,000 volunteers in 15 key states to monitor polling places and challenge ballots and voters deemed suspicious. That is part of a $20 million plan that also allots millions to challenge lawsuits by Democrats and voting-rights advocates seeking to loosen state restrictions on balloting. The party and its allies also intend to use advertising, the internet and President Trump’s command of the airwaves to cast Democrats as agents of election theft.
The efforts are bolstered by a 2018 federal court ruling that for the first time in nearly four decades allows the national Republican Party to mount campaigns against purported voter fraud without court approval. The court ban on Republican Party voter-fraud operations was imposed in 1982, and then modified in 1986 and again in 1990, each time after courts found instances of Republicans intimidating or working to exclude minority voters in the name of preventing fraud. The party was found to have violated it yet again in 2004…
Among other things, Democrats cite Mr. Trump’s repeated demands that law-enforcement officers patrol the polls and the recent creation of voter-fraud task forces by Republicans in four state governments, at least in part at the national party’s urging.
They also point to a meeting in February attended by conservative political luminaries and at least one national Republican Party official, sponsored by the Center for National Policy, a group of conservative power brokers. The topic was voter fraud and “ballot security” operations, particularly in inner cities and areas with Native American populations, according to The Intercept, which published excerpts from a recording of the meeting.
One group represented at that meeting, Texas-based True the Vote, is recruiting military veterans to become poll monitors. The group, an offshoot of a Houston Tea Party branch, was scrutinized by local prosecutors after its first poll-monitoring effort in 2012 sparked complaints of voter intimidation.
The group’s founder, Catherine Engelbrecht, told the gathering that Democrats could inundate the polls with phony votes. “The swarming tactics of a radicalized socialist mind-set,” she warned, “is a dangerous thing to behold.” The group did not respond to a request for comment.