Donald Trump Jr. looked straight into a camera at the end of September as triumphant music rose in a crescendo. “The radical left are laying the groundwork to steal this election from my father,” he said. “We cannot let that happen. We need every able-bodied man and woman to join the army for Trump’s election security operation.”
It was an echo of what his father, President Donald Trump, has said in both of his presidential campaigns. At a September campaign rally in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, the president encouraged his audience to be poll watchers. “Watch all the thieving and stealing and robbing they do,” he said. “Because this is important.”
But the poll-watching army that the Trumps have tried to rally hasn’t materialized. Although there’s no official data, election officials across the country say that they have seen relatively few Republican poll watchers during early voting, and that at times Democratic poll watchers have outnumbered the GOP’s. In Colorado and Nevada, where the Trump campaign was particularly active in recruiting poll watchers, its efforts largely petered out….
The paucity of Republican poll watchers doesn’t necessarily reflect a lack of enthusiasm for the candidate. In fact, avid supporters may prefer more vocal or demonstrative ways of expressing their views than watching polls all day. Trump’s cries for help in the prevention of fraud make the poll watcher’s role seem far more dramatic and consequential than it actually is. More than 20 Trump campaign training videos for poll watchers, reviewed by ProPublica, make clear the mundane nature of the task, encouraging volunteers to be on time, to bring a water bottle, to not interact with voters and to be respectful “even to our Democratic friends!”
Poll watching “is like watching paint dry,” said Justin Levitt, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, specializing in elections. “If you’re waiting for the busloads of fraud to arise, and what you get is small American-flag-waving democracy, you begin to go out of your head. It’s like sitting in a field waiting for the UFOs and the UFOs never show up. And then you’re just sitting in a field, which is fine for a couple hours, but polls are open about 15 hours a day.”
Analysts say that the president and his staff may not believe their own predictions of a poll-watching army, but that they may be raising the specter to deter Democratic voters from going to the polls. The campaigns also want people to sign up to be poll watchers, even if they don’t actually follow through, because their contact information helps identify potential donors.
Bob Bauer, the attorney for the campaign of former Vice President Joe Biden, said the Trump campaign is betting on scaring voters into staying home to avoid confrontation. But, he said, that tactic appears to have backfired, as young people and other likely Democratic voters have flocked to the polls during early voting.