Just minutes after the Department of Justice announced its plans to monitor the states’ compliance with federal voting laws during Tuesday’s midterm elections, President Trump tweeted out what read like last-ditch effort of voter suppression.
“Law Enforcement has been strongly notified to watch closely for any ILLEGAL VOTING which may take place in Tuesday’s Election (or Early Voting),” Trump wrote on Monday morning. “Anyone caught will be subject to the Maximum Criminal Penalties allowed by law. Thank you!”
The threat concluded an early-morning rant from the president about various Democratic senators running for re-election, and CNN, which Trump accused of being the true culprit in voter-suppression efforts.
“So funny to see the CNN Fake Suppression Polls and false rhetoric. Watch for real results Tuesday. We are lucky CNN’s ratings are so low. Don’t fall for the Suppression Game,” Trump wrote.
It is not immediately clear if, in fact, the federal government sent a “notification” to states to look for illegal voting, or any attempt to specify the penalties Trump described.
With the midterm vote less than 24 hours away,Trump’s warning and overtly hostile effort to protect the Republican-controlled House and Senate breaks from his own Justice Department, which—after weeks of scrutiny for its silence in light of various suppression efforts—is now publicly committed to a fair election.
“Voting rights are constitutional rights, and they’re part of what it means to be an American,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in statement on Monday. “The Department of Justice has been entrusted with an indispensable role in securing these rights for the people of this nation. This year we are using every lawful tool that we have, both civil and criminal, to protect the rights of millions of Americans to cast their vote unimpeded at one of more than 170,000 precincts across America.”
The statement continued: “Citizens of America control this country through their selection of their governmental officials at the ballot box. Likewise, fraud in the voting process will not be tolerated. Fraud also corrupts the integrity of the ballot.”
The agency acknowledged that while state and local governments are responsible for administering elections in the United States, the DOJ’s civil-rights division will enforce the voting-rights laws “that protect the rights of all citizens to access the ballot on Election Day.”
The president’s warning comes as Democratic enthusiasm is seemingly at an all-time high, with states, counties, and districts across the nation reporting record turnouts just from early voting.
Early polls indicate that instead of the usual turnout of 30 percent of Americans voting in the midterms, this year’s vote could see a 20-percent increase, with numbers mirroring the 2016 presidential election.
The DOJ plans to send officials to 35 jurisdictions in 19 states in an effort to monitor the vote on Tuesday—especially in places Republicans would ordinarily win, like North Dakota and Georgia, which have already experienced suppression efforts at the polls.
And yet, polling experts continue to observe nationwide the “worst voter suppression” seen “in the modern era”: Cuts to early-voting sites in North Carolina; large-scale voter purges from Florida to Maine; a revised voter ID law in North Dakota that could keep Native Americans from the polls; and false voting information flooding social media.
As previously reported by The Daily Beast, several Republican-controlled states—including Missouri and Iowa—have new voter ID laws in place this year. One of the strictest is North Dakota’s new law requiring voters to show proof of a residential mailing address, though thousands of the state’s Native Americans live on reservations without specific mailing addresses. Their vote could prove crucial to helping Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp keep her seat in what is seen as one of the tightest Senate races this year.
In Georgia’s gubernatorial race between Republican Brian Kemp and Democrat Stacey Abrams is one of the most recognizable cases of voter suppression this election cycle, which has prompted many pollsters to claim the race could come down to voting rights as the two candidates are locked in a dead-heat.
Previous reports indicate that about 53,000 voter registrations, 80 percent of which belong to people of color, are on hold under Georgia’s new “exact match” standard—a law Kemp, the state’s secretary of state, pushed through the legislature last year.
“Everybody I speak to says, ‘I’m voting but why?'” Rev. Mildred Holmes-Denson, a Methodist pastor in Macon, previously told The Daily Beast. “Even if Stacey wins, do you know Kemp’s in control of it? Can it be fair when he’s her opponent and says, ‘This one can vote. That one can’t vote.” How can it be fair when he’s there to suppress any vote he wants?’”
In Kansas, meanwhile, secretary of state and GOP gubernatorial nominee Kris Kobach—who propelled Trump’s voter-fraud commission following the president’s baseless claims his own election was rigged—is also embroiled in a scandal over a restrictive voter ID law in his state.
The Brennan Center for Justice, which tracks voting suppression, has already documented 24 states currently enduring new laws that will make it harder to get to the polls, using various voting-suppression efforts to dissuade voters.
“By our assessment, the range of voter suppression efforts has been more widespread, intense, and brazen this cycle than in any other since the modern-day assault on voting began, especially when viewed in combination with the accumulated new hurdles to voting,” the organization wrote.