With the election fast approaching, GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump has stepped up his call for his supporters to become poll watchers to watch for, and document, illegal activity. He even has set up a page on his website for people to sign up. But MSNBC’s Al Sharpton has had it with Trump’s call for poll-watchers, claiming they are there to intimidate minorities. “How concerned are you about voter intimidation tactics in this election,” he asked Sherrilyn Ifill of the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, as he warned about militias backing Trump.
“…in the last several months, as there has been this discussion about the election being rigged, and about sending people out to do poll watching, our fears have absolutely and exponentially increased,” Ifill responded. Ifill continued by saying that her organization takes voter intimidation by Trump-backing groups very seriously. She did admit that they had a right to be poll watchers, “the right to watch outside the polls, of course, is the right of a citizen to stand outside the polls and to watch.” But Ifill quickly turned around and slammed Trump supporters for being too ignorant on voting rights:
But when it becomes intimidation, when people are suggesting that there are certain people who are not eligible to vote; when you're not bothering to educate those poll watchers about the protections of the Voting Rights Act and other federal laws, then I think you're creating a recipe for disaster on Election Day.
Sharpton followed her up by claiming that Trump’s poll watching efforts are “illegal” and stem from unfounded and “biased” paranoia.
From there, Ifill continued to rant about how Trump’s poll watchers were too ignorant for the job, before touting her own organization’s poll watching efforts. “Let me be clear, I'm very proud of my civil rights colleagues. We will all be out there poll watching. We’ve been doing this for a while. We kind of know what we're doing,” she praised.
The MSNBC host backed Ifill up with high praise of his own, and claimed that her work and the work of other left-leaning poll watchers was “nonpartisan.” That’s right, according to Sharpton, the right-leaning poll watchers are out there because of the myth voter fraud with the goal of intimidating and suppressing voter turnout, while leftists organizations are “nonpartisan” election protectors.
October 30, 2016
8:02:33 AM Eastern
AL SHARPTON: That's right. A North Carolina Republican challenged the status of 100-year-old Grace Hardison. We're seeing national efforts too, a group called Vote for Protectors is backing Donald Trump and trying to recruit 3,000 poll watchers in key battleground states. And a leading militia group, Oath Keepers, is enlisting former military and law officers.
8:05:26 AM Eastern
SHARPTON: Sherrilyn, how concerned are you about voter intimidation tactics in this election?
SHERRILYN IFILL: You know, Reverend Al, I was concerned about this election, this is the first presidential election in 50 years without the full protections of the Voting Rights Act, because of the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision in Shelby County versus Holder. And we have seen all of these voting changes that happened since 2013, because jurisdictions no longer had to report these changes to the federal government. So we were already concerned about this election. We assembled all of these voting changes in a report called Democracy Diminished to demonstrate that we need to pay attention in this election.
But in the last several months, as there has been this discussion about the election being rigged, and about sending people out to do poll watching, our fears have absolutely and exponentially increased. We take very seriously the issue of voter intimidation, which is absolutely against the law. When you hear Mr. Trump saying, people should come out and watch people vote, the right to watch outside the polls, of course, is the right of a citizen to stand outside the polls and to watch. But when it becomes intimidation, when people are suggesting that there are certain people who are not eligible to vote, when you're not bothering to educate those poll watchers about the protections of the Voting Rights Act and other federal laws, then I think you're creating a recipe for disaster on Election Day.
SHARPTON: But he's the nominee, Sherrilyn, this is not somebody just somewhere that we had to deal with down through the years in the civil rights community. This is the nominee of the Republican Party. One of the two major candidates. And I'll give you another thing to respond to, you have the conspiracy theorist Alex Jones who is a Trump supporter, and he's cheerleading the call for poll watching.
Is this the level of paranoia and fear that is being put out there to use people to do things that are not only biased, because they're telling them what areas to go for these alleged fraudulent acts that aren't there, but it is also illegal.
IFILL: Yes, so, Reverend Al, I want sure I say this because there is so much of an effort to promote kind of ignorance about voter -- alleged voter fraud and as Michael pointed out, it is a pernicious myth. There is no large scale voter fraud in this country. You have a better chance of being struck by lightning than experiencing in person voter fraud. Let's be clear what the law is, because you used the word illegal. The law protects every citizen's right to vote. Which means that right cannot be a bridge based on race or skin color. The Voting Rights Act specifically protects against voter intimidation and voter harassment. People need to know that disabled people, those who are blind or iterate are allowed to have someone assist them in the voting booth. They people who are citizens are eligible to vote, but do not speak English are allowed to have language assistants. These are the kinds of things that people have to become educated about.
When I hear that, when I hear about all these people out at the polls, who are going to be coming out at the polls-- Let me be clear, I'm very proud of my civil rights colleagues. We will all be out there poll watching. We’ve been doing this for a while. We kind of know what we're doing.
IFILL: I'm pleased also that the Justice Department, although they will not have the same number of election observers inside polling places, will have poll watchers out in 25 states. So I really -- what I don't want is for people to be scared off by these tactics of intimidation. We’ve been doing this, we'll be out there, not just the NAACP Legal Defense Fund but many other civil rights groups and activists protecting this right that people fought, and bled, and died for. We’re not tuning around on this. And so whatever is the paranoia that they're trying to create, we're going have a steady eye and a steady vision of who we are as citizens and our right to participate.
SHARPTON: Well, that's what I wanted to open the show with it. Cause all of us will be out there from various groups and the Justice Department. And not out there partisan, as nonpartisan.