Republican Poll Watchers Make Their Return in Virginia Gubernatorial Race

There’s just one day to go before the much anticipated Virginia gubernatorial race will be decided, and since the polls say it’s close, I think we can expect some MAGA fireworks whether their candidate, Glenn Youngkin, wins or loses.

We know they will claim the vote was rigged if they lose. If Youngkin wins, Donald Trump’s Big Lie will be equally well-served. They will say it’s because of the vigilance of the hordes of Republican poll watchers who are set to descend upon polling places on Election Day. Trump was clear about what he wanted last year at the presidential debateThey won’t let him down this time.

“I’m urging my supporters to go into the polls and watch very carefully because that’s what has to happen. I urge them to do so. Today, there was a problem. They went into Philadelphia to watch. They’re called poll watchers, a very safe, very nice thing. They were thrown out. They weren’t allowed to watch. Why? Because bad things happen in Philadelphia.”

He was lying, however.

One woman claimed she was working for Trump and complained that she was not allowed to vote at a satellite early voting location. However, she didn’t have an official certificate as poll watchers are not allowed at these locations by law. Trump assumed that he could just send the MAGA mob to storm the polling stations, without asking any questions. And a spate of new election lawsRepublican state legislatures have made that reality a reality.

Trump’s comments during that debate set off election officials’ alarm bells all over the country. Trump’s comments are better known as voter intimidation. Nevada Attorney General Aaron Ford tweeted the next day, “Voter intimidation is illegal in Nevada. Believe me when I say it: You do it, and you will be prosecuted.” Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring said that the president’s loose talk was dangerous, adding:

“The President is blatantly urging his supporters to congregate at polling places, go inside, and ostensibly harass and intimidate voters.While there are authorized ‘poll watchers’ who monitor polls on Election Day, their duties are clearly laid out, and they do not include what President Trump has suggested.”

While there were some poll watching shenanigans in 2020 election day, the Big Lie launched GOP into action.

Last May The New York Times reported a national program to train tens of thousands of MAGA faithful to “watch.” The report highlighted one recruitment seminar in which a precinct chair in a white suburb of Houston exhorted volunteers to go into the Black, Asian and Latino areas on election day because “that’s where the fraud is occuring.” That is not true, of course. This illustrates the true intent of their plan: to intimidate and suppress racial minority voters, especially in urban areas.

This tactic is not new. These tactics were used by Partisans for centuries. I wrote about thisThis was years ago SalonThis includes the incredible story of William Rehnquist (former Chief Justice), who as a young Arizona lawyer used racist intimidation to harass Black voters and Latino voters in 1964’s presidential election. The GOP ran the program inwhich he participated, called “Operation Eagle Eye” All across the country

While researching his book about the Goldwater campaign, he called Before the Storm,Rick Perlstein, historian discovered a memo that Lyndon Johnson staffer wrote outlining the scheme.

“Let’s get this straight, the Democratic Party is just as much opposed to vote frauds as is the Republican party. We will compromise and allow all legally registered voters to have the opportunity to vote on November 3. We have enough faith that our Party will prevail and give President Johnson and Hubert Humphrey a mandate to continue the Johnson-Kennedy Administration’s programs.

We have evidence that the Republican program may not be what it claims to be. It is an organized effort to prevent the foreign born, to prevent Negroes, to prevent members of ethnic minorities from casting their votes by frightening and intimidating them at the polling place.”

I bring this up again because it’s important to remember that Trump didn’t invent this stuff. He’s never done anything original in his life. This has been a long-standing profession. Trump’s just supercharged it.

The country has made great strides over the past half century to combat intimidation by poll watchers. Most states have passed laws to ensure that voters feel safe at the polling stations. For several decades, the problem was solved. But now it’s back.

The Washington Post reportsVirginia has hundreds of poll watchers ready to go Tuesday. They have actually been working during early voting. In Democratic counties, poll watchers are 2-1 Republican. Many of them were trained and organized through the Youngkin campaign. The candidate, who insists he’s not a MAGA kind of guy, has been pushing the voter fraud myth like crazy and his voters are out in force. One of the Virginia training groups was founded by a Republican candidate who lost by 23 points in 2020. He refused to concede. According to the Post, other groups involved in similar activities throughout the country are Tea Party Patriots, Americans for Limited Government, No Left Turn in Education and Alliance for Free Citizens, led by former Kansas secretary of state Kris Kobach, a vote fraud zealot who Trump once enlisted to prove that Hillary Clinton didn’t win the popular vote in 2016. He failed, it is obvious. Another group, The Virginia Project, is a purveyor and propagator of the Big Lie. They have been subtly intimidating election officials. Joe Flynn (brother of General Michael Flynn) asked the crowd whether they believed Joe Biden won Virginia in 2020. The crowd roared, “No!” Biden won the state by 10 points.

Glenn Youngkin could very well win tomorrow’s election. The polls are tied. And if he does win, analysts and pundits immediately construct a narrative about the national implications. But the right’s narrative will be that they were able to keep the Democrats from stealing the election the way they stole 2020 and they’ll double their efforts around the country. The Big Lie will either be proved true or false.