Former President Trump was an expert at sowing the doubt that’s now made it into proposals of at least 40 measures aimed at expanding the power of poll watchers — largely seen as an attempt to give legislative weight to former president’s false claims of widespread voter fraud and a stolen 2020 election.
“Watch all the thieving and stealing and robbing they do,” the increasingly desperate candidate Trump told a crowd of supporters during a campaign stop in North Carolina weeks before the Nov. 3 election.
“I’m urging my supporters to go into the polls and watch very carefully because that’s what has to happen. I am urging them to do it,” Trump said during a presidential debate last fall against the then-Democratic nominee who would become his successor, Joe Biden.
The message was clear: Trump was calling on his supporters to monitor voting activity, but that call was cached in a broader effort to sow distrust in the 2020 elections.
Now months into Biden’s presidency, Republican state legislators in at least 20 states are responding.
Thirty-three of those measures would give poll watchers more authority to observe voters and election officials and would impose fewer limitations on the watchers’ actions at polling places and other locations, according to a tally published by the Brennan Center for Justice.
The report comes as bills expanding the powers of poll watchers were enacted into law in Georgia and Iowa last month.
A bulk of the measures detailed by the Brennan Center that are currently at play (12 have passed one or both chambers or have seen some sort of committee action, according to the report) were filed in Texas where they are working their way through the GOP-controlled legislature.
Voting rights experts have warned that expanding the powers of poll watchers could increase the possibility of voter intimidation and harassment.
Ahead of the 2020 presidential election, Trump often urged supporters to appear at the polls and join an “army” of poll watchers, often tacking the call to guard the polls onto a broader effort to sow distrust in the elections process rather than reinforce confidence about safeguarding the vote.
Trump’s allies also mounted a legal effort alleging widespread fraud could have been committed, arguing that poll watchers linked to his campaign hadn’t been permitted proper access to the voting process.