MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
In the midst of a week of ongoing chaos and contention emanating from the White House, the gears of government continue to grind, and the president continues to push for outrageous new policies. This week, for instance, while Trump was playing ringmaster of the circus he has brought to Washington, DC, several media outlets reported that he supports the right to send Secret Service agents to select polling places during elections.
Because federal agents are not currently allowed in voting precincts (unless they are with a public official that they are protecting), this intimidating idea would require a change in law. Unfortunately, a bill has already passed the House of Representatives that would allow the Secret Service to patrol voters performing one of their most essential rights in a democracy.
The provision allowing the Secret Service presence is part of a funding bill for the Department of Homeland Security, which will come before the Senate in the near future. The step comes after Trump dissolved his Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity after just a few months, in all likelihood because it could not find examples of any massive voter fraud. However, he then turned the task of creating the illusion of widespread voter fraud over to the Department of Homeland Security.
DHS would be "assisted" by the king of the voter fraud myth, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach. Kobach specializes in voter suppression. He created Operation Interstate Crosscheck, a "caging list" of voters that has been used by a number of Republican secretaries of state to purge voters from the rolls, sweeping up thousands of people who have the right to vote.
According to Greg Palast, Kobach is also currently involved in a lawsuit in Kansas, where he is trying to require proof of US citizenship in order for voters to register. He is being challenged there by the state chapter of the League of Women Voters.
The GOP has implemented numerous strategies over the years to tamp down the number of non-Republican voters. The list of tactics is extensive and includes -- in addition to Kobach's activity -- onerous voter identification laws and making early voting more difficult. Now we can add Secret Service patrols at the polls to that bag of tricks for shortchanging democracy.
Kristen Clarke, President and Executive Director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, expressed shock and outrage at the proposal in an emailed statement:
This administration’s plan to unleash Secret Service agents to polling places across the country is both chilling and unprecedented. History has shown that the presence of law enforcement at the polls has the effect of chilling voter turnout, especially among minority communities. Any plans to send armed guards to polling places must be considered alongside President Trump’s recent issuance of an executive order disbanding his failed Commission on Election Integrity.
It was clear from the start that President Trump launched the Commission to lay the groundwork to promote voter suppression efforts across the country. Two months after shuttering the Commission, President Trump now seeks to activate one of our federal government’s most secretive law enforcement agencies to depress and discourage minority voter participation in our midterm elections. In no uncertain terms, we condemn any plan to activate the Secret Service at our nation’s polling sites.
On March 9, 19 secretaries of state wrote to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) deploring the possible enactment of legal permission for Secret Service agents to become polling place presences:
We write to you today out of concern regarding unprecedented and shocking language currently included in Section 4012 of HR 2825, the reauthorization of the federal Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Section 4012 allows Secret Service personnel unlimited access to polling places pursuant to the President’s direction. This is an alarming p proposal which raises the possibility that armed federal agents will be patrolling neighborhood precincts and vote centers.
Title 18 of the US Code makes it a crime for a military or civil officer in the service of the United States to bring or keep their troops “at any place where a general or special election is held,” unless it is necessary to protect against an armed invasion. This longstanding and carefully crafted statute ensures the right of voters to cast their ballots under the limited authority of civil officers rather than law enforcement. Secretaries of State across the country agree that there is no discernible need for federal Secret Service agents to intrude, at the discretion of the president, who may also be a candidate in that election, into the thousands of citadels where democracy is enshrined.
Esquire's Charles Pierce calls the move "dictatorial" and sardonically asks, "Why doesn’t somebody just give him [Trump] a uniform with lots of medals and a balcony to stand on?"
Yes, it might be comic to think of Trump as a tinhorn dictator, but giving him power to send, at his discretion, armed federal officials into polling places is nothing to laugh about. He will find a reason to use it.