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Excerpt: "A bipartisan group of secretaries of state is condemning a proposal to allow armed Secret Service agents at election polling stations. The proposal has already been approved by the House as part of the Homeland Security Department reauthorization bill."

Civil rights advocates and secretaries of states are warning against a provision in a DHS reauthorization bill that would let the president dispatch Secret Service to polling places. (photo: Penn State/flickr/cc)
Civil rights advocates and secretaries of states are warning against a provision in a DHS reauthorization bill that would let the president dispatch Secret Service to polling places. (photo: Penn State/flickr/cc)


"Unprecedented and Shocking": Armed Secret Service Agents Should Not Be Allowed at Polling Sites

By Kristen Clarke, Juan Gonzalez and Amy Goodman, Democracy Now!

13 March 18

 

bipartisan group of secretaries of state is condemning a proposal to allow armed Secret Service agents at election polling stations. The proposal has already been approved by the House as part of the Homeland Security Department reauthorization bill. On Friday, 19 secretaries of state wrote a letter to Senate leaders urging them to drop the proposal, calling it “unprecedented and shocking.” For more, we speak with Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: A bipartisan group of secretaries of state are condemning a proposal to allow armed Secret Service agents at polling stations. The proposal has already been approved by the House as part of the Homeland Security Department reauthorization bill. On Friday, 19 secretaries of state wrote a letter to Senate leaders urging them to drop the proposal, calling it, quote, “unprecedented and shocking.” Massachusetts Secretary of State William Galvin, a Democrat, told The Boston Globe, quote, “This is worthy of a Third World country. I’m not going to tolerate people showing up to our polling places. I would not want to have federal agents showing up in largely Hispanic areas. The potential for mischief here is enormous.”

AMY GOODMAN: The League of Women Voters also criticized the proposal. The group’s president, Chris Carson, said, quote, “This is just one more attempt this Administration has made to attack voters and flagrantly dismantle core tenants of our democracy,” unquote.

On Monday, the Secret Service issued a statement claiming the reports about the bill have been grossly mischaracterized. The agency said, “The only time armed Secret Service personnel would be at a polling place would be to facilitate the visiting of one of our protectees while they voted,” unquote.

We go now to Washington, D.C., where we’re joined by Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

Kristen Clarke, welcome to Democracy Now! Why are you so concerned about this bill, as it now has been approved by the House and will be voted on by the Senate?

KRISTEN CLARKE: Well, this proposal is truly chilling and jarring. The idea of having federal law enforcement agents patrolling, roaming inside polling places, harkens back to tactics that we saw during the Jim Crow era. Law enforcement historically has been used to discourage and depress minority voter turnout. And so, this latest proposal truly harkens back to dark tactics that we have seen used effectively to keep people away from polls in our country.

The Senate has not moved on this latest rider to Homeland Security reauthorization—the Homeland Security reauthorization bill, but we can’t forget that this proposal, in so many respects, mirrors the language that President Trump used on the campaign trail. At a 2016 rally in Pennsylvania, Trump told his supporters that they should go out and watch and look, after they are done voting. He told his rally attendees that we need to call up the sheriffs, and we need to call the police chiefs, to watch and monitor polling sites.

This is truly a threat to democracy. We should be working to make sure our polling sites are neutral ground where all voters can feel safe and free to go out and cast their ballots. Federal law enforcement agents would absolutely depress and discourage minority voter turnout. And so, this is something that we have to fight back on.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: But, Kristen Clarke, what do you make of the administration’s argument that this is basically just clarifying the ability of the Secret Service to enter polls with protectees, which presumably would be the president or the vice president going to vote?

KRISTEN CLARKE: It doesn’t match the language of the rider, which was far broader and more sweeping. The language in the rider said that any officer or any agent of the Secret Service would be allowed to enter polling sites.

This is a moment that requires we remain vigilant. We can’t forget that this administration is the same one that launched the so-called election integrity commission, whose sole goal and purpose was to lay the groundwork for voter suppression. So, once again, we have this administration taking truly unprecedented action that would make it harder for people to vote and that would discourage people from coming out to polling sites this midterm election cycle.

AMY GOODMAN: The plan has also been opposed by many Republican secretaries of state, including Jon Husted in Ohio. He said, quote, “The fact that the U.S. Senate would even consider enacting a law that would allow a President to place Secret Service agents in polling places is shocking. The frightening irony is that in creating additional safeguards to prevent Russian meddling in American elections, these Senators would open the door to unprecedented federal intrusion that could lead to an American election system that looks more like Putin’s Russia.” Kristen Clarke, if you could respond to that, and the significance of this being a bipartisan group of secretaries of state?

KRISTEN CLARKE: That’s right. The 19 secretaries of state that have come out against this proposal, it’s a bipartisan group that makes clear that there are people on both sides of the aisle that see this as meddling in the way that they would conduct elections in their state. Joe Arpaio in Arizona is somebody who unleashed sheriffs outside polling places in Maricopa County years ago. And again, during the Jim Crow era, we saw this used as a familiar tactic to depress African-American and Latino voter turnout.

And, you know, all of this distracts the public’s attention away from real threats to democracy today. I am disheartened by the fact that Congress, the congressional committee, is shutting down its inquiry into Russia’s meddling in our election. I am disheartened by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has not brought a single voting rights case on behalf of minority voters during his tenure at the Justice Department. We have deep concerns that this proposal is a thinly veiled attempt to resurrect the now-disbanded election integrity commission. All of these are tactics really aimed at suppressing the vote during the 2018 midterm election cycle. And we need the public to remain vigilant.

At the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, we lead the nation’s largest nonpartisan voter protection program, Election Protection. It’s anchored by an 866-OUR-VOTE hotline. And we encourage the public to speak up if they see local, state or federal law enforcement officers outside the polls. Many states actually have laws that expressly prohibit police officers from being anywhere near polling sites. We know that this stands to be a barrier for voters. Again, our polling sites should be places where people feel that they are able to freely cast their ballots during elections.

AMY GOODMAN: And I want to thank you, Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, as we speak on this day of Pennsylvania’s special election that is taking place there. We’ll cover it tomorrow.


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+1 # kyzipster 2018-03-13 21:10
I'm not sure people on 'the left' understand to what extent right-wing propaganda is believed by the other side, to the point that fake news is dictating policy. They really believe that millions of illegal immigrants vote in our elections.
 
 
+3 # worriedforusa 2018-03-14 13:36
In the absence of evidence, and in ignorance of the facts (or the disregard for them), Trump nevertheless has been trying to get out in front of any claim that he was not legitimately elected. He's been doing this since Nov. 9th, 2016

I remember being taught that "people who lie think everyone's a liar; people who are corrupt assume everyone is like them." Even more to the point: "Mr. Trump, I think thou dost protest too much!"
 
 
+6 # jlarson 2018-03-14 01:28
The "election integrity commission" may have been officially "disbanded," but only for the baton to be passed to DHS, where they can make their voter suppression moves in secret. If Secret Service agents turn up at polls, they'll be undercover. What will local election officials do? Could they direct local police to throw out these spoilers?
Our Senators had better stand up and denounce this grotesque idea.One aspect of "national security" in America is securing our right to vote without government interference.
 
 
+1 # worriedforusa 2018-03-14 13:28
Amen!
 
 
0 # jameslucas 2018-03-14 01:52
Some rules should be followed and some are unnecessary.

Ref: Essays Chief
 
 
+2 # Rodion Raskolnikov 2018-03-14 07:05
The FBI has requested $300 million in order to develop programs to "secure" elections. The FBI has "meddled" in US elections for about a century, and now they want to be paid to do it.

Armed police at polling places in not new. In the 2000 election, there were armed police at polling places in Baltimore where I was working at the time. They were in black neighborhoods (most of Baltimore). We all thought this was an effort to intimidate African Americans, many of whom would not want to be confronted by an armed police officer for fear of being harassed or threatened.

Elections are run by states not the federal government. What appears to be happening in the wake of the Russian interference propaganda is the federalization of the voting process. Clearly many states have done a terrible job -- but it seems even more risky to have the federal government do it, especially the secret police like the Secret Service or the FBI.

At least state level election commissions seem to be fixable. I don't think problems are fixable on the federal level.
 
 
0 # worriedforusa 2018-03-14 13:41
[quote name="Rodion Raskolnikov"] What appears to be happening in the wake of the Russian interference propaganda is the federalization of the voting process.

Interesting way for those who are running our government to react to Russia's meddling. Don't try to tighten up our voting procedure; Don't create a plan for ferreting out and stoping the egregious social media trolls. Oh No! Russia might get mad!

Better to intimidate the electorate so they stay home!

I wonder if these people think we're dumb enough to let them get away with this??
 
 
+6 # Forbes 2018-03-14 08:08
Horrible - I am starting to believe the Department of Homeland Security should not exist, it is the American Gestapo.
 
 
+3 # elizabethblock 2018-03-14 10:20
WHAT???
Fortunately elections are run by the states, not by the federal government. Sometimes they mess up -- often they mess up -- but they don't all mess up, in the same way, at the same time.
 
 
+1 # Adoregon 2018-03-14 14:01
"On Monday, the Secret Service issued a statement claiming the reports about the bill have been grossly mischaracterize d. The agency said, “The only time armed Secret Service personnel would be at a polling place would be to facilitate the visiting of one of our protectees while they voted,” unquote."

What kind of country is this when the Pussy Grabber in Chief and his cronies need armed back-up to cast their ballots?

Perhaps it is time for the United States of Fraud to smarten-up and institute nation-wide vote by mail.
 

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