Voter Intimidation Then and Now

Germany Aug 24, 2016

Voter intimidation via a sign showing the polls are closed.According to Donald Trump, if he loses the Presidential election it will be because of a rigged election.

The New York Times has called these statements hedging. Most credible polls show Clinton with leads that indicate a shellacking in November. Claiming that the fix is in seems like a very Trumpian thing to do.

On the other hand, this looks like the beginnings of something much darker: voter intimidation.  Consider what Trump said in Pennsylvania.

“We’re hiring a lot of people. … We’re going to watch Pennsylvania, go down to certain areas and watch and study, and make sure other people don’t come in and vote five times,”

Trump has expanded on this rhetoric. In classic Trump fashion, five times has become fifteen times.  He’s also asking for volunteers to sign up online to become “election observers.” If supporters of one candidate parked at polling places to “make sure no one cheats” isn’t voter intimidation, what is?

The United States has a history of voter suppression and intimidation, and one of the drivers for Trump’s message seems to be recent rulings against some states’ efforts to deny voting rights to the poor and minorities.

But yet again, Trump’s ideas bear a resemblance to the Third Reich too.

Hitler became Chancellor in January of 1933, not by winning an election, but by appointment. In March, Germany held its last contested election until after the war, and the NSDAP (Nazis) seized power with legislation that effectively gave Hitler full dictatorial power.

In November 1932 the NSDAP drew 33% of the vote, a drop from 37% from elections held five months earlier. While the NSDAP were gaining the highest percentages, they faced significant resistance from the other parties and the turmoil repeatedly lead to the dissolution of parliament, and new elections.

Despite reducing the number of seats the NSDAP held in the new government, the November election resulted in them seizing power. After a great dealing of political maneuvering, Hitler was finally able, with explicit consent (acquiesence?)  from Reich President Hindenburg, to take over as chancellor.

This appointment immediately led to widespread violence and intimidation by the NSDAP, even before Hitler called for a new election. Voter suppression was violent and rampant during the new election in March 1933. The Nazis faired much better in the March election but still failed to gain a majority. But as we know, this didn’t slow them down for long.

The NSDAP had a paramilitary arm, the Sturmabteilung (SA, the “brown shirts”) in the 1920s, well before they took power. The infamous Schutzstaffel (SS) was originally a part of the SA before it established itself as a separate organization. Both the SA and SS were instrumental in the violence surrounding the elections in 1933.

Trump lacks such an organization, and it’s doubtful he’ll ever have one. He isn’t willing to put in the effort to build a presidential campaign, let alone a movement like the NSDAP. Throwing a sign-up form and stirring the voter intimidation pot seems to be the limits of his capabilities.

But remember the anti-government militants that occupied Malheur Refuge? Ruby Ridge? Oklahoma City? The change offered by Trump’s candidacy, not to mention his racism, has attracted armed militants and white supremacists.

There was at least one situation where Trump retweeted a status from white supremacists. He famously pretended not to know who David Duke was, and then there was the Jewish Star controversy.

Does it seem reasonable that these groups might answer Trump’s call to “monitor” voting? Will just the possibility that they might keep some voters home?

What’s important here is not just whether or not Trump succeeds, but who he attracts and what they do after the election.

It looks more and more like Trump will lose in November. But will that be the end of the violence and hatred he is stirring up? Not by a long shot.

Image Credit: Democracy Chronicles. CC License.

Great! You've successfully subscribed.
Great! Next, complete checkout for full access.
Welcome back! You've successfully signed in.
Success! Your account is fully activated, you now have access to all content.