By Arun Rath and Matt Baskin WGBH News Staff | September 24, 2020
Throughout his presidency, President Donald Trump has flirted with the idea of holding onto office, win or lose. On Thursday, he refused to commit to a peaceful transfer of power should Joe Biden beat him in November. White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany later said that Trump would accept the results of a “free and fair election.” Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey discussed Trump’s unprecedented and undemocratic threat with GBH All Things Considered host Arun Rath. This transcript has been edited for clarity.
Arun Rath: We’ve been in strange territory throughout Trump’s time in the White House, but this particular threat is something that we have to take seriously and talk about seriously. I want to talk about the state-level law enforcement questions, but first, what was your reaction, as an attorney general and as a citizen, to what you heard from the president this week?
Attorney General Maura Healey: Look, it’s really ridiculous. It’s outrageous. We’ve seen any number of outrageous actions by him and some predicted this, but I think to actually hear him speak the words, it’s really distressing. It’s distressing that this is where we are in the country now, where we have a president who is suggesting that he would not leave peacefully were he voted out. This has never happened before. That’s not who we are as a country. And I do hope that people from all parties can unite around the concept that George Washington spoke so beautifully about in his farewell address, that the peaceful transition of power is something, among other things, that for us separates our country from all others.
It’s distressing, but not surprising from Donald Trump. And I can tell you that we are committed to fighting to make sure that every single person who is eligible to vote has the ability to actually exercise that vote and to have that vote counted. And that, again, is something that I hope all, regardless of party, would unite around.
Rath: Let’s talk about Election Day itself, because Trump has signaled in various ways that he wants to suppress the vote. Your office issued a bulletin this month warning voters that they may face intimidation at the polls. And I think this is the first election where people can be sent to do “poll security,” is how it’s being justified. Does your office have evidence of individuals or the federal government planning to do anything when it comes to voters going to the polls here in Massachusetts on Election Day?
Healey: A few things. One, around this country, we need to make sure that in every county, in every state and every locality where voting is happening, that people have the ability to exercise their fundamental right to vote. And we are concerned about any number of things that we’ve seen from Donald Trump, as well as the Republican National Committee. We’re in multiple litigations as states right now, fighting off some of their efforts to suppress the vote by doing things like making robo calls in recent weeks in Michigan and in Pennsylvania, telling voters that if they request a mail-in vote, that their personal information will be turned over to debt collectors and those who may be interested in outstanding warrants. I mean, this is one small example.
A larger example is the U.S. Postal Service. We sued to stop Donald Trump from continuing to work directly with the postmaster general to sabotage the delivery of mail, which obviously with a high number of mail-in ballots, record numbers, is a big deal. So we’ve gone to court, we’ve stopped it, obtained orders in multiple jurisdictions to hold the line.
But yes, I worry about suppression. The role of law enforcement is really important. And I think law enforcement certainly here in Massachusetts will make sure that voters are protected in exercising their right to vote, and I’d like to see that all over the country. So that’s something that we need to be united about. I talked to some of my colleagues, and there are real concerns in places like Michigan where there are private militias and real concern that private citizens will take it upon themselves to show up at places and intimidate voters. That’s a real threat. It is something that law enforcement in those places is considering and looking at right now, because again, it’s not about what party you’re in or who you’re voting for. This is a fundamental right, and everyone, every American, should be united around the need to have free and fair and secure elections.
Rath: You mentioned litigation to protect voters rights. There seems like there’s a network in place, as we read in The Atlantic, standing ready to legally challenge results at the state level. Is there a legal plan or a plan of action that you have, after the voting is done, to protect the votes once they’re in?
Healey: Absolutely. I think it’s imperative that Donald Trump not be allowed to call the end to the election sometime that evening, it’s imperative that all votes be counted. That’s going to take days. Election night is not going to be election night. It is going to take some time due to the pandemic and the overwhelming number of votes that are going to be by mail that need to get processed. You see, many of those ballots aren’t legally allowed to be opened and processed in any number of states until Election Day. So that’s why this is going to take some time.
And we are going to fight. A number of a state AG’s have been fighting against all sorts of abuses by the Trump administration over the last four years. And I can assure you, we are going to work with governors and secretaries of state. We are now. We are currently in litigation. We’re prepared to fight any effort at every turn to suppress the vote or efforts to try to not count all the votes.
You raise issues that are not hypothetical there. There have been articulated plans out there by the RNC, training people to go to polling places and find ways to basically challenge voters as they come in. This is something the RNC has been training on. It’s serious and it’s why we’re all working really hard to prepare for this and to counter this.
I think the best thing that people can do is know how to vote in your town or city, whether you’re in Massachusetts or elsewhere around the country, know how to vote, know when you can vote, and make a plan to vote. Many places you can vote in-person early sometimes, up to 17 days early in some states. And so find out what your state allows and then make the plan, make your vote count. It’s your constitutional right.
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