By Jackson Cote MassLive Staff | September 17, 2020
After President Donald Trump told Fox News host Sean Hannity last month he would send law enforcement to polling places to monitor for voter fraud, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey offered a reminder to residents this week that state and federal laws have long protected against voter intimidation.
The prosecutor’s office released an advisory Tuesday to Massachusetts residents to make clear that election interference at the hands of law enforcement and private actors is illegal.
The advisory aims to inform residents their right to vote is free from intimidation, harassment and coercion, according to the attorney general.
“We won’t sit idle in the face of President Trump’s dangerous threats to undermine our electoral process and suppress votes,” Healey said in a statement. “We are issuing this advisory to ensure citizens of Massachusetts know they are entitled to free and fair elections and to put President Trump on notice that any attempt to interfere with our democracy will not be tolerated.”
In a televised interview with Hannity on Aug. 20, Trump was asked whether he would send “poll watchers” to monitor elections for possible voter fraud.
The Republican incumbent president answered, “We’re going to have everything. We’re going to have sheriffs and law enforcement and we’re going to have, hopefully, U.S. attorneys, and we’re going to have everybody, and attorney generals, but it’s very hard.”
“The president’s threats to increase the presence of law enforcement at polling locations will lead to the intimidation of voters of color and immigrants, who have been targeted by the administration’s racist and xenophobic policies and rhetoric in the past four years,” said Beth Huang, director of the Massachusetts Voter Table, a nonpartisan voter engagement organization.
The right to vote has become a pressing issue heading into the 2020 presidential election during the coronavirus pandemic.
Many voters have looked to mail-in voting as a way to stave off transmission of the virus and cast their ballots safely.
More than 1 million ballots were mailed in last month as part of Massachusetts’ primary on Sept. 1, according to Secretary of the Commonwealth William Galvin.
Earlier this month, Healey also joined multiple state attorney generals in filing legal action to halt changes to the United States Postal Service the officials alleged could prevent employees from delivering mail.
The changes to the USPS, the prosecutors claimed, were illegal, including ordering letter carriers to depart for their delivery routes at set times and to no longer make extra trips that might otherwise ensure mail is efficiently delivered
In their lawsuit, the attorney generals argued actions within the USPS from July harmed veterans, seniors and rural communities. The changes also led to significant delays and could disrupt the general election in November without intervention from the courts.
Healey’s statement Tuesday reminded voters that state law prohibits intimidation of voters and interference with elections officers by anyone, including law enforcement officers and private citizens.
While local police officers are required to be stationed at polling places to help election officials and to ensure voters are not obstructed from casting their ballots, they are generally barred from entering the immediate voting areas, the attorney general noted.
The prosecutor’s advisory, which was made available in English and Spanish, also clarified that an array of statutes prevent the president from sending military or federal law enforcement officers to monitor polling places. Violators of such statutes can face fines and imprisonment, according to Healey.
The president’s authority also does not extend to state and local law enforcement, who can face criminal sanctions if they interfere an election, the attorney general added.
There are permissible forms of election monitoring, though, Healey noted. For instance, state law requires that elections must open to public observation.
Poll observers are therefore allowed inside polling locations unless they are disorderly or obstruct voters’ ability to cast their ballots, the prosecutor said.
Federal observers are allowed to monitor voting conditions in certain jurisdictions as well to ensure the right to vote is being protected, according to the attorney general.
Healey’s office urged anyone who has had their voting rights threatened or interfered with to call the Civil Rights Division of the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office at 617-963-2917.
Information about voter registration and procedures in Massachusetts can be found on the secretary of the commonwealth’s website.
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