Throughout this election year, the president has engaged in blatant efforts to block voting access for Americans, giving a steroid boost to the Republican tradition of disenfranchisement by filing lawsuits against expansions of the vote amid the pandemic, trying to block U.S. Postal Service to sabotage voting by mail, and questioning the validity of the results before votes are even counted.
Inspired by the president’s mission and his anti-democratic rhetoric, a small group of Trump supporters in Fairfax, Virginia, aided in Trump’s plan to frustrate voter turnout. Waving campaign signs and Trump flags outside the the Fairfax County Government Center on Saturday, the president’s supporters protested the second day of early voting, blocking the line to get into the polling place and requiring election officials to open up more of the building to let voters wait inside. “Some voters, and elections staff, did feel intimidated by the crowd and we did provide escorts past the group,” Gary Scott, the general registrar of Fairfax County, said in a statement. “Those voters who were in line outside of the building were moved inside and we continued operations.”
One voting-rights advocate who spoke with the New York Times suggested that the demonstration may have been illegal, regardless of the distance from the polling place. “In Virginia, the safe zone around the polling location is only 40 feet, but that safe zone is for campaigning and trying to change a person’s vote,” Sylvia Albert, director of voting and elections at Common Cause, told the Times. “Outside of that, in general, there are laws against intimidation … To me, this went beyond campaigning and they should have been removed.”
And while the incident is currently a one-off phenomenon, as early voting begins to kick off throughout the country it’s quite possible that the president’s supporters will try to intimidate voters elsewhere in the coming weeks. Such a trend would be yet another flashback to 2016, when Democrats sued Trump for so-called “ballot security” initiatives that are often violations of the Voting Rights Act. But that hasn’t stopped the president from supporting these measures this year. “Be poll watchers when you go there,” he instructed a rally crowd earlier this month. “Watch all the thieving and stealing and robbing they do, because this is important.”