The integrity of this year’s election is under attack — but not in the way Donald Trump claims it is. Ahead of last week’s final debate, the Republican nominee called the election “rigged” dozens of times — in at least 20 tweets sent in the course of a single weekend as well as at rallies across the country in which he called on supporters to show up in “certain areas” and watch the polls.
“And when I say ‘watch,’ you know what I’m talking about, right?” he told supporters in Ohio. “Go to your place and vote. And go pick some other place and go sit there with your friends and make sure it’s on the up and up,” he encouraged supporters in Michigan. “The only way we can lose, in my opinion — and I really mean this, Pennsylvania — is if cheating goes on.”
Trump’s comments, as well as those made by some of his supporters who more explicitly voiced the racism behind his call to watch the polls, sent chills down the spines of many Americans, conjuring up visions of civil rights-era violence and voter harassment that’s not unheard of even in more recent elections.
But the real problems with this year’s vote will be largely invisible on Election Day. Three years ago, the Supreme Court struck down a major section of the Voting Rights Act, opening the doors to new efforts to restrict voting. The impact of that decision will be felt at the polls for the first time this year. Measures passed in the aftermath of that decision — restrictive voter ID laws, new requirements for voter registration, cuts to early voting options and polling sites, and other schemes — are the real threat to the November 8 vote, civil rights advocates say. And these procedural obstacles to the polls pose more insidious, large-scale challenges to suffrage than the more egregious and illegal harassment of the sort Trump has repeatedly advocated.