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Are Voter Suppression Efforts Underway For The November Election?


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When people think of voter suppression, most people likely think of the efforts in the 40s and 50s to stop Black Americans from voting.

At that time African Americans and other people of color were threatened and attacked for attempting to enter a polling location. 

They were often forced to take literacy, property, and even Constitution tests to cast their ballots.

Although those types of voter suppression efforts don’t exist in 2020, some voting rights activists are concerned that people will take it upon themselves to watch the polls and possibly intimidate voters. 

The reason advocates are concerned is the rhetoric from President Donald Trump during some of his campaign rallies, including in Minden a few weeks ago.

During that rally, the president said, "They're trying to rig an election and we can't let that happen. I hope you're all going to be poll watchers. I hope you are. Because with you people watching the polls, it is going to be pretty hard to cheat. I'll tell you I wouldn't want to be a cheater."

Sabrina Khan is the Senior Staff Attorney at Advancement Project in Washington, D.C., and the Deputy Director of their Voter Protection Program.

"Under the false guise of voter fraud, they're recruiting all of these volunteers to essentially police or guard the vote," Khan said, "But let's be clear, this is a thinly veiled attempt to intimidate voters."

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Khan pointed to an incident Saturday in Fairfax County, Virginia where Trump supporters stood outside an early voting site, waving flags and holding Trump signs.

Election officials said the event intimated voters and disrupted voting, according to an article in the New York Times.

Khan said poll workers at the site had to physically get between the president's supporters and voters. 

"We just think this is the first of many things we're going to see across the country, and let's be clear about something else, voter intimidation is against the law here and in every single state," she said.

Under Nevada law, members of the general public are allowed to observe the conduct of voting at a polling place. There are specially assigned areas at polling sites for those who want to observe and limits on the number of observers allowed at each polling location.

However, Khan said her group and others are concerned about people who are going to cross the line, as some people did in Virginia.

"We saw a bunch of Trump supporters just standing there and they were basically yelling and making a lot of noise," she said, "And they were physically, basically, getting in the way of voters."

Khan suggested if you do see attempts to suppress voting or intimidate voters go into the polling site and report it or call 1-866-OURVOTE or 888-VE-Y-VOTA to report it.

One of the reasons for people going to polling sites is a concern about voter fraud. Kahn said that concern is misplaced.

"When you look at the actual statistics of voter fraud, it is virtually non-existent, and there are a lot of safeguards in place in the process to make sure that fraud doesn't actually end up leading to ballots that are counted," she said.

In addition to that, Khan noted that Nevada recently updated its voting machines to protect the voting process even more and there is a way to track your ballot through the Secretary of State's website

While Nevada has not always had a good record of race relations, Claytee White, the director of UNLV's Oral History Research Center, told KNPR's State of Nevada that the state does not have a history of actively suppressing the votes of people of color. 

"Beginning a long time ago, African Americans here started being very, very active with voting," White said.

She said starting in the 30s African Americans in Las Vegas started clubs, both Republican and Democrats, to push voting and protect voting rights in the city.

Those seeds sown so many years ago are now in fruition. White said she has not seen voter suppression or voter intimidation in Southern Nevada.

"I don't hear anything about voter suppression," she said, "And I have lots of friends throughout Black communities scattered throughout the area and I hear nothing about voter suppression."

Instead, White said she sees lots of Black women and men working as poll workers.   

However, she notes that she doesn't know what is going to happen in the upcoming November election.


Claytee White, Director, Oral History Research at UNLV Library; Sabrina Khan, Senior Staff Attorney,  Advancement Project and Deputy Director of the Voter Protection Program.

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