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Trump's accusations of fraud have raised concerns about intimidation of minority voters.

Will Trump's electoral fraud allegations suppress Latino votes?

Will Trump's electoral fraud allegations suppress Latino votes?

The Republican presidential candidate has made unproven claims of election fraud and is recruiting amateur poll watchers who could try to intimidate minority voters.

Trump's accusations of fraud have raised concerns about intimidation...
Trump's accusations of fraud have raised concerns about intimidation of minority voters.

Following Donald Trump's call to monitor the polls for alleged voter fraud, Steve Webb plans to patrol his voting place in Fairfield, Ohio, on Election Day.

“I’ll look for ... well, it’s called racial profiling," the 61-year-old carpenter told the Boston Globe last week. "Mexicans. Syrians. People who can’t speak American ... I’m not going to do anything illegal. I’m going to make them a little bit nervous.”

The Republican presidential candidate's allegations of "rigged" elections and his active recruitment of amateur poll watchers has raised concerns about voter suppression and intimidation -- especially of minorities.

"This is part of conduct, discourse, and practices that disproportionately impact a segment of the population that's trying to disqualify Latino voters from being complete U.S. citizens," said Jerry Davila, a history professor at the University of Illinois.

Even the president has weighed in.

"I'd advise Mr. Trump to stop whining and try to go make his case to get votes," said President Obama said at a White House news conference Tuesday. "One way of weakening America is if you start betraying those basic American traditions that have been bipartisan and have helped hold together this democracy for well over two centuries."

Why Trump's words matter

Recruiting untrained poll watchers is "highly risky," according to a report from the Brennan Center for Justice, since it "can easily lead to illegal intimidation, discrimination, or disruptions at the polls."

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Voter intimidation is illegal: federal legislation and many state laws prohibit discriminating against voters and conduct that threatens or intimidates voters.

Nevertheless, this kind of behavior goes back decades. In 1982, following multiple complaints about minority voter intimidation between 1970 and 1980, a decree was issued that specified that the Republican Party cannot perform any security activity in polling stations where ethnic and racial composition has been a factor in deciding to monitor those areas. The decree expires in 2017 and can be renewed by the Supreme Court.

There were also several incidents of voter intimidation at the polls in the last three presidential elections.

However, in-person voter fraud is "virtually nonexistent," the Brennan Center report says. "You're more likely to be struck by lightning," Katherine Culliton-Gonzalez, a Washington, D.C.-based attorney and voting rights expert, told Univision.

An investigation of voter impersonation by Loyola Law School professor Justin Levitt found just 31 credible incidents of voter impersonation out of one billion ballots cast from 2000 to 2014.

How these allegations could affect immigrants

Trump's accusations of "rigged elections" could have an impact on Latin American immigrant voters, according to Jurgen Buchenau, director of the Latin American studies program at the University of North Carolina.

Cubans, for example, who haven't participated in multi-party democratic elections could have a distorted view of his comments. In Mexico, distrust in the electoral system helped President Enrique Peña Nieto win in 2012, even though his party had been accused of electoral fraud in 2006.

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"The old party in power benefitted from cynicism," said Buchenau, which meant discouraged voters were less likely to go to the polls.

Still, some Latino immigrants have been in the country for a long time or appreciate the difference between the U.S. system and those in Latin America. In fact, corruption is part of what drove some immigrants to leave, he noted.

Voter intimidation is nothing new

Through experience, Hispanic leaders know such tactics succeed in intimidating minority voters.

“We have seen similar strategies before, where people assigned to watch basically frighten and chide Hispanics. Even when they don’t say anything, their presence and the way they dress is intimidating,” explained Arturo Vargas, the executive director of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO).

In 1988 in Orange County, California, voters arriving at 20 polling stations in Santa Ana were greeted by people dressed as uniformed guards holding signs in English and Spanish that read: "people who are non-citizens cannot vote."

The event ended in a lawsuit and subsequent settlement, but caused a stir nationwide.

Vargas said that tactics like these "create a hostile environment, especially for people voting for the first time. It is important that those involved know their rights."

The NALEO director also stressed the need for the Justice Department to put the largest possible number of observers at polling stations.

During the 2012 presidential election, the Justice Department sent more than 780 observers to polling stations in 23 states.

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But this year, the government will actually reduce its participation.

In July, Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced that the government must now limit its role in the process due to the 2013 Supreme Court decision in Shelby County vs Holder. In this case, the court struck down part of the Voting Rights Act requiring states to get federal approval to make changes in their election regulations.

The decision also affected where the Justice Department can send observers. This year, it will send observers to just five states -- one of the smallest deployments since 1965.

Will intimidation fail?

On a recent Wednesday, Carlos Duarte, the state director for Mi Familia Vota in Texas, walked door-to-door all morning, encouraging people to vote.

He says intimidation by certain groups is common in the elections, and that Trump’s words to his supporters, urging them to go to “other communities,” is having a contrary effect on Latinos.

“I just met a 70-year-old man who will vote for the first time this election,” he said. “I have never seen the enthusiasm and determination that we’re seeing now.”

“Trump wants to intimidate the community, but the people I see have a clear interest and need to go out and vote so that nobody takes away our rights,” he concluded.

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