Condos, Donovan decry voter intimidation after Trump pushes poll watching

Jim Condos
Secretary of State Jim Condos. Photo by Mike Dougherty/VTDigger

Vermont Secretary of State Jim Condos and Attorney General TJ Donovan are reminding the public that voter intimidation is illegal, responding to President Donald Trump’s call for poll watchers to gather at voting locations on Election Day Nov. 3. 

Last week, during the first presidential debate between Trump and former Democratic vice president Joe Biden, the president asked his supporters “to go into the polls and watch very carefully.” 

Learn more about the candidates — and how to vote — in VTDigger’s 2020 Voter Guide.

Trump also referred to an incident in Philadelphia in which poll watchers were allegedly blocked from entering polling places.

“Today there was a big problem. In Philadelphia, they went in to watch. They’re called poll watchers, a very safe, very nice thing,” Trump said. “They were thrown out. They weren’t allowed to watch. You know why? Because bad things happen in Philadelphia.”

The Philadelphia Inquirer later determined Trump’s statement was false.

Donovan and Condos sent out a statement on Oct. 5 stressing that “voter intimidation and harassment are illegal.”

“It is a crime to intimidate or interfere with a Vermonter’s right to vote at the polls,” Donovan said. “The Attorney General’s Office will enforce the laws as necessary to ensure that all Vermonters are able to peacefully exercise their fundamental right to vote without disruption.”

“I believe all Vermonters will conduct the voting process with civility, as is our Vermont tradition, rather than echoing the divisiveness we are hearing nationally,” Condos said. “We will work with our state and federal partners to ensure no voter experiences harassment or intimidation at the polls. As a state, we are better than that.”

Condos told reporters Tuesday that the statement was issued in response to comments by Trump and his administration about poll workers.

“In recent days, they’ve actually talked about poll watchers and things like that. And people standing out there observing and whatever,” Condos said. “There’s a certain intimidation that can occur. We’re not as concerned here in Vermont; we’ve never really seen it here in Vermont.”

The secretary of state said he heard concerns from two poll workers in the past week about the potential for voter intimidation in Vermont.

Election observers can legally watch proceedings at polling places on Election Day in Vermont, including ballot counting, as long as they remain in designated areas. Condos said his office has heard of a few cases in past elections in which people ignored those boundaries.

“We’ve just heard, anecdotally, some issues,” Condos said. “And based on what I’m hearing from some of my colleagues across the country, we felt it was probably a good idea to just put something out that the attorney general and secretary of state take this seriously.”

TJ Donovan
Attorney General TJ Donovan. Photo by Kit Norton/VTDigger

Many Vermont voters are casting their ballots by mail this year instead of at the polls. The secretary of state’s office is automatically sending absentee ballots to voters this year so they have the option to vote by mail during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Condos said Tuesday that, as of the prior Thursday, all of the ballots being sent to Vermont’s 438,000 registered voters had been mailed out. 

And as of Tuesday morning, 41,000 Vermonters had already voted and returned their ballots to town clerks. 

During the debate last week, Trump also attacked voting by mail, claiming — without evidence — it will lead to a “a fraud like you’ve never seen.”

“These ballots are going to be all over,” Trump said. “It’s a fraud and it’s a shame.”

Condos called Trump’s comments “unfortunate” and reiterated that there’s no evidence to suggest voting by mail isn’t secure. 

“It’s unfortunate to have that kind of rhetoric,” Condos said. “It really is not helpful to the situation. But maybe that’s his plan.”

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Xander Landen

About Xander

Xander Landen is VTDigger's political reporter. He previously worked at the Keene Sentinel covering crime, courts and local government. Xander got his start in public radio, writing and producing stories for NPR affiliates including WBUR in Boston and WNYC in New York. While at WNYC, he contributed to an award-winning investigation of how police departments shield misconduct records from the public. He is a graduate of Tufts University and his work has also appeared in PBS NewsHour and The Christian Science Monitor.

Email: [email protected]

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