Intimidation at the polls—an infringement of voting rights

I’ve never been a great sleeper, but it seems that since Tuesday I’ve found it increasingly easy to lie awake at night, just musing over one thing or another I can’t do anything about. This time it was something one of my literacy students said to me last Tuesday.

We were talking about polling places—their restrictions and rules—and I was pontificating (yes, I do that) about Tuesday voting. My students all hail from countries where casting ballots is a weekend activity. Of course here in America we still give the farmers two days to yoke the oxen, hitch up the carts, and travel the rutted byway to the one-room schoolhouse/polling place fifty miles away. Anyway, some of the information we were discussing that night came from an ESL newspaper we use, and in the article was a statement explaining that there was to be no campaigning within a hundred feet (in many states) of the polling place. One of my students asked what the distance was in Connecticut, and off the top of my head I said seventy-five feet. He’d already voted; he shook his head.

“Not where I went,” he said. “There were Trump posters at the door.”

“On the walls?” I asked. “In the ground?”

“No,” he said. “People were holding them.”

The young man hails from Puerto Rico, and I asked him if anyone said anything to him or sensed intimidation. He knows the language well enough to know intimidation. He said no, but he didn’t think it was right. (He was not voting for Trump—he didn’t need me to advise him on that issue.)

I will admit that, at the time—7:30 on November 8—I didn’t give it much thought. Polls were still open, Hillary was going to win, and little offenses like that would disappear in the coming landslide—the same one that would finally bury Mr. Trump.

Perhaps I was mistaken.

Now that it’s over, I wonder how many other polling places allowed the same intimidation—implied or expressed—to go unchecked. There were no law enforcement officials on duty where I voted; the candidates and their supporters all stood a respectable distance away. But in places where enforcement was needed, was there any?

I’ll admit, the fact that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by almost two million probably renders incidents like that one trivial or irrelevant—it was the voting in four key states that did her in. But for all the Trump talk about his National Ballot Security Task Force—a threat lost in the final week which mostly comprised James Comey’s decisions on who would become president, maybe it happened more than we know. And if it did, the election was tainted not only by the Russians and the FBI, but by us.

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