The Justice Department announced plans to monitor compliance with voting laws on Election Day, including sending personnel to 35 jurisdictions in 19 states.
But the statement from Attorney General Jeff Sessions says the department plans to investigate voter fraud, something President Trump has claimed, without evidence, to be a huge problem since he was a candidate.
“Voting rights are constitutional rights, and they’re part of what it means to be an American,” Sessions said. “This year we are using every lawful tool that we have, both civil and criminal, to protect the rights of millions of Americans to cast their vote unimpeded.”
“Likewise, fraud in the voting process will not be tolerated,” Sessions added. “Fraud also corrupts the integrity of the ballot.”
The statement doesn’t say what specific fraud-related issues the Justice Department personnel will be looking out for, and how much of their time will be spent investigating impediments to voting as opposed to claims of fraud.
In a tweet on Monday, Trump said “Law Enforcement has been strongly notified to watch closely for any ILLEGAL VOTING which may take place in Tuesday’s election (or Early Voting).”
It was unclear what Trump meant by “strongly notified” or if there were specific directives. The White House did not immediately return calls from The Washington Post.
Trump has previously said, without evidence, that massive illegal voting is what cost him the popular vote in 2016.
And the Justice Department has gone to court to support laws that critics warn target the voting rights of young people and minorities — groups who are more likely to vote Democratic.
Last year, the Justice Department sided with the state of Ohio in an effort to purge thousands of people from voting rolls, as The Post’s Sari Horwitz reported, calling the move “part of a broader campaign by the Trump administration to support restrictions on who is eligible to vote.” And shortly after Trump was inaugurated, the Justice Department dropped its long-standing position on Texas’s voter ID law, abandoning an argument that the law intentionally discriminates against people on the basis of race.
Trump also accused CNN in a Monday tweet of airing “Fake Suppression Polls” and engaging in “false rhetoric” though he provided no evidence or explanation.
Those moves taken together were viewed with suspicion and alarm by some voting rights advocates.
“Given Trump’s past animus toward immigrants and minorities, it’s certainly not a stretch to think these warnings about illegal voting along with DOJ’s announcement could be intimidating to voters and scare them from the polls,” said Sophia Lin Lakin, a staff attorney with the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project.
“And to us in the voting rights world, it’s a distraction from the very real voter suppression going on right now and potential election problems that could come on Tuesday,” Lakin said.
She and other voting rights advocates also expressed worries that by alleging potential illegal voting — as he has often done in the past despite little evidence that it exists — Trump may be setting up a path to undermine the results of Tuesday’s elections if he doesn’t like the results.