Election Lawyers Worry Trump Could Send Federal Law Enforcement to Polls

Election lawyers with ties to the Biden campaign are privately worried about the possibility that a desperate President Donald Trump could go as far as deploying federal law enforcement at or near polls on Election Day, a move that would be unprecedented and heavily scrutinized, and others believe is too far even for a president who actively fuels a polarized environment over voting.

The concern from election attorneys, many of whom work with Democrats, is two-fold. In 2018, a consent decree expired first put in place in 1982 that restricted Republicans from engaging in so-called "ballot security" activities like campaigns to guard against voter fraud without court approval. That decision by New Jersey district judge John Michael Vazquez, appointed by President Barack Obama, allowed Republicans to mount a sprawling $20 million program in 15 states that will include 50,000 volunteers, according to a New York Times report.

Election lawyers who spoke to Newsweek said they saw Trump's tweet last week about possibly delaying the election as irrefutable evidence that he knows he's losing to Joe Biden right now. They worry it means he might be willing to do anything to get an edge on Election Day.

"Cornered dogs are always dangerous," said Juan Carlos Planas, a Republicans for Biden member, who led John McCain's legal team in Miami-Dade country in Florida and also worked for George W. Bush in 2004 and Mitt Romney in 2012.

Planas said that involving federal law enforcement in a state like Florida would make little sense for the president who recently touted Florida's election system on Twitter, but the same cannot be said for other states.

"I fear it more in Wisconsin and in Michigan, where there are Democratic governors who Trump has criticized and whether or not they would have the ability to stop it," Planas told Newsweek.

Lawyers said their concern arises from the president demonstrating his willingness to use federal agents to crack down on political opponents, like when they were used to clear a path of protesters at the White House so he could take a picture with a bible in front of a church, and the homeland security agents, coast guard members, and other personnel, he has mobilized to Democratic-led cities like Portland and Chicago.

"What if he deploys ICE to polling locations?" asked a lawyer who has worked with the Biden campaign and requested anonymity because they're not authorized to speak publicly. They said that while undocumented immigrants can't vote, it may sow fear in Latino and immigrant communities with mixed-status families. "If someone is intimidating voters you normally call cops, but what if he's sending federal law enforcement?" Calling the scenario "unprecedented," the source waved away the idea that they and fellow lawyers are "being alarmist."

"What's to stop him if he thinks there's fraud being done, especially if he thinks he's going to lose?" the attorney told Newsweek.

The Trump campaign ignored the topic of the president possibly using federal law enforcement on Election Day and said it doesn't know what "shenanigans" Democrats will try leading up to November.

"It is now the stated goal of Democrats to eliminate protections for election integrity, such as mailing a ballot to every registered voter, whether they asked for one or not," Tim Murtaugh, Trump 2020 communications director told Newsweek in a statement. "They also want to eliminate signature matching and clear the way for ballot harvesting, which are also wide open opportunities for fraud."

The Biden campaign did not respond to a request for comment before publication.

In Nevada, which passed a bill this week allowing all active registered voters to receive a ballot by mail for November 3, the Trump campaign and the RNC have sued, alleging the decision "makes voter fraud and other ineligible voting inevitable." But Bradley Schrager, an election campaign lawyer in Las Vegas, said the measure coupled with a "strong" secretary of state in Republican Barbara Cegavske, ensures Trump won't mess with Nevada.

"There's not much a federal executive can do to disrupt an election here," he told Newsweek. "It would be a whole other level of election and democracy disruption so it's really difficult to imagine something that brazen."

Speaking at a virtual fundraiser last month, Biden told attendees his campaign would have 600 lawyers in place to "try to figure out why the chicanery is likely to take place," and said 10,000 volunteers would help with the effort.

Texas Democratic Party voter protection director Rose Clouston told Newsweek she does "not put anything past this administration so we are preparing for and looking at all possibilities." She offered the possibility that the president's stance on voting and alleged fraud means outside actors may go farther than before. She noted the Houston-based conservative voting watchdog True the Vote has made noise about having former military and law enforcement members serve as poll watchers.

But with Republicans ramping up their efforts against alleged voter fraud, Planas said there is no need to reach for dystopian visions of militaristic intervention from the president triggering a constitutional crisis when there is enough to be concerned about with a higher likelihood of happening on Election Day.

"I do suspect we are going to see perhaps purposeful disenfranchisement of African-American voters in rural counties, as well as with minority voters," he said. "Legally registered Hispanic voters will be accused of not being citizens and will have their votes challenged."

federal law enforcement
Federal officers form a police line in front of the Mark O. Hatfield U.S. Courthouse on July 29, 2020, in Portland, Oregon. Protests against the federal presence in Portland continued Wednesday following an announcement by Governor Kate Brown that federal officers would begin a phased withdrawal from the city. Nathan Howard/Getty