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The Count #3: White Extremist Groups Pledge To “Poll Watch” For Trump

The Count is a daily newsletter and live show from The Appeal and NowThis, focused on what happens if the 2020 presidential race is too close to call on election night, if President Donald Trump then makes good on his promise to not accept the election results, and what we can do in the 77 days between election day and the inauguration to uphold our democracy.

President Donald Trump and his allies across the country are already laying the groundwork for their plans to steal the election.

Today, we’ll look at:

  • New Poll: Overwhelming numbers of Republican voters will trust Trump if he calls the election in his favor on election day.
  • White extremist groups pledge to serve as “poll watchers” for Trump to create an atmosphere of violence and chaos.
  • Amherst College law professor Lawrence Douglas, author of Will He Go?, on understanding Trump’s play for absolute power.

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  • 21 days until election day.
  • 56 days until the deadline for all ballots to be counted.
  • 62 days until electoral college slates send their votes to Congress.
  • 85 days until Congress counts electoral college votes.
  • 99 days until inauguration day.


Trump is building buy-in to call the election for himself on election night—and it’s working. Trump’s three-step process:

  • Step 1: Undermine Confidence In The Integrity Of The Election. From promoting “poll watchers” to the incessant focus on essentially non-existent “voter fraud” to attacks on “fake news,” it is all part of an effort to spur voter distrust in how the winner of the presidential election is declared, and who declares it.
  • Step 2: Prime Supporters To Unrealistically Expect An Announcement of The Winner On Election Day. Trump states repeatedly that the winner of the Presidential election will be known on election day, even though election officials and voting experts believe it highly unlikely that it will be known until at least several days later.
  • Step 3: Recruit Key Campaign and Media Surrogates To Follow These Steps. For example, Tucker Carlson recently said on his nightly show that, “If all the votes are counted in one night, no one will have time to issue rulings to throw out ballots they don’t like. And that’s what judges in Pennsylvania and Michigan want–poll workers to count votes for weeks after election day,” he said. “There’s nothing partisan judges would like to destroy more in the end than a quick, efficient, fraud-free election night. That’s the goal here, make no mistake.”

New polling from Data for Progress and The Justice Collaborative Institute shows Trump’s plan is working:

  • REPUBLICANS TRUST TRUMP TO CALL THE ELECTION — 77% of likely Republican voters would trust Trump if he calls the election in his favor (or for former Vice President Joe Biden); only 14% of Democrats would trust Trump’s announcement of a winner.

FOX NEWS IS ALSO A TRUSTED SOURCE — 70% of likely Republican voters would trust Fox News to call the results of the election, but no other major outlet garnered trust from a majority of likely Republican voters, including ABC, NBC, and CBS with only 50% support, CNN with 42% support, and MSNBC 41% support.

KEY TAKEAWAY — Trump needs overwhelming trust from his Republican base in order to convince Republican-controlled legislatures in key swing states with Democratic governors to take the highly unusual step of sending a competing (and fraudulent) slate of electors to Congress after the state has already been certified for Biden. This polling shows that Trump likely will find that support should he make the call in his own favor on election night.


Chaos and fear serves two purposes for Trump. First, it might intimidate voters into staying home, which could shave Biden margins in key swing states. Second, a general atmosphere of chaos contributes to Trump’s effort to undermine confidence in the election results. That’s why the Republican National Committee is recruiting an “army” of 50,000 poll watchers.

When Trump failed to condemn white supremacy groups during the presidential debate, it heightened fears of voter intimidation and even violence—a hallmark of authoritarianism. Now, white nationalist and far-right wing extremist groups are pledging to join the army of poll watchers.

  • MILITIAS LISTENED TO TRUMP — During the debate Trump not only told poll watchers “to go into the polls and watch very carefully” but also told white supremacy groups such as Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by.” Far-right groups responded almost immediately to Trump’s comments to “stand by.” According to the Washington Post, Trump’s comment led to an “enthusiastic response from known neo-Nazis and right-wing activists,” including from the founder of a neo-Nazi website who interpreted the comments to mean “Get ready for war.
  • CREATING THE CHAOTIC MOMENT — “The chances are really high that we’re going to see militia members, armed groups, or Trump supporters who are armed at the polls,” Cassie Miller, a senior researcher with the Southern Poverty Law Center told the Los Angeles Times. “Not only are these people willing to participate in voter intimidation, but they’re hoping to create this chaotic moment. There’s an unwillingness to accept anything but a Trump victory.”
  • EXTREMIST GROUPS ARE CURRENTLY PREPARING — Devin Burghart, the director of the anti-bigotry organization the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights told The Guardian that “A number of groups have begun talking about mobilizations on election day and beyond. We’re hearing initial chatter about preparations for 3 November,” and that they expected to see “a lot more activity” after Trump’s comments.
  • TRAINING HAS BEGUN, TOO — Some private paramilitary groups are “planning their own poll-watching operations and are openly training in preparation for the post-election period,” according to Mary B. McCord, legal director for Georgetown Law’s Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection, in The New York Times.
  • THEIR PLANS — The Proud Boys, a male-only, far-right extremist group, has pledged to show up at ballot drop-off locations. This year, Stewart Rhodes, the president of Oath Keepers, has told his group to monitor the polls while armed but to “stay concealed,” while other members have allegedly signed up as official poll watchers.
  • IT’S HAPPENED BEFORE — While some say these groups’ “Bark is louder than their bite,” in 2016, Rhodes told supporters, who are largely former military and law enforcement officers, to go undercover at polling sites and “to go and hunt down, look for voter fraud”. (Oath Keepers is “one of the largest radical anti-government groups in the U.S. today,” according to the Southern Poverty Law Center and has a past and current member list of nearly 25,000 people.)
  • BUT WILL BE WORSE IN 2020 — According to a report from the Giffords Law Center, “It is likely that significant numbers of people will bring guns to polling places under the guise of preventing election fraud.”


Less than a week after Trump’s inauguration in 2016, Lawrence Douglas, a professor of law at Amherst College, wrote a piece in The Guardian about Trump’s inability to accept the 2016 election results—even though he won.

Falsely blaming his loss of the popular vote on “millions” of illegal votes, Douglas wrote, “That same script could be called upon four years from now should Trump lose a re-election bid. Whatever damage candidate Trump could have done to American democracy had he lost in November would pale in comparison to the damage wrought by a sitting president rejecting his defeat.”

Douglas’ recent book, “Will He Go? Trump and the Looming Election Meltdown in 2020,” lays out how Trump could challenge the 2020 election results. As a result, Douglas has an acute understanding of why we should believe Trump when he talks about not accepting election results:

  • TRUMP FOLLOWS THE “AUTHORITARIAN PLAYBOOK” — “President Trump has, in several ways, borrowed from the modern authoritarian playbook,” according to a white paper from Protect Democracy, an organization formed by former senior White House and Department of Justice officials.
  • AUTHORITARIANS HOLD—AND MANIPULATE—ELECTIONS — Under authoritarian rule, elections are neither free nor fair. Vladimir Putin, Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, all of whom Trump has “publicly lauded”– fall into this camp and seek to “fix outcomes…through laws and policies that embed unfairness at every level”, according to Protect Democracy.
  • BUT TRUMP LACKS THE TOOLS TO GO “FULL PUTIN” — Trump is what Douglas calls a “weak authoritarian.” Trump’s instincts aren’t any less authoritarian, Douglas told The Count, but Trump lacks the requisite tools authoritarians use to fully fix an election because he has alienated senior members of the military and lost the faith of many in the intelligence agencies. So Trump must rely more on his strategy to suppress votes, challenge results as fraudulent, use the courts, and exploit ambiguities in our laws about how electoral votes are counted.

  • PROMOTING HIS BRAND IS HIS ONLY GOAL — And admitting a loss is not in his brand—let alone his DNA. Even in a clear Biden victory, we should expect Trump to claim fraud, as he did after losing the 2016 Iowa Caucus saying, “Ted Cruz didn’t win Iowa, he illegally stole it.” In a closer election, he’ll use every tool at his disposal to save-face, challenge a loss, and defend his brand. In this respect, for Trump, “losing is not an option.”
  • A LITTLE HELP FROM HIS FRIENDS — Professor Douglas compares the close relationship between Trump and Fox News to “state-sponsored propaganda.” And the end result resembles the effects of propaganda too: “If you spend some time just watching Sean Hannity yourself, and if that were your only source of information in the world, you would probably believe a lot of things that are coming out of that.” Understanding Fox News as a Trump propaganda machine helps to make sense of why the DFP / TJCI poll found that Republican voters trust Trump and Fox News, but basically no one else, to call the election results.


  • Misinformation from Trump has international election observers concerned about the integrity of the U.S. election.
  • Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer told CBS’s Face The Nation that her state will announce results when those results are ready to be announced, but will not adhere to “artificial deadlines set by, you know, people with political agendas.”
  • The GOP has set up unofficial ballot boxes that have labels declaring them as an “official ballot drop-off box”—across Southern California. The green metal boxes are against the law.
  • Judges aren’t buying Trump’s “voter fraud” claims. Courts in several states have thrown out challenges by Trump’s campaign and the RNC to make voting easier, including setting up drop boxes for mail-in ballots.
  • Lawsuits in North Carolina have led to confusion over how to resolve issues of at least 6,800 ballots that have already been cast. Nearly 50% of those ballots came from nonwhite voters.
  • If your vote is challenged on election day, try to submit a provisional ballot rather than leaving the polling place without voting, Sarah Brannon, director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project, told CNN.

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