This story has been updated.
The pervasive racism on display this campaign season is reaching a fever pitch as Election Day approaches, and civil rights groups are working around the clock to ensure all voters can exercise their rights free from intimidation.
Enraged by Donald Trump’s “rigged election” rhetoric and overblown reports from right-wing groups alleging widespread voter fraud, Neo-Nazis, white supremacists and anti-government gun fanatics have promised to be present at polls across the country, particularly in urban communities of color. Last week, a Black church in Mississippi was set ablaze and vandalized with pro-Trump graffiti.
Democrats in four swing states have filed lawsuits alleging that the Republican Party, along with Trump and Stop the Steal, a group created by the infamous GOP operative Roger Stone, are promoting poll watching and the intimidation of voters of color.
“Voter intimidation is a stain on our democracy and should be condemned,” said Kristen Clarke, executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.
Problems at Polls? Call the Legal Hotline
Clarke’s organization worked with a coalition of civil rights and racial justice groups to launch the 866-OUR-VOTE hotline for anyone who has questions about voting or experiences problems at the polls, including intimidation and harassment.
Clarke advises voters not to engage with anyone who tries to bother them outside a polling place, and suggests that people proceed directly inside the polling station to cast their vote. After their vote is cast, concerned voters should notify poll workers and alert the 866-OUR-VOTE hotline, which is also open to answer any question that voters may have, including questions about registration and ID requirements.
Hotlines run by allied organizations take calls in Spanish, Arabic and a number of Asian languages. (Read more about those hotlines here.)
“Through our 866-OUR-VOTE hotline, we will track issues as they arise and focus and seize on patterns that may be emerging across the country,” Clarke said. “We are prepared to file Election Day litigation if necessary to achieve emergency relief that ensures that voters are not disenfranchised as a result of unlawful and discriminatory intimidation or harassment.”
Clarke also encouraged voters to contact the Department of Justice, which is deploying more than 500 personnel from its Civil Rights Division to 67 jurisdictions in 28 states to monitor elections and enforce federal voting rights statutes.
Know the Rules and Your Rights
Intimidation is not the only challenge facing voters. Voter ID laws and other restrictions passed by Republican-controlled legislatures — as well as court rulings that have overturned some of them — have changed voting rules in states across the country and raised questions about enforcement.
Last month, a Pew Research poll found that significant chunks of voters were still confused about identification requirements at polling places in their states. Plus, as Truthout recently reported, prison officials and a patchwork of state laws are misleading former prisoners to believe that they don’t have voting rights. Last-minute disputes over massive purges of voter rolls in states like Ohio, North Carolina and Georgia could also cause confusion.
To find out if your state requires you to bring some form of identification to the polls, contact your local election officials or check out this interactive map of voter ID laws published by the National Conference of State Legislatures. The Brennan Center for Justice has also published an interactive map and a state-by-state breakdown of all the new restrictions voters face this year.
If a poll worker tells you that you cannot vote for any reason but you believe that you are properly registered, call the 866-OUR-VOTE hotline. Laws vary from state to state, but in many states, if your registration is challenged, you can give a sworn statement to the poll worker that you satisfy your state’s qualifications to vote, and then proceed to cast a ballot, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.
The Advancement Project, a civil rights group that has fought voter suppression efforts in several states, has some handy resources on barriers to the ballot and voter protection laws, particularly in Georgia, Virginia, Florida and Missouri, where conservative politicians have responded to shifting demographics with policies and proposals that can make it harder for immigrants, ex-prisoners, people of color and low-income people to vote.
Correction: This article originally stated that the Justice Department was not sending out personnel to monitor elections this year, but department officials announced on Monday that monitors would be dispatched in 28 states across the country.