Constitutional Lawyer: Trump's Voter Goon Squads May Face A Year In Prison

"Voter intimidation" is illegal, and the definition is pretty broad
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"Voter intimidation" is illegal, and the definition is pretty broad
"Go out and get yourself arrested in my name!"

"Go out and get yourself arrested in my name!"

Donald Trump has been ranting and raving over "voter fraud," and has been calling for his supporters to "watch the polls" on election day. Well, a constitutional lawyer has let them know exactly what they can expect when they go out to "make [voters] a little bit nervous." 

Trump's obnoxious calls to combat imaginary voter fraud at "many polling places" are being heard and many of those listening are already planning on intimidating voters. While Trump has been careful not to directly instruct his goons on where to go -- the message is being heard loud and clear. 

Messages like this one, in PA (at 1:03): 

It has been widely reported, but here are the words used by one such "watcher," AKA goon: 

“I’ll look for ... well, it’s called racial profiling. Mexicans. Syrians. People who can’t speak American,” he said. “I’m going to go right up behind them. I’ll do everything legally. I want to see if they are accountable. I’m not going to do anything illegal. I’m going to make them a little bit nervous.”  

Going up "right behind them" while they are voting is a pretty clear definition of voter intimidation. Ian Millhiser Justice Editor for Think Progress has laid out what choosing to purposefully racially profile and intimidate voters means. It is illegal, and covered by both civil and criminal federal legal provisions. The latter that could land these self-proclaimed "watchers" in jail: 

A pair of federal legal provisions, one civil and one criminal, confront this kind of conduct directly. Both prohibit conduct that “intimidates, threatens, coerces, or attempts to intimidate, threaten, or coerce, any other person for the purpose of interfering with the right of such other person to vote or to vote as he may choose.” The criminal version of this statute subjects violators to a fine and up to one year in prison.  

There are very few examples of this in case law according to Millhiser, but those cases that do exist set the definition very broadly. One such case was against landowners refusing to allow an African American man onto their land to stop him from being able to bring other African Americans to the polls:

Other cases hold that a schoolteacher cannot be denied a job because they exercised their voting rights, and that landlords cannot sanction their tenants because those tenants assisted voting rights activists.

These are much, much less clear cut cases of "voter intimidation" than what Trump's goon squad is planning. They have already stated their intentions to interfere with the comfort of voters at the behest of a man with zero understanding of how our electoral system works. 

There has been some push back against Millhiser from Trump enthusiasts. They are citing a well worn right wing talking point about two New Black Panther allegedly scaring off white people in 2008:

This case received so much attention from Megyn Kelly of Fox News that it became a staple in the "Obama and Eric Holder are racists" crowd. After going over the evidence, one of the men who was a registered election observer had his charges dropped, the other received a summary judgment. Not one voter came forward to say they were intimidated, even with the extensive coverage. 

A Media Matters article recently asked if Megyn Kelly would devote as much attention to the Trump intimidation squads as she did to these two men who didn't actually intimidate anyone. 

Adams would find a ready champion for his baseless accusations at Fox News: Megyn Kelly. Days after he first leveled his allegations in a Washington Times op-ed, he sat for a two-part interview with the Fox daytime anchor. Those were the first of an astonishing 45 segments Kelly would run on the story over the next two weeks, totaling more than three and a half hours of airtime. The rest of the network would support her effort to manufacture a scandal, with Fox evening shows devoting an additional 50 segments to the story over the same period. A year later, she would devote just 20 seconds to an independent review of the case, which concluded that no wrongdoing had occurred.  

There is no parallel here. The difference between these two guys and the hordes of Trump goons out on a xenophobic witch hunt is vast. No one should ever have to fear going to the polls because they speak with an accent, wear traditional clothing, or have the "wrong" color skin. Period. 

They might not know it, yet, but acting on Trump's veiled calls to scare away all the scary non-English speaking brown people may just put them behind bars.