Can President Trump legally send the police to monitor polling places on election day?

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Knox County citizens vote early for the federal and state primary, and Knox County general election, at the New Harvest Park community building polling place in Knoxville, Tenn., on Friday, July 17, 2020. President Trump has been floating the idea of sending police officers to polling places on election day in November. Photo by Caitlyn Jordan/News Sentinel via Imagn Content Services, LLC.

The violence in Portland and Kenosha is becoming a major theme in Trump’s re-election strategy. He’s banking on a message of enforcing law and order to appeal to both his base and voters who might be reluctant to support him. 

Part of that strategy could also involve sending law enforcement officers to polling places on election day. It’s an idea that Trump’s been floating recently. If he does do this, it would look like a violation of the law, says Jessica Levinson, law professor at Loyola Law School.

“The president of the United States, as head of the executive branch of the federal government, has no power to order local law enforcement to go to the polls. He can’t tell sheriffs, he can’t tell local cops, ‘Go to the polls,’” she says. 

He also has no legal power to send in federal officers unless there’s something akin to an uprising, Levinson adds. 

What about the Homeland Security officers who went into Portland in unmarked cars during protests? Can Trump send those officers to the polls? Levinson says probably not. 

She explains that poll workers are typically volunteers from political parties or civic organizations like the League of Women Voters. 

“Sometimes the federal government, as the Department of Justice, has sent in poll watchers to make sure that things are running smoothly and fairly. But that’s different from [the] Department of Homeland Security,” she says. “Then it really becomes a question of whether or not anybody is aware of who they are, and frankly whether or not it rises to the level of voter intimidation. Or if people think maybe these are people from the League of Women Voters or from a state or local political party.” 

Credits

Guest:
Jessica Levinson - Professor, LMU's Loyola Law School in Los Angeles - @LevinsonJessica

Host:
Madeleine Brand

Producers:
Sarah Sweeney, Michell Eloy, Amy Ta, Rosalie Atkinson, Brian Hardzinski, Angie Perrin