In the wake of President Trump’s recent call on his supporters to “go into the polls and watch very carefully,” Montgomery County Council members worry that voter intimidation could occur at the county’s in-person voting centers during the upcoming election.
Trump made those comments during the first presidential debate on Tuesday, and also renewed his claims that mail-in voting would be a “disaster.” His comments stoked fears of voter intimidation in Maryland and across the United States.
During their Thursday afternoon virtual meeting, Montgomery County Council members pressed for, and local election officials outlined, a plan to curb attempts at intimidation.
Councilmember William O. Jawando (D) said he expects some of Trump’s supporters in Montgomery County to heed the president’s call to observe the polls.
“I think there’s a significant threat and concern of voter intimidation at the polls,” Jawando said. “There are people here that will listen to that cry and call, and come out.”
Although many Marylanders are expected to vote by mail in the upcoming election, state election officials opted to open limited in-person voting centers for early voting and for the Nov. 3 general election. Montgomery County is slated to have some 40 voting centers on Nov. 3, and 11 centers for early voting, which will take place between Oct. 26 and Nov. 2.
Local election officials acknowledged Jawando’s and other council members’ concerns, but said they have a plan to crack down on voter intimidation. James Shalleck, the Republican chairman of the county’s board of elections, said staff will have “zero tolerance” for actions that could deter voters from casting their ballots.
“Once we get any indication of improprieties or intimidation, we will send staff there to see if it can be resolved,” Shalleck said. “If not, it will become a police matter.”
Police in the county will adjust their patrols to include the county’s drop box locations in the coming weeks, Montgomery County Deputy Election Director Alysoun McLaughlin said. She said election officials often have both police and Homeland Security at their headquarters during elections for added security.
“There will be a quick police response if it’s something that we can’t resolve,” Shalleck said.
Voter intimidation is a crime in Maryland punishable by up to five years in prison and a $2,500 fine, according to state election law. Voters should report intimidation to the State Board of Elections at 1-800-222-8683, according to the website for the Maryland Attorney General.
The Montgomery County Board of Elections is scheduled to decide how to conduct the canvass of ballots, including public observation of the canvass, at its Friday meeting.