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Fears of Immigrant Voter Suppression Prompt Watchdogs to Head to Polls

By Aidan Gardiner | November 7, 2016 11:17am

NEW YORK CITY — Fears of voter suppression efforts from hate groups have moved watchdogs to monitor polling places Tuesday in city neighborhoods with large immigrant populations, advocates say.

The election will be the culmination of nearly two years of presidential campaigning that has often relied on anti-immigrant sentiment, especially from GOP candidate Donald Trump who disparaged Mexicans and pledged to bar Muslims from entering the United States.

Hate groups across the nation, such as the Ku Klux Klan and the National Socialist Movement, have announced plans to monitor polling sites while others hope to convince people to stay home Nov. 8, POLITICO reported.

Representatives with the right-wing site "The Right Stuff" plan on distributing liquor and marijuana in Philadelphia's "ghetto" to try to keep people home, they told POLITICO.

Right Stuff staff didn't immediately return a request for comment for this story. Neither did Trump campaign representatives.

While there's no evidence of any specific suppression plots targeting New York City, advocates are worried that people may feel emboldened by Trump's rhetoric and disrupt voting in immigrant neighborhoods.

"We are concerned about the generally toxic level of encouragement for inappropriate behavior in polling places," said Susan Lerner, the executive director for Common Cause New York, an open government advocacy organization.

"Here in New York City where we have such a diverse population, some individuals or extreme groups could take this encouragement as an invitation," Lerner said.

Common Cause plans on sending 200 monitors to "areas where new Americans, particularly Muslim Americans are clustered," such as Jackson Heights, Flushing and other neighborhoods across the five boroughs, Lerner said.

They're also trying to recruit and train monitors who speak Arabic and Bengali, Lerner said.

Similarly, Latino Justice, a New York City-based civil rights advocacy group, plans on deploying 50 lawyers and legal students to polling sites around in Spanish-speaking neighborhoods such as Washington Heights and Park Slope, said spokesman John Garcia.

Latino Justice monitors, like those at Common Cause, said they will mostly watch for run-of-the-mill voting problems and don't necessarily expect any hate group activity in the five boroughs.

"If we found some hate groups harassing people at the polls, we'd get involved there [but] we're looking for regular instances of problems at the polls," Garcia said.

Far more likely will be poll workers turning voters away because they can't find someone in the rolls, or incorrect literature, and just general inefficiency that could discourage voters "because it's such a mess," Lerner said.

"There are always problems with ill-informed poll workers who end up suppressing the vote. Whether it's deliberate or ignorance, it's hard to tell," Lerner said.

That said, if anyone sees people actively trying to suppress others' right to vote, they should contact the authorities or local representatives, Lerner said. 

"If there's a threat of violence, you call the police, period," Lerner said.

Various government government agencies have hotlines people can call to report voting problems including one run by New York's attorney general — 1(800) 771-7755 — and the federal Department of Justice — 1(800)253-3931.

Lerner also said that after alerting authorities, people can report problems at PollWatch.info, which is partly run by Common Cause.

Latino Justice touts a similar app, Cada Voto Cuenta, that iOS and Android users can use to also report polling place problems.