SAN FRANCISCO (CBS / AP) – California voting rights advocates say they will monitor more polling places than usual on Election Day amid concerns about possible voter intimidation stemming from GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump’s repeated assertions that the election is rigged against him.
The stepped-up efforts are happening as officials in the diverse state brace for a potentially high turnout in the presidential election year. In addition, there are numerous local and state races and 17 statewide initiatives on the ballot that could take voters a while to complete.
Monday is the deadline for Californians to register to vote in the Nov. 8 election. Counties began sending out vote-by-mail ballots on Oct. 10. More than 800,000 have been completed and returned, according to data tracking firm Political Data Inc., which tracks returns reported by counties.
More than 18 million people have registered to vote, a record high for the state, with nearly a third of them in Los Angeles County alone.
While California is not known for strict voter ID laws or hours-long waits to vote that critics argue can disenfranchise voters, election-watchers worry about the harsh tenor this campaign season.
“Every voter in California should know that their right as a voter includes being able to cast their ballots free of any harassment or intimidation,” said California Secretary of State Alex Padilla said.
Trump, who is trailing Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in California and a number of other states, says he is enlisting volunteers to stop his rival from rigging this election. He has voiced strong support for North Carolina’s stringent voter ID law, saying that without it, voters could cast ballots multiple times.
His statements, in part, have prompted Asian Americans Advancing Justice affiliates in Los Angeles and in San Francisco to step up poll observations. The affiliates plan to partner with organizations to expand its operations into the Central Valley and San Bernardino and Riverside counties, areas with high populations of Latinos.
Deanna Kitamura, voting rights project director for Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Los Angeles, said the groups aren’t necessarily anticipating problems.
“But given the rhetoric, we’re concerned people will go beyond what is legal and try to question every person who fits a particular type of profile, to see if they can legally vote or not,” she said.
Nationally, the watchdog group Common Cause has ramped up efforts to have poll monitors in at least 31 states, including California, said Allegra Chapman, the group’s director of voting and elections.
Harmeet Dhillon, national committeewoman to the Republican National Committee, said such worries are overblown and GOP lawyers will be on hand at polling sites to safeguard the integrity of the election.
“There is no organized effort that I know of to influence people in any way,” she said.
Dean Logan, president of the California Association of Clerks and Election Officials and the registrar of voters in Los Angeles County, said voting early and by mail is on pace with the 2008 presidential election. He said counties have issued more than 10.7 million vote-by-mail ballots.
California accepts ballots postmarked as late as Election Day and received by counties up to three business days later, which typically slows final results compared to other states.
Kim Alexander, president of the nonprofit California Voter Foundation, said many voters in the June primary did not realize they had committed to permanently receiving mail-in ballots.
That resulted in confused voters showing up at polling sites unaware they had received mail-in ballots at home, she said. In those cases, counties issued provisional ballots so clerks could verify counties hadn’t already received ballots from those voters, leaving some feeling as if their vote didn’t count.
“For this election,” she said, “you’re going to have a lot of people who vote occasionally or are first-time voters, and they’re going to need some extra assistance.”
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