Nevada top prosecutor vows to take on voter intimidation

President Donald Trump holds a campaign rally at the Minden-Tahoe Airport in Nevada on Sept. 12, 2020.

CARSON CITY — Nevada Attorney General Aaron Ford said Thursday he is worried about the possibility of voter intimidation after President Donald Trump implored supporters to “watch very carefully” at the polls. State prosecutors plan strict enforcement, Ford said in an interview.

Trump made the comments during the first presidential debate this week with Democratic candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden.

Ford said he believes Trump “wasn’t talking about poll watching. He was talking about voter intimidation.”

“Believe me when I say it: You do it, and you will be prosecuted,” Ford tweeted on Tuesday.

Ford, a Democrat, told The Associated Press that he viewed Trump’s comments as threatening because Trump has also declined to denounce white supremacists or commit to a peaceful transfer of power. 

He called Trump’s poll watching comments a “dog whistle” that could lure Trump’s supporters to voting locations and disregard Nevada’s poll watching laws.

“I do not appreciate, frankly, a rehashing of what we saw during the Civil Rights era where folks were intimidated from exercising their constitutional right to vote,” Ford said.

Nevada law allows people to monitor polling places as long as they don’t talk to or interact with voters. It’s been a felony since 1960 to intimidate, threaten or impede people from exercising their voting rights.

President Donald Trump speaks during a rally at Xtreme Manufacturing on Sunday, Sept. 13, 2020, in Henderson. (Ellen Schmidt/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @ellenkschmidttt

Trump’s poll watching comment have centered on swing states like Nevada and Pennsylvania and Trump during the debate blasted Philadelphia officials for not allowing uncertified poll watchers to enter satellite election offices. 

Pennsylvania law allows certified poll watchers to observe activity at voting precincts, but no poll watchers have yet been certified for the Trump campaign, the Republican Party, or other Republican campaigns, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported.

Trump has encouraged poll watching in Nevada since a Sept. 12 rally, where he accused Democrats of attempting to rig the election.

“I hope you’re all going to be poll watchers. I hope you are. Because with you people watching the polls, it’s going to be pretty hard to cheat. I’ll tell you. I wouldn’t want to be a cheater,” he told supporters in the rural northern city of Minden.

Ford’s office said it had not prosecuted anyone for voter intimidation since he took office in 2019. 

State prosecutors relies on cooperation from state election officials to enforce election laws. In late July, Republican Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske told state lawmakers that election officials lack investigative capacity and rely primarily on people at polling places to report alleged fraud and other violations.

Ford’s office said most reports are voter registration infractions, including thrown away voter registrations or identity theft.

Former Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt, a Republican, said he couldn’t recall prosecuting voter intimidation during his 2014-18 tenure. Laxalt in an emailed statement called Ford’s comments equating poll-watching with voter intimidation “bizarre.”

He said it was unclear why “Ford is attempting to intimidate this time honored legal and traditional avenue to help give the public more confidence in our elections at a time when election confidence is so low.”

___

Sam Metz is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America  is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.