Trump says he wants to use 'sheriffs' as poll watchers on Election Day

Dareh Gregorian

President Donald Trump, who's repeatedly railed against mail-in voting, said Thursday he has concerns about in-person voting as well, and wants to use law-enforcement as poll watchers on Election Day.

In a phone interview with Sean Hannity on Fox News during the Democratic National Convention, Trump was asked if he planned to have poll watchers on Election Day with the "ability to monitor, to avoid fraud and cross check whether or not these are registered voters, whether or not there's been identification to know if it's a real vote from a real American?"

Trump said, "We're going to have everything. We're going to have sheriffs and law enforcement and we're going to have, hopefully, U.S. attorneys, and we're going to have everybody, and attorney generals, but it's very hard."

Video: Trump launches attacks on Joe Biden, legitimacy of the election

Marc Elias, a top lawyer for the Democrats on voting rights, tweeted that such a move by Trump would be challenged in court by Democrats.

Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, called the threat "an old and familiar tactic pulled right from the Jim Crow playbook and often specifically targeted at Black voters and voters of color. This voter suppression scheme is intended to intimidate voters and cause a chilling effect on the electorate" and "would likely run afoul of laws that prohibit intimidation of voters."

Clarke added that her group, which fights for civil rights causes in court, "will use every tool in our arsenal to block thinly veiled efforts aimed at discouraging participation by eligible voters this election season.”

As Trump has watched his poll numbers slide, he has increasingly argued, without evidence, that the November election is at risk of being derailed by fraud. Democrats are pushing for more expansive voting by mail, a response to the pandemic that continues to plague the country. Trump, in response, has argued Democrats are trying to cheat the election.

NBC News has previously reported that the Trump campaign and the Republican National Committee are recruiting an estimated 50,000 volunteers to act as poll watchers - the GOP's first national poll-patrol operation in nearly 40 years.

Poll watching is an ordinary part of elections — both parties do it — and the rules are governed separately for each individual state.

But voting rights advocates have told NBC they're concerned that the Republicans large-scale $20 million offensive will intimidate and target minority voters who tend to vote Democratic and chill turnout in a pivotal contest already upended by the coronavirus pandemic.

Thursday appeared to be the first time the president suggested law-enforcement would be involved as well.

Trump has complained about voter fraud in the past, suggesting - with no evidence to back up the claim - that millions of fraudulent votes caused him to lose the popular vote in the 2016 election.

He's more recently complained about mail-in voting, which many states are trying to ramp up because of coronavirus concerns at polling places.

Trump continued his assault on mail-in voting with Hannity and asserted - falsely - that ballots were being sent out to random people.

"They will send out 51 million ballots to people they have no idea why it's coming, who it's going to. Unfortunately they may have a very good idea the people sending them. They may send them to all Democrat areas and not to Republican areas. It could be the other way too, but I doubt it. It's a very serious problem," Trump said, predicting "This will be the most fraudulent election in U.S. history."