Donald Trump Jr has echoed his father’s calls to supporters to watch polls on election day in a campaign ad urging them to “defend your ballot” by joining an “army” on his behalf, stoking fears that the campaign is supporting efforts to intimidate voters over unfounded ballot fraud claims.
“We need every able-bodied man and woman to join Army for Trump’s election security operation," he said. “We need you to help us watch them.”
Democrats and election analysts, as well as social media watchdogs, have warned that the president could declare victory prematurely based on in-person votes before mail-in vote counts are tabulated in the presidential election between the Republican incumbent and Joe Biden.
The president’s supporters have already been seen intimidating voters in Virginia outside an early voting location
Events for the “election security operation” on the campaign’s website largely consist of virtual events, door knocking and canvassing efforts, voter registration drives and “victory leadership initiative training," a virtual canvassing presentation.
But the president’s son said that it’s the “radical left” – not his father, who has refused to say whether he would accept the outcome of the election, claimed mail-in votes are fraudulent, and suggested that there is no legitimate outcome unless he wins a second term – that is “laying the groundwork” to “steal” the election from his father.
On Wednesday, the president told reporters at the White House that “we want to get rid of the ballots and you’ll have a very peaceful – there won’t be a transfer” of power.
“There will be a continuation," he said.
The campaign has pushed its “Defend Your Ballot” effort for several weeks.
Social media platforms have added warnings and labels to the ads to point users to information about mail-in voting.
Mr Trump has signalled an unprecedented voter suppression and intimidation effort by urging supporters to menace voters at the polls and suggesting he could invoke the Insurrection Act to quash election-related protests.
Last month, he told Fox News host Sean Hannity: “We're going to have sheriffs, and we're going to have law enforcement, and we're going to have, hopefully, US attorneys, and we're going to have everybody and attorney generals [sic]” monitoring polls and at polling stations across the US.
At a recent rally in North Carolina, he told supporters to “watch all the thieving and stealing and robbing they do” at the polls.
His son said his opponents are “planting stories” that the president would win by a “landslide” on Election Day but “lose” as mail-in ballots are counted, though election analysts predict delays as officials count a large number of ballots cast by voters avoiding in-person polls during the coronavirus pandemic.
He claimed without evidence that “their plan is to add millions of fraudulent ballots that can cancel your vote and overturn the election."
On Thursday, Senator Bernie Sanders depicted one scenario in which the president prematurely declared victory as results from in-person votes at the polls – historically counted within hours after they’ve closed – show a Trump lead in battleground states, while mail-in votes are declared invalid by GOP allies and his judicial appointees and electors defend him.
FBI director Christopher Wray has said that the agency has "not seen, historically, any kind of coordinated national voter fraud effort in a major election, whether it's by mail or otherwise."
“To change a federal election outcome by mounting that kind of fraud at scale would be a major challenge for an adversary, but people should make no mistake that we’re vigilant as to the threat and watching it carefully," he told a Senate committee this week.
In court filings, the president’s own campaign failed to provide any evidence of vote-by-mail fraud as part of a recent lawsuit in Pennsylvania, where the president’s campaign sued to block ballot dropboxes and other vote-by-mail measures, including invalidating mail-in-ballots that aren’t sealed inside a “secrecy” envelope.
Sophia Lin Lakin, Deputy Director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project, told The Independent that the campaign’s threats themselves constitute intimidation.
“Even if he’s bluffing or saying something coming to mind, there’s a certain amount of concern about the statements themselves, potentially making people nervous about going out and exercising their right to vote,” she said. “From a legal standpoint, what he’s been saying and has done, it doesn’t matter whether it is or isn’t something one would consider legal. We prepare for it in that matter even though it seems far beyond the pale.”