Gabrielle Gray is responding to Donald Trump’s call for election observers, but not the way the Republican nominee intended.
Gray, a political science doctoral student at Howard University, is helping to organize a team of students from dozens of HBCUs to make sure Trump’s ‘observers’ don’t intimidate voters. How? Gray and her small network plan to be at polling sites.
“It was so important to make sure that people were exercising their rights to vote,” Gray told theGrio.com in an interview.
The Republican presidential nominee has been beating the ‘voter fraud’ drum at his rallies for quite some time, and he’s been urging his loyal followers to help him solve this ‘problem.’
“You’ve been reading the same stories I’ve been reading, so go to your place and vote, and then go pick some other place and go sit there with your friends and make sure it’s on the up and up,” Trump said at a rally in Pennsylvania late last month.
“The election is definitely rigged,” a Trump supporter told a Comedy Central correspondent in a now-viral YouTube video.
Sherry Argend encouraged fellow Trump backers in August to “Wear RED on Election Day so the media cannot lie about how many turn out for Trump!”
The Trump camp is concerned votes for the Republican candidate will not be counted or that too many votes will be counted for Hillary Clinton.
Becoming a election observer for Trump is as easy as visiting his website.
Trump’s rhetoric reminds Gray of stories her grandmother shared about living in the Jim Crow era.
“She always spoke about what it was like to live in Jim Crow South,” Gray said. “Denial of rights is not just a historic issue, but it’s also a current date issue. The voting trends in the past — it feels very much that voter suppression is present in today’s society.”
A leaked 2005 video of Trump bragging about grabbing women’s genitals has led to a firestorm of criticism from both parties. He followed up the controversy by unleashing a torrent of insults at Hillary Clinton during Sunday night’s town hall-style debate — attacking her judgment and political career and even threatening to put her in jail.
Despite mounting criticism, Trump has sworn to his followers he will “never” drop out of the presidential race.
Gray, who is also president of the Howard University Graduate Political Science Association, is concerned Trump supporters might dissuade certain voters — suppressing their vote. Her advisor and professor, Dr. Lorenzo Morris, is assisting the counter movement.
“There is an implicit targeting in his suggestion that makes me think that those of us who are most concerned need to give special emphasis to observing certain kind of electoral constitutes,” Morris said. “Meaning those [people] where, not necessarily in the most overwhelmingly black districts and certainly not in the overwhelmingly white districts, but those that are marginal, where, in terms of numbers, where black voter intimidation can be significant.”
In an attempt to stop any discouragement, students plan to be present at polling sites, acting as unbiased motivators.
After the Florida recount in the 2000 election. scores of voter fraud allegations ensued, much of them from the Republican party. While experts and scholars have said there is no conclusive evidence of widespread voter fraud, Trump supporters have held tight to the myth.
An investigative piece by the New York Times examining five years of Justice Department records found only 26 fraud convictions by individual voters. Delia Bailey, of Washington University in St. Louis, authored Caught in the Act: Recent Federal Election Fraud Cases. Bailey found only nine fraud cases between 2000-2005. Kansas’ secretary of state researched 84 million votes in 22 states and found only 14 possible fraud cases.
In 1965, the landmark civil rights legislation, The Voting Rights Act, signed into law by then President Lyndon Johnson, was put in place so that state and local laws could not prevent African-Americans from exercising their right to vote.
The group will have students in eight states, such as Pennsylvania, Virginia, North Carolina, and Michigan — places where black voter turnout is critical.
While recognizing the group is small, so far, the goal is to have 15 people per state at three different polling sites in each state.
Although there is no concrete information on where the vote monitors will be, the students have targeted places where there is a 10 to 30 percent black population, places believed to be most vulnerable should there be any voter intimidation by Trump supporters.
There will also be a command center set up on at Howard’s campus where people across the nation can report in cases of voter intimidation.
“The people that he would be eliciting to go to the polls don’t necessarily know the law and might be excessive; in that excess, if nothing else happens, they can disrupt the process,” Morris said.
There is no law prohibiting someone from vote-monitoring. But much criticism over Trump supporters’ stance on race, particularly African-Americans, leaves some blacks skeptical. Adding to it, a recent poll by a recent Reuters/Ipsos public opinion poll shows Donald Trump supporters have antipathy towards African-Americans and are more likely to view blacks negatively.
According to a poll by the Associated Press, half of Trump supporters believe the voting process is rigged.
“For him to say that he was going to send his supporters into unspecified urban or implied urban neighborhoods is really a kind of throwback to earlier days of voter discrimination,” Morris said.
TheGrio.com reached out to the Trump campaign for comment but did not get a response at time of publication.
Ashantai Hathaway is a reporter at theGrio. Keep up with her on Twitter @ashantaih83