Two poll challengers—one wearing a Halloween mask, the other refusing to wear her face mask properly—were kicked out of a Detroit polling station on Monday as workers began processing absentee ballots from the city.
As the Detroit Free Press reports, a man wearing an all-white horror-movie mask with poll challenger credentials began making a scene at the TCF Center on Monday morning, shouting out that the process was “crooked.” He refused to give his name to reporters and acted belligerently, yelling in the direction of poll workers before being escorted out by police. A Detroit election supervisor said the man, who appears white, was using “racist language, referring to slavery,” writes the Free Press.
The election supervisor also pointed out that the man’s Halloween mask violated public health rules because it failed to cover his entire mouth—defeating the entire purpose of the mask.
Another poll challenger also violated mask-wearing rules, this time a white woman who wore her mask without covering her nose. This in and of itself was not an issue, but when workers asked her to wear her mask properly, she refused, said a Detroit election supervisor.
Because she was unwilling to comply, police escorted her out, too.
Poll challengers are different from poll watchers, who are tasked by political parties or candidates to monitor election administrators and keep track of voter turnout for their respective parties. The point of a poll watcher is to ensure that their party has a fair shot at winning an election. Poll challengers, however, can actually challenge whether a voter is eligible to vote. While typically appointed or picked by a political party as well, they can only challenge a voter’s status based on actual knowledge, not something they assume to be true.
This is different from voter intimidation, which is when a person interferes with another’s right to vote. According to the ACLU, examples of voter intimidation include “aggressively questioning voters about their citizenship, criminal record, or other qualifications to vote; falsely presenting oneself as an elections official, spreading false information about voter requirements, such as an ability to speak English; displaying false or misleading signs about voter fraud and the related criminal penalties; and other harassment, particularly toward non-English speakers and voters of color.”
The party affiliation of the two poll challengers kicked out of the Detroit precinct was not explicitly stated, though your first guess is likely the right one.
In total, the city of Detroit—in which Black people make up 79 percent of the population—has received about 154,000 absentee ballots as of last Sunday, and is currently tracking to have half of all its eligible voters cast a ballot in 2020—higher than 2016, but lower than 2012 and 2008, when Detroit voters were spurred to vote on account of Barack Obama’s candidacy.
The interruptions from poll challengers today may be a glimpse into what could happen at some precincts throughout the country on Tuesday, as concerns about voter intimidation remain high thanks to President Donald Trump’s rhetoric.
“I’m urging my supporters to go into the polls and watch very carefully because that’s what has to happen,” Trump said during the first, completely unwatchable presidential debate in September. “I am urging them to do it. As you know, today there was a big problem. In Philadelphia, they went in to watch, they were called poll watchers, a very safe very nice thing. They were thrown out. They weren’t allowed to watch. You know why? Because bad things happen in Philadelphia. Bad things. And I am urging, I am urging my people—I hope it’s gonna be a fair election. If it’s a fair election, I am 100 percent on board. But if I see tens of thousands of ballots being manipulated. I can’t go along with that.”
Many people expect Trump to contest the election (because he said he would) and states like Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin are among those that may have an undue impact on the final outcome. All three have split state leadership—a Democratic governor and a Republican controlled-legislature—priming the way for a lot of contested ballots and, potentially, legal battles that could last well past Nov. 3.
But while Trump has pushed his supporters to show up at polls to combat potential fraud—going so far in Philadelphia as to request monitors be installed to watch people fill out ballots—CNN notes that it’s actually Trump’s campaign “that has that has run afoul of the law in the state, scolded for videotaping people casting ballots.”
Concerns about voter suppression and stealing ballots are so widespread that Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner warned on Monday, “If you are planning in Philadelphia to try to steal our votes, I got something for you: I got a jail cell, I have charging papers, and when you get to the end of the process, I have a Philadelphia jury that you can tell why you thought it was OK to steal their votes.”