U.S. Attorney for Vermont Christina Nolan has chosen two election experts to oversee investigations into claims of fraud or intimidation for the Nov. 3 election.
This week Nolan appointed assistant U.S. attorneys Michael Drescher and Barbara Masterson to be district election officers for Vermont, and they will coordinate with the U.S. Justice Department.
The appointees are responsible for “overseeing the District’s handling of complaints of election fraud and voting rights concerns in consultation with Justice Department Headquarters in Washington,” according to a DOJ press release.
The key concerns that the officers will look for include “intimidating or bribing voters, buying and selling votes, impersonating voters, altering vote tallies, stuffing ballot boxes, and marking ballots for voters.”
Nolan wrote in an email that federal laws prohibit generally four types of election tampering. The first is voter fraud, “such as voting twice, buying votes, impersonating a voter, bribing a voter, and voting when ineligible to do so,” she said in a statement.
The second is voter intimidation and suppression: “An individual or a group could engage in suppression at the polls and this type of crime could come in the form of a federal civil rights crime or civil rights violation if it involved targeting of minorities because of their minority status through threats designed to suppress their vote.”
The third is public official corruption, such as altering the vote tally, destroying ballots, or” stuffing the ballot box.” The officials will also be on the look out for cybercrime “designed to tamper with or undermine the vote.”
“We hope very much that there is no election tampering in Vermont, but we are ready to respond to complaints and concerns, working with our state and local partners,” Nolan said. “Importantly, the state will often take the lead on fielding election concerns in the first instance, but the federal government will be in close communication and ready to step in when and if appropriate.”
Vermont’s offices of the Secretary of State, the Attorney General, and the state police are expected to be involved in any such investigations. The FBI will also have agents working on any allegations of election fraud.
Will the election watchers be allowed to watch?
Nolan and her team also will be looking out for voter intimidation, which can involve various acts such as harassing voters.
However, people who seek to monitor elections in the interest of ensuring election integrity could also risk breaking federal laws, according to the DOJ press release.
Anyone who appears at polling places to question, challenge, photograph or videotape voters “under the pretext that these are actions to uncover illegal voting” may end up being charged witl violations of federal voting rights law, according to the Department of Justice press release.
President Donald Trump has been a vocal critic of universal mail-in voting. Recently the president tweeted on social media that his supporters should keep a close eye on the election, especially in cities such as Philadelphia where his campaign is suing the city.
Trump’s concerns prompted a response from Vermont Secretary of State Jim Condos.
“In recent days, they’ve actually talked about poll watchers and things like that, and people standing out there observing and whatever,” Condos told reporters earlier this month. “There’s a certain intimidation that can occur.”
In an email to True North, Condos further commented on the status of poll watchers.
“I do want to be clear though: harassment and intimidation of other voters at the polls is a crime, and will not be tolerated,” he wrote. ” … No Vermonter will be denied the ability to observe the voting process from the public spaces inside and outside the polling location, so long as they are following all applicable state and federal laws, and are not blocking ingress or egress into the building.”
Condos this week issued new guidelines for election watchers in Vermont. Watchers are only permitted to ask if a person has already voted or is an “imposter.”
In poll earlier this year, a majority of Vermonters said they do not trust in the integrity of mail-in balloting. Multiple town clerks have voiced concerns that they don’t have the ability to verify the signatures on the returning ballots. One clerk told True North that “you are not gonna know” if election fraud occurs.
The release by Nolan states that having public confidence in the integrity of our elections is also a priority.
“[The Department] seeks to ensure public confidence in the integrity of the election process by providing local points of contact within the Department for the public to report possible election fraud and voting rights violations while the polls are open through election day,” it states.
Those who wish to ask questions or report a concern to Drescher and Masterson can call 802-651-8249.