ST. PAUL — Toward the end of the Sept. 29 presidential debate with Joe Biden, President Donald Trump asked for his supporters' help in combating fraud that he has routinely and baselessly asserted will plague the November 2020 presidential election.
"I am encouraging my supporters to go into the polls and watch very carefully, because that's what has to happen — I am urging them to do it," Trump said.
Days later, he tweeted a link to campaign reelection website, armyfortrump.com, where they could register to do just that. While the campaign "Election Day Team" will focus mostly on "getting out the vote," the website said, "volunteers may be involved in other Election Day activities such as precinct coverage."
But just whether and how a campaign can field an army of poll watchers to look out for fraud in Minnesota is unclear. That's partly because the state doesn't allow poll watchers to monitor voting precincts.
Trump's call to action, then, "just isn't possible in Minnesota," according to Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon.
"I really want to get the word out that there are better ways for people to support their candidate. They should go pound lawn signs or make phone calls, or do other things or knock on doors," Simon said in an interview with Forum News Service. "But this isn’t one of them, just because only one person will be allowed in. There’s no use in mobilizing or counter-mobilizing mass numbers of people to show up without notice at the polling place."
Minnesota does allow what are called "challengers" to participate in its elections. But major political parties can only appoint one challenger per polling place, each of whom has to follow certain rules.
Challenges can only be made based on the challenger's personal knowledge of a voter's ineligibility to cast a ballot, according to Minnesota law. And challenges have to be made in writing.
An election judge who receives a written challenge must then ask that voter questions about their "residence and right to vote." If the challenged voter's answers "show ineligibility," they may not be allowed to vote.
Although election fraud is said to be rare, Trump and his campaign continue to make much ado about it. The latest call for Trump supporters to monitor precincts is seen by turns as a rallying cry against fraud and an attempt to intimidate voters who oppose him.
Simon acknowledges it's possible that groups of people may intimidate voters from outside of polling precincts, something he said his office has discussed extensively.
It might even be likely given the news broken Friday, Oct. 9, by the Washington Post, which reported that a Tennessee-based private security firm is recruiting former U.S. military servicemembers to guard voting precincts in Minnesota. The firm's founder denied in an interview with the Post that their presence will be intimidating to voters.
That news came days after Simon told Forum News Service that he did not know of any groups planning to gather outside of voting precincts. In a statement released Friday, Simon reiterated that Minnesota law does not allow anyone other than voters and election judges to be within 100 feet of a precinct's entrance on Election Day.
"Every Minnesota voter should feel confident about safely exercising one of their most important rights," Simon said in the statement.
Forum News Service could not determine, meanwhile, the extent to which the Republican Party of Minnesota will be using poll challengers on Election Day. A party spokesperson did not return questions seeking comment on the matter by late Friday.
Also unclear is if the Trump campaign is organizing a volunteer "Election Day Team" in Minnesota and what, if anything, it will do given the state's laws against poll watching.
"We all know that the Democrats will be up to their old, dirty tricks on Election Day to make sure that President Trump doesn’t win," campaign spokesperson Erin Perrine says in a video on the armyfortrump.com website. "We cannot let that happen. That is why our goal is to cover every polling place in the country with people like you."
Forum News Service reached out to the campaign and asked if it would coordinate with local Republican Party officials to recruit volunteers to act as poll challengers, or if it would separately manage a poll monitoring program of its own, among other things.
A campaign spokesperson did not respond.
Several groups in Minnesota are working with local political parties to help recruit challengers, however, according to League of Women Voters Minnesota civic engagement director Nick Harper.
"And that’s great," Harper said in an interview, "that’s part of the process."
For its part, the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party has so far recruited more than 1,000 challengers, party Chairman Ken Martin said in an interview Friday. That's more than in previous years, he said, something he attributes partly to Trump himself.
"There's a lot more focus on voter protections and making sure that we have a free and fair election after attempts by Donald Trump and Mike Pence to undermine the election," Martin said.