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'We will prosecute.’ Maura Healey warns Trump after debate comments about poll watchers

Attorney General Maura Healey.
Attorney General Maura Healey.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey on Wednesday evening sought to reassure Massachusetts voters after President Trump called on his supporters during this week’s presidential debate to monitor polling places on Election Day, sparking accusations of voter intimidation.

Healey, a Democrat, said in a video posted to Twitter that she would go to court to stop any moves from Trump that could suppress voting rights, and would prosecute people who break the law.

“We’re not going to let Donald Trump undermine our election. It’s a crime to intimidate a voter, or to obstruct the vote, to interfere with the election, and we will prosecute,” she said.


During the debate with former vice president Joe Biden on Tuesday, Trump went on an extended rant against mail-in voting, making so many false claims that the Washington Post labeled it “a torrent of voter fraud disinformation.”

Asked by moderator Chris Wallace whether he would pledge to call on his supporters to remain calm during what could be an extended ballot-counting period, Trump instead said he would tell his supporters to show up at polling places and monitor the proceedings for any sign of fraud.

“I’m urging 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.

By law, in most states, almost anyone is allowed to work as a poll watcher, and it’s common for parties or campaigns to dispatch them to polling places. But party or campaign officials typically work with local election officials ahead of time to appoint poll watchers who often wear badges identifying themselves, and many states allow parties only one or two poll watchers per precinct. Poll watchers are not allowed to interfere with the election proceedings, and can only report issues to election and party officials, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.


So Trump’s broad call for his supporters to act as poll watchers has drawn criticism from those who say he’s encouraging voter intimidation at polling places. In Virginia last month, a group of Trump supporters gathered at an early voting site, at one point forming a line that voters had to bypass to enter the polling place. Some told county officials they felt intimidated, according to the New York Times.

In her video, Healey urged viewers to think now about how they plan to cast their ballots and said that Trump cannot dispatch law enforcement to local polling places.

“I sent out an advisory a week ago reminding people that the president has no authority to send police or military or private militias to polling places. We’re not going to let that happen,” she said.

The Trump campaign did not respond to a request for comment about Healey’s remarks.

Christina Prignano can be reached at christina.prignano@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @cprignano.