CINCINNATI -- If there’s any evidence to support Donald Trump’s repeated assertions that the Nov. 8 election has been rigged against him, the U.S. Department of Justice wants to know about it.
U.S. attorneys throughout the country have announced that their 94 offices are part of an Election Day program designed to combat election fraud and voting rights abuses anywhere they find them.
"Remember, we are competing in a rigged election," Trump, the Republican presidential candidate, said during a rally in mid-October in Wisconsin, one of many times when he questioned whether the election is being conducted fairly. "They even want to try and rig the election at the polling booths, where so many cities are corrupt and voter fraud is all too common."
Despite Trump rhetoric that sounds like it’s based on absolute certainty, Benjamin C. Glassman, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Ohio and a Cincinnati resident, insisted that there is no direct link between Trump’s broad accusations and the Election Day program.
The procedure that will be in place next week doesn’t differ from what’s been done in the past for many years for federal general elections, said Glassman, whose district includes 48 counties in the southern half of the state, including Hamilton and all of the neighboring Ohio counties in the region.
“I would say no,” Glassman said when asked if Trump’s comments have influenced how the Justice Department will operate on Election Day. “The reason I’m saying no is I feel like every time there is a presidential election you have a very heightened attention to the matter. ... It’s the same program that we have been using because the Department of Justice takes so seriously making sure that the election is fair and has integrity, so I think this year we’re taking it extremely seriously, just like we do every time.”
Despite Trump’s assertions from the top of the ticket, Hamilton County Republican Party Chair Alex Triantafilou, a member of the Hamilton County Board of Elections, sounded confident that the election would be conducted lawfully.
Triantafilou said he’s well aware of Trump’s claims that the election is being rigged by the media and that he’s heard less about the candidate’s contention that the outcome will be altered by crooked election officials.
“I believe very strongly that it’s not rigged in Ohio or in Hamilton County,” Triantafilou said.
Triantafilou said local Republicans, as they have done in the past, will have a number of “poll observers” stationed at some of the polling places to document how the election is conducted. But he pointed out that these observers, who must be appointed in advance, have limited roles and are prohibited from talking with voters, making phone calls or taking pictures.
Glassman said he named Fairfield native Emily Glatfelter, who works as the deputy criminal chief in the Cincinnati office, as the election officer in Cincinnati. Two other assistant U.S. attorneys will play that Election Day role in Department of Justice Southern District offices in Dayton and Columbus.
Attorneys in the three offices have been instructed to focus on violations of federal election laws and to be prepared to respond to calls from the public, Glassman said.
“Federal law protects against such crimes as intimidating or bribing voters, buying and selling votes, impersonating voters, altering vote tallies, stuffing ballot boxes, and marking ballots for voters against their wishes or without their input,” Glassman said in a prepared statement that was distributed by U.S. attorneys throughout the country.
Federal law also protects “the rights of voters and provides that they can vote free from acts that intimidate or harass them. For example, actions of persons designed to interrupt or intimidate voters at polling places by questioning or challenging them, or by photographing or videotaping them … may violate federal voting rights law.”
“This is the cornerstone of democracy and we will be doing everything that we can to make sure that this is a fair election,” said Glatfelter, who first went to work for the Department of Justice about 10 years ago in Maryland. “We’ll be ready to respond to any type of complaint or issues.”
Although Glatfelter said that she has not worked on any federal election cases in the past, Glassman gave her high marks for a couple of other high-profile white collar prosecutions that she handled in recent years, including the prosecution of James Hammes, an accountant who embezzled $8.7 million from G&J Pepsi-Cola Bottlers in Cincinnati and then vanished for about six years. It was later determined that Hammes spent much of that time on the Appalachian Trail.
When he was interviewed earlier in the week, Glassman said he was not aware of any information indicating that next week’s election will be unusual in light of the bitter battle between Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton. Peter Carr, a spokesman for the Justice Department in Washington, declined comment about whether the department has received any pre-election complaints that originated from Greater Cincinnati.
“As far as the district election officers go, that’s (about) responding, making sure that we are in close contact with the civil rights division in Washington, D.C., the public integrity section in Washington, D.C., the FBI here, the (Ohio) secretary of the state and the local county election boards and police authorities in terms of coordination (and) being able to respond to any complaints that we receive,” Glassman said.
He said there are no plans to have employees of his office or of the FBI cruising past polling places to observe the election process.
“Historically in the Southern District of Ohio, we’ve always been on call and at the ready,” Glassman said. “But there have been historically very few complaints on Election Day, and those very few that we have received over the years we have invariably been able to address and work out with state and local election authorities.”
Glassman was named U.S. attorney in early October and had been the acting U.S. attorney since March after serving 11 years as an assistant U.S. attorney.
His comments about the background of the election-day program were supported by Carr, who said the initiative goes back more than 40 years, before the department created the Public Integrity Section, which focuses on criminal abuses of the public trust by government officials.
The Department of Justice said complaints about possible violations of the federal voting rights laws can be made directly to the Civil Rights Division’s Voting Section in Washington:
- Phone: 1-800-253-3931 or 202-307-2767
- Fax: 202-307-3961
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Complaint form: http://www.justice.gov/crt/complaint/votintake/index.php