Warning of election fraud, Trump sparks fear that his backers may intimidate minority voters

In remarks with strong racial overtones, Donald Trump told a mainly white rural crowd in Pennsylvania on Friday that vote fraud could cheat him out of victory and vowed to dispatch police who support him to monitor polls in “certain parts” of the state.

“We’re going to have unbelievable turnout, but we don’t want to see people voting five times, folks,” the Republican presidential nominee said at a rally in Altoona, Pa.

After months of racially charged violence between Trump supporters and protesters at his rallies, the comments raised the specter of confrontations on election day in precincts with many minority voters.

Trump, who previously suggested the Nov. 8 election would be rigged for Democratic rival Hillary Clinton, said he’d “heard some stories about certain parts of the state, and we have to be very careful.”

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“Maybe you should go down and volunteer or do something,” Trump told the audience, bemoaning Pennsylvania’s lack of voter identification requirements.

“We have a lot of law enforcement people working that day,” he said. “We’re hiring a lot of people. We’re putting a lot of law enforcement — we’re going to watch Pennsylvania, go down to certain areas and watch and study, and make sure other people don’t come in and vote five times.”

Trump’s remarks came two weeks after a federal appeals court struck down a voter ID law in North Carolina, another presidential battleground state. The law targeted African Americans “with almost surgical precision” in an effort to suppress the black vote, the court found.

A week earlier, a federal appeals court ruled that a voter ID law in Texas violated the Voting Rights Act, threatening to depress turnout of black and Latino voters.

For years, Republican governors and state lawmakers have enacted voter ID laws that they say are needed to stop fraud. Democrats and civil rights groups have challenged the laws in court, arguing that there is scant evidence of fraud and that the real purpose is to block minority voters from casting ballots.

Pennsylvania’s voter ID law, which was struck down in court in 2014, was one of the most fiercely contested in the 2012 presidential election. Mike Turzai, a state House GOP leader at the time, said publicly that he expected the law to ensure Republican Mitt Romney would win Pennsylvania. Romney lost the state.

Wendy Weiser, director of the Democracy Program at the New York University School of Law’s Brennan Center for Justice, called Trump’s comments “very disturbing and harmful.”

“That kind of rhetoric can be used to keep lots of legitimate people from voting,” she said. “This has happened a lot through our history, and it’s been happening a lot lately.”

She said Trump’s call for law enforcement to police balloting locations — beyond the scope of routine election administration — was a “red flag” for potential election day trouble and risked reviving the kind of voter intimidation tactics that were a hallmark of the Jim Crow era.

Trump told supporters at the rally that the only way he could lose Pennsylvania would be if cheating occurs “in certain sections of the state.”

“We have some great people here, some great leaders here, of the Republican Party, and they’re very concerned about that, and that’s the way we could lose the state,” he said.

“We have to call up law enforcement, and we have to have the sheriffs, and the police chiefs, and everybody watching,” he said. “Because if we get cheated out of this election, if we get cheated out of a win in Pennsylvania,  which is such a vital state, especially when I know what’s happening here, folks. I know it — she can’t beat what’s happening here.”

Recent polls have found Trump lagging Clinton by an average of 9 percentage points in Pennsylvania. A survey last month by the Wall Street Journal and NBC News found Trump winning zero percent of the state’s black vote.

michael.finnegan@latimes.com

Twitter: @finneganLAT

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