Donald Trump's poll-watching talk spurs call for international monitors of U.S. election

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Citing Donald Trump's controversial call to his supporters to challenge voters at the polls, a leading civil rights group is urging international election monitors to beef up their efforts to observe this November's U.S. presidential contest.

It's the latest reflection of deep concern among voting rights advocates about potential voter intimidation and suppression this fall.

In a letter sent Saturday, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights asked the Warsaw, Poland-based Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to "greatly expand" its U.S. election monitoring program.

Related: Trump Poll-Watching Plan Stirs Voter Intimidation Fears

"A confluence of factors," the civil rights group said, has made racial discrimination in voting a greater threat than at any time in recent history.

"The unprecedented weakening of the Voting Rights Act has led to a tidal wave of voter discrimination efforts nationwide and has required the United States to drastically scale back its own election monitoring program," wrote Wade Henderson and Nancy Zirkin, president and vice president respectively of the Washington, D.C.-based Leadership Conference.

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"In addition, a leading presidential candidate who has made the demonization of racial, ethnic, and religious minorities a hallmark of his campaign has recently urged supporters to challenge voters at polling sites nationwide."

The letter also urged OSCE to target its resources on states where racial discrimination in voting or voter intimidation are particular threats. It singled out Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Alabama, Georgia, Arizona, Wisconsin, North Dakota, and Texas.

All those states have imposed restrictive voting laws or rules in recent years, though several have been blocked or softened by courts.

Related: Federal Judge Strikes Down Texas Law That Violates Voting Rights Act

An OSCE spokesman declined Monday to comment on the letter, saying the organization planned to respond directly to the Leadership Conference on Tuesday.

In June, OSCE issued a "Needs Assessment Mission Report," in which it said it planned to send 500 monitors to the U.S.

Trump has lately warned on the campaign trail, without evidence, that court rulings against voter ID laws could let people vote up to fifteen times, enabling Democrats to steal the election.

In one stop in Altoona, Pennsylvania, he singled out "certain sections" of the state as particularly prone to fraud.

"Go down to certain areas and watch and study and make sure other people don't come in and vote five times," Trump said.

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Mitt Romney has been critical of Trump's rhetoric. REUTERS/Jim Urquhart

Senator John Thune (R-SD) addresses delegates during the third session of the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida, August 29, 2012. REUTERS/Mike Segar (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS ELECTIONS)
Republican U.S. Sen. Mike Lee speaks during the Utah Solutions Summit Thursday, Sept. 1, 2016, in Salt Lake City. Donald Trump's running mate Mike Pence is scheduled to make his first visit to Utah on Thursday since becoming a vice presidential candidate, and the Indiana governor is expected to use the visit to help bolster support for the Republican nominee. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Former U.S. President George H. W. Bush has not endorsed Trump, and insiders revealed in September he plans to vote for Hillary Clinton.


Former President George W. Bush campaigned for his brother Republican presidential candidate, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush Monday, during the primary, and has taken what many think were subtle digs at Trump. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Jeb Bush, former Governor of Florida and 2016 Republican presidential candidate, was one of Donald Trump's primary targets during the primary season. 

Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Former Republican presidential candidate and Ohio Governor John Kasich stayed in the primary longer than most other candidates, and notably refused to appear at the GOP convention in the same arena with Trump, attending other events instead. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), a close friend to Sen. John McCain, has been a vocal critic of Trump's. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
UPDATE: Although he didn't endorse Trump during the 2016 convention, Ted Cruz eventually changed his mind, saying in September he'd vote for the GOP nominee (Photo by Ida Mae Astute/ABC via Getty Images) 
Pictured: George Pataki participates in CNBC's 'Your Money, Your Vote: The Republican Presidential Debate' live from the University of Colorado Boulder in Boulder, Colorado Wednesday, October 28th at 6PM ET / 8PM ET -- (Photo by: David A. Grogan/CNBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
In this June 9, 2014, file photo, U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk R-Ill., speaks in his office in Chicago. In his fight to keep his Senate seat, Kirk has repeatedly criticized opponent Democratic U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth's service as director of the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs. His latest attacks come in two new campaign ads. But the ads leave out important facts and context. (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green, File)
U.S. Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) addresses the second session of the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida August 28, 2012. REUTERS/Mike Segar (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS ELECTIONS)

Trump's campaign followed up by asking visitors to its website to sign up to be a "Trump Election Observer." Those who do so receive an email declaring: "We are going to do everything we are legally allowed to do to stop crooked Hillary from rigging this election. Someone from the campaign will be contacting you soon."

Trump's first general election TV ad, released last week, reinforces that message. In its second frame, it shows a polling place, with the words "system rigged" on the screen.

All this has led many voting rights advocates to fear that some Trump supporters, inflamed by their candidate's rhetoric, could actively try to keep legitimate voters from the polls.

In one potential sign of trouble to come, a Florida-based Trump backer tweeted Friday: "We gonna be watch'n fer shenanigans...& haul ya away," above a photograph of a pickup truck with a cage in the truck bed.

RELATED: Voter ID laws by state

Those concerns have been heightened by last month's announcement by the U.S. Justice Department that it will reduce the number of its own election observers deployed to polling places this fall.

The DOJ said the pull-back was required by the Supreme Court's 2013 ruling inShelby County v. Holder, which significantly weakened the Voting Rights Act, though some voting rights advocates have called that an unnecessarily conservative reading of the ruling.

The OSCE is perhaps best known as an international security organization, but its human-rights arm sends election monitors at the request of member states. The U.S. government has invited OSCE monitors to observe the last three presidential elections, as well as the upcoming one. And American observers, under the OSCE's auspices, have monitored elections in Russia, Ukraine, and other countries.

OSCE monitors have no legal authority to affect election proceedings. Still, in 2012, Greg Abbott, then the Republican Attorney General of Texas — he's now the state's governor — threatened to arrest OSCE monitors sent to his state.

In response, an OSCE spokesman singled out the wave of recent restrictive state voting laws, saying they violate America's commitment to hold open elections.

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