Polling safeguards stepped up after Trump's 'rigged election' claim

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(Reuters) - Authorities in Philadelphia will station prosecutors throughout the city on election day to respond to any reports of voter intimidation or other illegal activity after Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump claimed that polling might be "rigged" in this mostly minority city.

Philadelphia is one of many U.S. municipalities wrestling with how to respond to Trump's call for supporters to "watch" polling places, and corresponding promises from civil rights groups that they will send their own backers to the polls.

Early voting begins around the US

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Early voting underway in some states
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Early voting underway in some states
A sign indicating no phones are allowed in ballot booths is displayed as a man casts his ballot during early voting at the San Diego County Elections Office in San Diego, California, U.S., November 7, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Blake
An attendee holds a sign reading 'Nasty Women Vote' during of a campaign event with Hillary Clinton, 2016 Democratic presidential nominee, in Detroit, Michigan, U.S., on Friday, Nov. 4, 2016. As the U.S. presidential race heads into its final weekend, Donald Trump is showing strength in Iowa and Ohio pre-Election Day voting, while Clinton's advantage in early balloting looks stronger in North Carolina and Nevada. Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images
A man holds his ballot sleeve as he lines up to vote at an early voting polling centre in Miami, Florida on November 3, 2016. / AFP / RHONA WISE (Photo credit should read RHONA WISE/AFP/Getty Images)
A line of early voters waits outside the Franklin County Board of Elections, Monday, Nov. 7, 2016, in Columbus, Ohio. Heavy turnout has caused long lines as voters take advantage of their last opportunity to vote before election day. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
FILE - In this Oct. 24, 2016 file photo, people vote at a polling station on the first day of early voting in Miami-Dade County for the general election in Miami. Florida voters decide Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016, whether Marco Rubio should serve a second term, medical marijuana should be legalized and to pick at least eight new U.S. House members. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky, File)
A child watches as a polling worker waves over an early voter to an open booth at the Franklin County Board of Elections, Monday, Nov. 7, 2016, in Columbus, Ohio. Heavy turnout has caused long lines as voters take advantage of their last opportunity to vote before election day. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Paul Mosher takes a selfie after voting at the Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters, Friday, Nov. 4, 2016, in San Jose , Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
A young boy stretches as he stands next to a woman filling out her ballot during early voting at a polling station inside Truman College on October 31, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. / AFP / Joshua Lott (Photo credit should read JOSHUA LOTT/AFP/Getty Images)
A man walks past the Early Vote Center in downtown Minneapolis, Minnesota on October 5, 2016. Voters in Minnesota can submit their ballot for the General Election at locations across the state every day until Election Day on November 8, 2016. / AFP / STEPHEN MATUREN (Photo credit should read STEPHEN MATUREN/AFP/Getty Images)
PORTLAND, ME - OCTOBER 18: Early voters in Portland. Kaila Moore, left, and Justin Chamberlain, both of Portland, seal their ballots after voting early at City Hall on Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2016. (Photo by Derek Davis/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 18: Residents cast ballots for the November 8 election at an early voting site on October 18, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. With three weeks to go until election day, polls show Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton with a lead over GOP rival Donald Trump. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Voters cast ballots as early absentee voting began ahead of the U.S. presidential election in Medina, Cleveland, Ohio, U.S. October 12, 2016. REUTERS/Aaron Josefczyk
US President Barack Obama votes early at the Cook County Office Building in Chicago, Illinois, October 7, 2016. Obama cast an early ballot on Friday, highlighting a Democratic drive to get voters to the polls even before November 8. During an unannounced visit, Obama stood before a voting machine at the Chicago Board of Elections office, punched in his choice and smirked when asked who he had voted for. / AFP / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Poll workers look on as US President Barack Obama (C) gestures towards the press as he votes early at the Cook County Office Building in Chicago, Illinois, October 7, 2016. Obama cast an early ballot on Friday, highlighting a Democratic drive to get voters to the polls even before November 8. During an unannounced visit, Obama stood before a voting machine at the Chicago Board of Elections office, punched in his choice and smirked when asked who he had voted for. / AFP / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
A man registers to vote at the Early Vote Center in northeast Minneapolis, Minnesota on October 5, 2016. Voters in Minnesota can submit their ballot for the General Election at locations across the state every day until Election Day on November 8, 2016. / AFP / STEPHEN MATUREN (Photo credit should read STEPHEN MATUREN/AFP/Getty Images)
Joseph and Maria Caruso vote inside the Early Vote Center in downtown Minneapolis, Minnesota after work on October 5, 2016. Voters in Minnesota can submit their ballot for the General Election at locations across the state every day until Election Day on November 8, 2016. / AFP / STEPHEN MATUREN (Photo credit should read STEPHEN MATUREN/AFP/Getty Images)
A bucket of 'I Voted' stickers inside the Early Vote Center in downtown Minneapolis, Minnesota on October 5, 2016. Voters in Minnesota can submit their ballot for the General Election at locations across the state every day until Election Day on November 8, 2016. / AFP / STEPHEN MATUREN (Photo credit should read STEPHEN MATUREN/AFP/Getty Images)
A young boy tags along at a voting booth as early voting beings at the Hamilton County Board of Elections, Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2016, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
James Chambers deposits his vote into a ballot box at the Hamilton County Board of Elections as early voting begins statewide, Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2016, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
A voter passes a ballot box as she arrives at the Hamilton County Board of Elections as early voting begins statewide, Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2016, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - SEPTEMBER 23: Signage at an early voting center on September 23, 2016 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Minnesota residents can vote in the general election every day until Election Day on November 8. (Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images)
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - SEPTEMBER 23: Minneapolis resident Robin Marty takes a selfie with an 'I Voted' sign after voting early at the Northeast Early Voting Center on September 23, 2016 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Minnesota residents can vote in the general election every day until Election Day on November 8. (Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images)
Laika (last name not given) poses for a portrait with his 'I Voted! Did You?' wrist band after voting early at a polling station inside Truman College on October 31, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. / AFP / Joshua Lott (Photo credit should read JOSHUA LOTT/AFP/Getty Images)
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"All of our election judges will be provided with cell phones that have direct access to the district attorney's office of Philadelphia," said Tim Dowling, chief deputy to City Commissioner Lisa Deeley. "As soon as you cross the line, you're going to be dealing with law enforcement."

The Nov. 8 presidential election has been among the most contentious in the nation's history. Trump, whose campaign has been shaken by allegations that he groped numerous women after a video surfaced in which he made lewd comments about groping women, has refused to promise that he will accept the results of the election if he loses to Democrat Hillary Clinton.

This week, Trump told supporters to "watch" polling places in such cities as Philadelphia, St. Louis and Chicago - all with large minority populations. As Trump has slipped in the polls, he has repeatedly said the election is "rigged" against him.

Fearing that to be true, voters in Denver have been calling officials seeking reassurance, said Amber McReynolds, the city's director of elections.

"Voters will call in and say, 'Is the election rigged?' McReynolds said. "We try to explain how the process works. ... Rigging an election is pretty much impossible."

Various election experts, including Republicans, have said that it is virtually impossible to rig a presidential election, and numerous studies have shown that voter fraud in U.S. elections is very rare.

In Arizona, a traditionally Republican state where polls have recently begun to show an increase in support for Clinton, poll workers are being trained to deal with an expected onslaught of observers, said Elizabeth Bartholomew, spokeswoman for elections officials in Maricopa County, where Phoenix is located.

In North Carolina, where a local Republican party headquarters was badly damaged on Sunday in an unsolved arson attack, state elections officials are taking extra steps to address poll security.

On Wednesday, the state elections board's executive director, Kim Strach, sent county elections officials a memo outlining examples of prohibited behavior at polling places and emphasizing that state and federals laws bar intimidation and coercion at the polls.

N.C. voter ID laws

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North Carolina voter ID law
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North Carolina voter ID law
A pile of government pamphlets explaining North Carolina's controversial "Voter ID" law sits on table at a polling station as the law goes into effect for the state's presidential primary in Charlotte, North Carolina March 15, 2016. REUTERS/Chris Keane
RALEIGH, NC - MARCH 15: North Carolina State University students head to their precinct to vote in the primaries at Pullen Community Center on March 15, 2016 in Raleigh, North Carolina. The university provided bus transportation throughout the day to the precinct. The North Carolina primaries is the state's first use of the voter ID law, which excludes student ID cards. Wake County was among the highest use of provisional ballots, where those voters had home addresses on or near campuses. The state's voter ID law is still being argued in federal court. (Photo by Sara D. Davis/Getty Images)
RALEIGH, NC - MARCH 15: A lone North Carolina State University student, right, votes in the primaries at the provisional ballot booth at Pullen Community Center on March 15, 2016 in Raleigh, North Carolina. The North Carolina primaries is the state's first use of the voter ID law, which excludes student ID cards. Wake County was among the highest use of provisional ballots, where those voters had home addresses on or near campuses. The Board of Elections will review voter's reasonable impediment form submitted with their provisional ballots to determine if their vote counts. The state's voter ID law is still being argued in federal court. (Photo by Sara D. Davis/Getty Images)
RALEIGH, NC - MARCH 15: North Carolina State University students stand in line to receive their ballots at Pullen Community Center on March 15, 2016 in Raleigh, North Carolina. The North Carolina primaries is the state's first use of the voter ID law, which excludes student ID cards. Wake County was among the highest use of provisional ballots, where those voters had home addresses on or near campuses. The state's voter ID law is still being argued in federal court. (Photo by Sara D. Davis/Getty Images)
RALEIGH, NC - MARCH 15: North Carolina State University students wait in line to vote in the primaries at Pullen Community Center on March 15, 2016 in Raleigh, North Carolina. The North Carolina primaries is the state's first use of the voter ID law, which excludes student ID cards. Wake County was among the highest use of provisional ballots, where those voters had home addresses on or near campuses. The Board of Elections will review voter's reasonable impediment form submitted with their provisional ballots to determine if their vote counts. The state's voter ID law is still being argued in federal court. (Photo by Sara D. Davis/Getty Images )
RALEIGH, NC - MARCH 15: North Carolina State University students vote in the primaries at Pullen Community Center on March 15, 2016 in Raleigh, North Carolina. The North Carolina primaries is the state's first use of the voter ID law, which excludes student ID cards. Wake County was among the highest use of provisional ballots, where those voters had home addresses on or near campuses. The state's voter ID law is still being argued in federal court. (Photo by Sara D. Davis/Getty Images) *** Local Caption
RALEIGH, NC - MARCH 15: North Carolina State University students vote in the primaries at Pullen Community Center on March 15, 2016 in Raleigh, North Carolina. The North Carolina primaries is the state's first use of the voter ID law, which excludes student ID cards. Wake County was among the highest use of provisional ballots, where those voters had home addresses on or near campuses. The state's voter ID law is still being argued in federal court. (Photo by Sara D. Davis/Getty Images)
RALEIGH, NC - MARCH 15: North Carolina State University senior Jonathan Powell reviews sample ballots before voting in the primaries at Pullen Community Center on March 15, 2016 in Raleigh, North Carolina. The North Carolina primaries is the state's first use of the voter ID law, which excludes student ID cards. Wake County was among the highest use of provisional ballots, where those voters had home addresses on or near campuses. The Board of Elections will review voter's reasonable impediment form submitted with their provisional ballots to determine if their vote counts. The state's voter ID law is still being argued in federal court. (Photo by Sara D. Davis/Getty Images)
A worker carries a sign that will be displayed at a polling place that will inform voters of the new voter ID law that goes into effect in 2016 at the Mecklenburg County Board of Elections warehouse in Charlotte, North Carolina November 3, 2014. REUTERS/Chris Keane (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS)
Am election worker checks a voter's drivers license as North Carolina's controversial "Voter ID" law goes into effect for the state's presidential primary election at a polling place in Charlotte, North Carolina March 15, 2016. REUTERS/Chris Keane
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In Philadelphia, teams from the district attorney's office will be stationed throughout the city, ready to respond at a moment's notice, Dowling said. The city is also increasing security at polling places, demanding for the first time identification even from credentialed poll-watchers sent by political parties.

The city has activated such teams in previous elections, but this year there are more, and they will be set up at police stations.

"Because of all the rhetoric, we're erring on the side of caution," Dowling said.

Despite the high-profile nature of the claims, fears about intimidation at polling places may be overblown. Some of Trump's supporters have distanced themselves from his remarks about watching the polls.

Many jurisdictions allow poll watchers, but they generally have to be credentialed and their numbers are limited. Several elections officials said they had so far not received an unusually high number of requests for poll-watcher credentials.

In Leon County, Florida, for example, where the state capital of Tallahassee is located, 55 people affiliated with the Democratic Party had registered as poll watchers to observe early voting, which begins Monday. Two had signed up on behalf of Trump, and none for the Republican Party, Ion Sancho, supervisor of elections for the county.

"We don't believe there will be any problems at the polls," he said.

Florida civil rights activist Becca Guerra said she is not worried about voter intimidation inside polling places because of rules on electioneering and on poll watchers, but voters may have trouble outside in the parking lot.

"We are training our folks to be the eyes and ears," she said.

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