Bill would bar state, county law officers at polls

Sheriff Hodgson, in tweet, calls legislation 'outrageous'

RESPONDING TO RECENT comments by President Trump, Reps. Antonio Cabral of New Bedford and William Straus of Mattapoisett have filed legislation that would bar state and county law enforcement officials at polling places on Election Day.

“Rep. Straus and I have filed this as a result of the Trump administration’s assertion that the president planned on sending sheriffs and other agencies to monitor polling locations throughout the country on Election Day this November,” said Cabral in a phone interview. He said the bill aims to “clarify” a state law that deals with the hierarchy of which police are allowed at polling locations.

Under the bill, which the two Democratic lawmakers filed on Friday, local police departments would be the only law enforcement agencies charged with maintaining order at the polls in Massachusetts. Other departments could be called in only if both the state secretary of public safety and security and the local municipality agreed it was necessary.

Trump, in an interview with Fox News host Sean Hannity on August 20, raised the possibility of sending county and state law enforcement officials to monitor fraud at polls.

“We’re going to have sheriffs, and we’re going to have law enforcement, and we’re going to have, hopefully, US attorneys, and we’re going to have everybody and attorney generals,” Trump said. Federal law bans military and federal officers from polling places.

The comment set off alarm bells for Cabral and other legislators, who found the chain of command of who gets to enforce order at polls to be unclear under current state law.

Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson.

For Cabral, his local sheriff is Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson, an ardent supporter of Trump who tweeted on Tuesday afternoon that the bill is “one of the most outrageous bills I can remember. …Why would anyone want to prohibit law enforcement from protecting the rights of the citizens of Massachusetts?”

Under Massachusetts law, the primary role of a sheriff is to supervise inmates and employees at county jails and houses of correction.

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Sarah Betancourt

Reporter, CommonWealth

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a long-time Latina reporter in Massachusetts. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a breaking news reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, incarceration, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a long-time Latina reporter in Massachusetts. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a breaking news reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, incarceration, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

Attorney General Maura Healey issued an advisory last week to Massachusetts residents assuring them that election interference by law enforcement officials is illegal and voters should feel free from coercion. She said a president can’t order state law enforcement officials to monitor polls.

“We won’t sit idle in the face of President Trump’s dangerous threats to undermine our electoral process and suppress votes,” Healey said in a statement. “We are issuing this advisory to ensure citizens of Massachusetts know they are entitled to free and fair elections and to put President Trump on notice that any attempt to interfere with our democracy will not be tolerated.”