When Mother Jones published a story called “Voter Intimidation Targeting Muslims Reported at Michigan Polling Site,” Tuesday afternoon, Ron Fox started getting a lot of calls.
“You’re the third reporter [who’s called]” Fox says. That’s because Fox is the guy in East Lansing who reported a man acting weird at his local polling place: this still unidentified man, he says, pulled two women wearing hijabs out of the line to vote, and possibly tried to redirect them to another polling place.
“He had his phone out, and he said ‘I just got to bring up this map,’ and the women had their voter registration cards out, which he evidently looked at, and I didn’t see any insignia on him that said he was a poll worker.”
“So when I got into the polling place, I flagged down a poll worker and said, ‘Hey, there’s a guy outside the entrance, is he a poll worker? Because he just pulled two women wearing hijabs out of the line, and seems to be looking at their voter registration cards and I’m not sure what’s going on.’’
As he was leaving, Fox says he heard two poll workers telling the man “You don’t need to be here.”
“And he replied, ‘Just ask Barb,’ whoever Barb is. And they said, ‘Look, we’re not arguing with you, you don’t need to be here.’”
Fox says when he got home he emailed Barb Byrum, the Ingham County Clerk, and offered to help formally submit a complaint. Byrum says she called East Lansing’s city clerk, Marie Wicks, who alerted police.
“I got the sense that he was being asked to leave and wouldn’t leave,” Wicks says. “I immediately called the police, because I didn’t know if he was still there or not.”
But East Lansing Police Chief Jeff Murphy says when they arrived on the scene, nobody had any information to offer police. Poll workers they talked to, he says, didn’t even understand why the police were there.
Wicks, the city clerk, says it’s unclear what the deal was here.
“There was a person who, I think he thought he was being helpful, and one of the poll workers went out and said he could not talk to people in line, that was not his job to do. I’m not sure if there’s a criminal nature there, or if it was intimidation. [But] his behavior was extremely inappropriate.”
It’s also not clear if the women wearing hijabs, who nobody seems to have talked to directly, did in fact vote.
“I talked to a poll watcher, from the Democratic party, because I was asking him if he saw anything,” Wick says. “He said he saw several young women with hijabs coming through and they didn’t seem to be ruffled or upset.”
Indeed, Ron Fox, the guy who first reported the incident, isn’t sure what the guy’s motivation was.
“I guess, I’m not sure, that he was trying to direct them to another polling place. But I don’t know what their card said. I do know he wasn’t supposed to be there. I know those were the only two people, while I was there, that he pulled out of line. So, to me it seems like there’s some profiling going on at least. But I don’t know that this is really voter intimidation or voter redirection, or what it was.”