WASHINGTON -- Joe Biden's campaign and other Democrats in key battleground states say they're readying their own efforts to monitor balloting as they express concern about President Donald Trump's call for supporters to show up at the polls to watch for problems with voting.
Biden's campaign has enlisted thousands of volunteers and the Democratic National Committee began building voter-protection teams in some states as early as last year, according to the campaign.
"We feel like we have the right team in place and the right plans in place," said Rachana Desai Martin, Biden's national director of voter protection.
Republicans have plans to use about 50,000 volunteers from early voting through Election Day, according to the Republican National Committee, and Trump is actively encouraging supporters to sign up to be a "Trump Election Poll Watcher" as part of the "Army for Trump."
"I'm urging my supporters to go into the polls and watch very carefully," Trump said during Tuesday's debate with Biden. "Because that's what has to happen. I am urging them to do it."
The president's statements raised concerns among election lawyers and voting-rights advocates about potential voter intimidation or clashes. There have already been scattered confrontations, including on the second day of early voting in Virginia on Sept. 19, and on Tuesday in Philadelphia with the opening of satellite election offices.
There are a number of third-party groups that are recruiting either off-duty or retired law enforcement or military officers who may show up as so-called ballot security task forces, said Adam Sparks, an election lawyer with Krevolin and Horst LLC in Atlanta.
In Philadelphia, the Trump campaign is suing the city for access to satellite election offices that were opened this week. On Tuesday, a deputy sheriff escorted Trump's Pennsylvania director of Election Day operations out of an office when election officials said he was being disruptive, Politico reported. A Trump campaign lawsuit also challenged a commonwealth law that requires poll watchers to live in the county where they observe the polls.
While Trump complained during Tuesday's debate that poll watchers were denied access because "bad things happen in Philadelphia," city commissioners said no poll watchers were certified yet -- and that by law, they can observe polling places only on Election Day.
Democrats are especially concerned about the lapsing of a 1982 federal consent decree requiring the Republican National Committee to get court approval before undertaking certain efforts to prevent voter fraud. The decree was issued after a federal court was told that the RNC enlisted the help of off-duty sheriffs and police officers to supposedly intimidate voters by standing at polling places in minority-group precincts.
"In the past there has been a lot of bluff and bluster," Myrna Perez, director of the Voting Rights and Elections Program at the Brennan Center, a nonpartisan law and policy institute, said in an interview. "We have more reason to take it seriously now."
The RNC says the decree's 2017 expiration puts the party on an equal basis with Democrats.
"Now that the playing field has been leveled, we can do what Democrats and other Republican groups have been able to do for decades: ensure that all votes are counted properly, and that more people can vote through our unmatched field program," said RNC spokesman Mike Reed.