A former Pentagon leader who's viewed as the next likely defense secretary if Joe Biden becomes president said installing troops at polling places this fall would be a risk to American democracy.
"I would hate to see a situation where we have to inject the military and the Guard into our democratic elections," Michèle Flournoy, the former undersecretary of defense for policy, said on Wednesday. "... I don't think that's a healthy thing for our democracy."
Flournoy, who served at the Pentagon during the Obama administration and co-founded the Center for a New American Security think tank, spoke during an event on military modernization and policy priorities hosted by Defense News.
Flournoy said last month she wouldn't turn down a nomination to lead the Pentagon in a possible Biden administration. Such a move would make Flournoy the first-ever female defense secretary.
"I've spent 30 years in some form of public service either in government or in the non-profit sector. That is my calling," she told NBC News during the annual Aspen Security Forum.
"I do think he's the right answer for the country," Flournoy added, speaking of Biden. "And I would do anything to support his success and for the sake of the country."
On Wednesday, Flournoy told Defense News she was troubled by some of the rhetoric she heard about the upcoming election. Without mentioning him by name, Flournoy said she was disturbed by President Donald Trump's mention of poll watchers during Tuesday night's debate.
"I'm urging my supporters to go into the polls and watch very carefully," Trump said. "...They're called poll watchers, a very safe, very nice thing."
Flournoy said calling on people to watch polls could intimidate voters -- a move that's common in nondemocratic nations.
"This is a democratic process. We know how to do this. We've done it over and over and over again, without violence, with peaceful transition," Flournoy said. "That's according to the rule of law, and our Constitution. So, we need to hold each other accountable as Americans to back off of this fire that we're playing with."
Poll watchers are typically installed by candidates or political parties. The 2020 presidential election is the first in decades in which Republican poll-watching activity won't be under court supervision, 60 Minutes reported. In 2018 a, federal court finalized a decision to terminate a "consent decree" the Republican National Committee entered into in the 1980s, according to the news program, following claims that minority voters were harassed at polling places.
Tuesday wasn't the first time the president has called on his supporters to be on alert. At an August rally in North Carolina, Trump urged voters to "watch it."
"Be poll-watchers when you go there," the president said. "Watch all the thieving and stealing and robbing they do."
Flournoy said she's not only worried about the potential use of troops at polling places on Election Day, but also the threat of violence should the results be thrown into question. That could prompt governors to ask the National Guard to step in.
"I hope we don't get there as a nation," she said. "... Our democracy is on the line here in how we behave in this coming season. We need to try to calm things down rather than whip them up into a point of violence."