Concerns rise over election-related unrest
Fears of violence and unrest around the 2020 presidential election are on the rise as Americans brace for a host of potential electoral disputes that threaten to worsen political tensions.
The concerns are born out of an already vitriolic campaign season, in which President Trump has repeatedly cast doubt on the accuracy of the eventual election results and called on supporters to “go into polls” to monitor the voting process for potential fraud, a move that Democrats fear could result in voter intimidation.
There is also mounting concern among some political observers that growing distrust in the fairness of the election may lead to a post-election backlash by the losing side, especially given Trump’s suggestion that the only way he will lose is if the election is “rigged.”
“There’s a heightened level of distrust and there is a significant belief, particularly among Trump supporters, that he is going to win and he’s going to win because the polls are wrong,” said Patrick Murray, the director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute.
“If Trump indicates after the election that there was something wrong if he lost, then I’d be worried about what his followers would do,” Murray added. “I don’t know what they would do. There’s so many pieces to that puzzle, but the foundation is already laid there that they would agree with him if that’s something he decides to do.”
A Monmouth poll released last month found that voters on both sides of the political aisle are suspicious of potential foul play by the opposing side. More than three-quarters of firm Trump supporters — 78 percent — said that it is very likely that the campaign of former Vice President Joe Biden, the Democratic nominee, would try to cheat in order to win, while 91 percent of firm Biden supporters said they believe Trump would do so.
“We haven’t seen this in the past — people saying before the election that they’re disinclined to believe the results if they don’t turn out the way they want them to,” Murray said. “We certainly have seen quite a bit of unrest over the past year, so that would suggest that you should be prepared for more of it.”
But the concerns about election-related conflict are not limited to any one political group. A poll from YouGov released earlier this month showed that a majority of voters — nearly 56 percent — expect to see an increase in violence in the wake of the Nov. 3 election, including 53 percent of Democrats and 59 percent of Republicans.
Local and state officials said that they have not yet seen any credible threats regarding post-election unrest. But they are already preparing for potential mayhem on Nov. 3 and in the days and weeks after the election, holding interagency exercises on how to respond to a range of scenarios.
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot (D) said that officials recently held an “all-hazards drill” to “really walk through in a logical way” how they might respond to possible election-related threats.
“Given what we experienced over the course of the spring and the summer, we can’t presume that what’s going to happen … is going to be peaceful,” Lightfoot said on a conference call on Tuesday. “We are preparing for the worst. So what we’ve been doing is a lot of drilling, a lot of making sure that we break down barriers, that no one part of election security is operating in a silo.”
Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison said that law enforcement is “planning, practicing, creating protocols to deploy our resources before, on and even after Election Day.”
Harrison acknowledged that law enforcement officers will have to tread lightly with respect to their presence at or near polling sites, saying that they “should not be highly visible.” But he noted that his and other police departments are prepared to respond to reports of voter harassment or intimidation, as well as “to de-escalate tensions at the polls.”
2020 has proven to be a year rife with tension in the United States as the coronavirus pandemic, economic turmoil and civil unrest over racial injustice and police brutality divided Americans along political lines.
In what some officials and experts say is a preview of potential election-related conflict, skirmishes broke out between supporters of Trump and counterprotesters in New York City on Sunday, leading to several arrests and serving as a reminder of the heightened tensions around the presidential race.
Adding to the uncertainty around the election is the potential for delayed vote counts that could leave the race for president undecided for days or even longer.
More Americans than ever have opted to vote by mail this year, as states moved to expand early voting options amid the coronavirus pandemic. But a patchwork of state deadlines for officials to receive, process and count mail ballots means that the outcome of the election may not be known on election night, raising concerns that one candidate may try to claim victory prematurely.
Vanita Gupta, the president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, said that given possible delays in the election results and the ultra-polarized political climate, it will be incumbent on public officials to update voters on the election process.
“We do know there’s a lot of anxiety,” Gupta, who led the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division under former President Obama, told reporters on a conference call. “We can’t deny that we are in heightened, polarized times. There’s been a lot of talk of threats. So I do think it’s going to be really important to provide the public with information and calming reassurance.”