There are plenty of reasons to be nervous that there could be violence at polling places around the country on Election Day. First, Donald Trump has been warning his supporters for months that the election will be “rigged,” stoking their anxiety over the prospect of fraud and the enforcement of voting laws. Then, he has encouraged his supporters—folks who showed up at the Republican National Convention with guns and assaulted protesters at Trump rallies—to watch the polls on Election Day.
While poll watching is something typically done during elections, it seems like courting trouble to ask untrained volunteers, who’ve already shown a penchant for violence, to do it this year.
Trump adviser Roger Stone told The Guardian that his Citizens for Trump grassroots coalition would send out 1,300 volunteers to conduct “exit polling.” Stone said the volunteers would hit 600 different precincts in nine Democrat-leaning cities with large populations of people of color: Cleveland, Detroit, Philadelphia, Las Vegas, Milwaukee, Fort Lauderdale, Charlotte, Richmond, and Fayetteville—all cities in swing states. It was also reported by Politico that the National Socialist Movement, Ku Klux Klan groups, The Oath Keepers, and the white nationalist American Freedom Party all plan to deploy its members to watch polls through the Trump campaign and independently.
In perhaps a show of what’s to come on Election Day, authorities were called to an absentee polling place in Loudoun County, Virginia Friday because an armed man in a Trump shirt was blocking the path to building and questioning voters if they were voting for “crooked Hillary.”
“I had my 9-year-old son with me. I felt intimidated,” said Erika Cotti, a voter who encountered the man. “And I had to explain to my 9-year-old why a man with a 357 magnum is standing outside the polling station.”
Local officials ultimately determined that the man with the firearm was within his rights to act as he did. Loudoun County Republican Committee Chairman Will Estrada told The Huffington Post that he was a former law enforcement official and veteran with a concealed carry permit. A county register who witnessed the spectacle also told reporters that the man was “being nice” to voters. Still, many are concerned that such incidents could lead to violent confrontations.
“The possibility of violence on or around Election Day is very real,” said Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center. “Donald Trump has been telling his supporters for weeks and weeks and weeks now that they are about to have the election stolen from them by evil forces on behalf of the elites.”
Despite a pretty transparent voter intimidation campaign by Trump supporters and the prospect of violence on Election Day, law enforcement agencies don’t seem to be worried about tension at the polls. In fact, in statements to Complex, police officials have said they are preparing for this election exactly as they have for elections past.
“We will monitor the activities and events of this Election Day as we do on every Election Day,” said Christine O'Brien, public information officer for the Philadelphia Police Department. “We will have officers monitoring the election polling locations which is a normal protocol for every Election Day.”
Comments from police officials in other cities the Trump campaign plans to target pledge more or less the same: the usual police presence and a commitment to ensuring a “fair and orderly election,” as Timothy Gauerke, public information officer for the Milwaukee Police Department put it.
“At the current moment, we have not made any special preparations for Election Day; however, of course as the date draws closer and in the event we receive any indication of potential disturbances or violence at polling places, we will work with the Broward County Supervisor of Elections Office to ensure that all voters feel safe at any polling places within the city of Fort Lauderdale,” Keven Dupree, public information officer for the Fort Lauderdale Police Department, told Complex.
If that’s not concerning enough, the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department has reduced the number of lawyers they’ll have watching the polls this election year from the 780 they deployed in 2012 to just over 500 across 28 states. The decrease comes as a direct result of a 2013 Supreme Court ruling, which struck down a portion of the Voting Rights Act that allowed the Justice Department to deploy observers to jurisdictions with a history of discrimination.
“We do not want to be in the position we’re in,” Vanita Gupta, the top civil rights official at the Justice Department, said in an interview with The New York Times. “There’s no doubt that we’re going to be spread thinner,” she added, “but our hope and our intention is that we are going to have a very robust monitoring program.”
Even if the DOJ is stripped down, the agency will be staffing a hotline on Election Day to take complaints and tips from the public as it relates to potential violations of federal laws. The DOJ is asking that voters contact their local police departments if things get tense.
“As always, complaints related to disruption at a polling place should always be reported immediately to local election officials (including officials in the polling place),” the agency noted in a press release. “Complaints related to violence, threats of violence or intimidation at a polling place should be reported immediately to local police authorities by calling 911. They should also be reported to the department after local authorities have been contacted.”