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Election 2020: A look at the unprecedented wave of poll worker intimidation

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Voting Ballot (Illustration by Molly Cline | Daily Wildcat)

This past election week has been one of tumult, bringing the entire nation’s attention to the function and stability of our democracy. As the votes have slowly trickled in, turning the election momentum in Vice President Joe Biden’s favor, President Donald Trump in a series of public speeches unleashed open and overt attacks towards the democratic process itself, claiming millions of mail-in ballots were cast illegally and demanding that multiple states turning blue stop counting their ballots. 

RELATED: Election 2020: Which propositions passed?

His unprecedented rhetoric has also created a series of situations unseen in any modern American election. Supporting Trump’s claims and allegations of voter fraud, hundreds of protestors in right-wing groups have descended onto election counting centers to intimidate poll workers, specifically and violently targeting volunteers in election centers in an effort to stop votes from coming in.

The power of poll worker intimidation first showed itself in battleground Maricopa County, Arizona where poll worker intimidators actually were successful in stopping the vote count on Wednesday night. 

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What started out as a small crowd of right-wing supporters quickly turned into a mob of hundreds, banging at the glass doors and continuously shouting, "Let us in!"

Maricopa County Sheriff’s deputies were deployed to the scene and had to escort volunteer poll workers to their cars as they left the building, to protect them from harassment and potential violence from the crowd.

Because of the violent crowd, the Maricopa Elections Department on Thursday had to set up a separate “free speech” zone, a considerable distance from the doors of the building and deploy police for a second day in order to protect its poll workers. 

“The eyes of the nation are on Maricopa County, and it’s important we balance the protection and well-being of our election workers and volunteers with the constitutional right of protestors,” the department said. “For that reason, we will be setting up a free speech zone … in accordance with the law and in coordination with the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office … ensuring that our Elections staff can do their jobs and leave the building without the threat of intimidation.”

Meanwhile, a similar situation in Philadelphia is growing more tense. Police not only have discovered a plot by two armed men to break into and potentially attack poll workers at the Philadelphia Convention Center on Thursday night but have also reported a bomb threat in the fashion district this Friday afternoon near the election building. 

Philadelphia Police first responded to a tip of a threat of an armed attack, apprehending two men who drove from Virginia to Philadelphia armed with AR-15s, parked outside the Philadelphia Convention Center. The two men were sitting idle in an SUV outside the building, marked with QAnon stickers and towing an American flag. 

The very next afternoon, police received two threats from the same caller about a potential bomb in the Fashion District building, a large mall located downtown close to the Convention Center. The building was evacuated and police gave the all clear after a search was completed by 3 p.m.

On Thursday in Detroit, a similar sized crowd to the Maricopa incident gathered outside of the TCF Center downtown, where poll workers are counting Wayne County’s remaining absentee votes. Dozens of protestors, some armed, attempted to force their way into the building, shouting “stop the count” and filming poll workers. Police eventually had to push the crowd away from the counting center and add road barricades.

While their energy was initially directed and potentially intimidating poll workers, large police presence and counter protests have helped block the crowd and diverted their attention away from the poll workers in the building. 

Poll worker intimidation efforts have been targeted at specific swing states and counties in Michigan, Arizona and Philadelphia. Some elections officials in other swing states watching voter intimidation are starting to prepare for what could become a possibility at their election offices. 

County Registrar Joe Gloria working at Clark County in Nevada, a region that could possibly decide the state, cautioned against threats to local poll workers. 

"I am concerned for the safety of my staff," Gloria said in a press conference this afternoon. "We are putting measures into place to make sure that we have the security that's necessary … we will not allow anyone to stop us from doing what our duty is and counting ballots." 

These plotted poll worker attacks demonstrate the extreme dangers of disseminating false information on voter fraud. While this year was marked with repeated violent demonstrations from right-wing armed groups, no recent election has seen attempted gun violence, bomb threats or real attempts at taking the actual human lives of voters or volunteer poll workers. 

RELATED: Election 2020: Mark Kelly wins U.S. Senate seat in Arizona

New York University Law School's Reiss Center of Justice and Security has been continuously tracking the likelihood of violence during and post-election. On Wednesday, the Reiss Center put the U.S. on alert for an increased risk. 

“The president implicitly criticized lawful election procedures … which risks undermining trust in the independence of electoral and judicial institutions,” the Reiss Center reported. “This is the single most consequential of the indicators, and the president’s assertions are likely to play a continuous and central role in shaping the probability of violent conflict.” 

The Reiss Center has yet to factor in the attempted attacks and bomb threats in Philadelphia, and the protests in Detroit. 


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