State officials across the country are preparing for the worst in case violence breaks out on or after Election Day. There is a role that the National Guard can play, as well as local police. Different states and localities have laws that must be taken into consideration as preparations are being made.
For instance, the National Guard doesn’t want to get involved in providing security at polling places. That role is filled by poll workers and local police departments. The National Guard can provide a role in cybersecurity, assisting state officials by trying to prevent foreign governments and others from interfering with the vote. However, in some states, they will assist poll workers, dressed in civilian clothes. They will help set up tables and hand out ballots. There is a nationwide shortage of election workers due to the coronavirus pandemic. Workers at polling places tend to be older and older people fall into the high-risk category for the virus.
Some states will add security guards to polling places and for protection of ballot drop-off boxes. Some jurisdictions do not allow uniformed officers as security, though, as it can be interpreted as voter intimidation by voters. They have to wait to be called by the election workers before they can come in.
Given this year’s tensions, and the fact that the police themselves are a major issue in the election, the question of their presence at polling places has become a partisan flashpoint in some places.
Democrats in Miami complained about a uniformed police officer wearing a Trump face mask at an early-voting location, and he faces potential discipline by his department.
New Jersey is considering last-minute legislation to restrict the presence of officers at polling places, a debate that quickly acquired partisan overtones.
A similar dispute broke out in North Carolina, where the Board of Elections issued a memo reminding uniformed police officers to stay away from polling places, and state Republicans objected.
Republican State Sen. Paul Newton says the Board, which is controlled by Democrats, “overstepped” its authority, and that it can’t tell police what to do.
In Michigan, there is a lawsuit pending over Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson’s directive saying visible guns would not be allowed at the polls or other election-related offices this year. Generally speaking, the state’s open-carry law is a permissive one but state officials are concerned this year over public safety at the polls. Police authorities doubt that they can enforce the Secretary’s directive and point to the lawsuit that has been filed against it.
Police departments in cities that have experienced street violence and riots in recent months are preparing to have additional officers on duty on Election Day. In Chicago, Police Superintendent David Brown is prepared for “agitators” that embed themselves in street protests. You know, those “peaceful protests” we keep hearing about that turn violent and destructive.
“From those lessons learned over the summer, we are planning for that to be a feature of peaceful protests,” on Election Day, Brown said at a press conference last week.
“We have operations in place to ensure that they don’t destroy property, that they don’t cause further violence and that they are held accountable,” he says.
In Texas, an announcement was made on Monday by the state National Guard that Governor Abbott is sending 1,000 troops to the five largest cities to handle any unrest on Election Day or afterward. These cities are Dallas, Houston, Fort Worth, Austin, and San Antonio. Like clockwork, Texas Democrats began criticizing the move as voter suppression and intimidation. The Texas National Guard commander’s chief of staff said that the troops will be used to “deter any civil disturbance at sites in various cities within Texas”, not to watch polling locations. The governor has not requested that the Texas National Guard protect polling stations. Other military officials confirm that there are no plans to provide support at polling locations.
In a statement, Adjutant General Maj. Gen. Tracy Norris said that the Texas Military Department “was activated to provide additional support to the Department of Public Safety in the summer of 2020.”
“Texas Service Members continue to support DPS in this capacity, guarding historical landmarks such as the Alamo and the State Capitol,” Norris explained. “To be clear, there has been no request nor any plan to provide any type of support at any polling location in Texas.”
The San Antonio Express-News also reported that Norris had been asked to draft contingency plans in case of trouble.
Wisconsin and Kentucky have deployed National Guard troops to help out by setting up tables and hand out ballots.
Americans are concerned about the potential for violence, especially in the aftermath of the election. The sales of guns and ammunition are at record-setting levels. People are stocking up on supplies like toilet paper and food for their pantry. Just in case there is chaos, Americans are preparing if it becomes necessary to hunker down after the election. Who can blame anyone for preparing for the worst after the violence seen during the Summer of Love and continuing now in major cities across the country? And, with the threats of another national lockdown coming from Joe Biden and other Democrats, Americans are feeling the stress coming from uncertainty. I think Election Day will be ok but I, too, worry about the days following the election. We can hope for calm while we prepare for the worst-case scenario.