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Tensions run high on US Election Day despite generally peaceful vote

Screengrabs of (left) a clash between protesters and police in Washington, D.C., (centre) a man accused of voter intimidation in Brooklyn, (right) a heated exchange between a Republican poll watcher and other poll workers in Philadelphia.
Screengrabs of (left) a clash between protesters and police in Washington, D.C., (centre) a man accused of voter intimidation in Brooklyn, (right) a heated exchange between a Republican poll watcher and other poll workers in Philadelphia.
7 min


Despite threats of widespread voter suppression, rampant fake news and public violence, the US Election Day on November 3 went off generally without incident. However, tensions ran high in polling booths and on the street, with voters capturing scenes of confusion, incidents of voter intimidation and scuffles with police in protests from Portland to Washington, D.C..

In the days leading up to November 3, voters and business owners prepared themselves for the worst. Highway blockades in the democratic states of New York and New Jersey by Trump vehicle convoys on November 1 and the surrounding of a Biden campaign bus by Trump vehicles in Texas on October 31 had experts worried about voter intimidation.

Bracing themselves for possible riots, business owners in cities like LA, New York City and Washington, D.C. installed plywood barricades, as seen in this November 2 TikTok video of shuttered storefronts in D.C..

Confusion leads to heated encounters at voting booths

Although riots and coordinated attempts at voter intimidation did not transpire, the tension of a historic and highly polarised election was felt at the polls. In a Twitter video posted by lawyer and editor Will Chamberlain and widely shared among Republicans, two masked individuals inside a Philadelphia polling place mistakenly prevented Gary Feldman, a Republican poll watcher, from entering. The video shows Feldman displaying his citywide watcher’s certificate and asserting his right to be present, while his interlocutors insist that the certificate is not valid for this polling place in particular.

In a follow-up Twitter post, Guardian reporter Sam Levine wrote that he spoke with the election judge at the polling place in question, who explained the incident was a “misunderstanding” during a “crowded and stressful time”, and that the poll watcher was eventually allowed in.

Cases of voter intimidation were scarce and isolated

Although there were no signs of significant voter intimidation efforts on the day of the election, several isolated cases were recorded. In Charlotte, North Carolina, police detained an armed man who was loitering in front of a voting site and returned there after being asked to leave earlier in the day.

Another case of voter intimidation occurred in Brooklyn, New York, where a man standing next to a jeep decorated with Trump flags paced aggressively in front of a polling booth, yelling and swearing at passersby.

Kristen Clarke, president and director of Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, a national civil rights organisation that manages the Election Protection Hotline in English, told FRANCE 24 Observers that the organisation has not seen major systemic problems or attempts to obstruct voters outside of isolated and sporadic incidents. According to Clarke, as of 3:50pm Eastern Time on Election Day, the hotline has received 22,000 calls, not including online and text message reports. The bulk of the calls came from Pennsylvania (12 percent of all calls), then Texas (10 percent), Florida (7 percent), New York state (7 percent) and Michigan (6.5 percent).

Tense protests take place in Washington, D.C., Portland

On Election Night, hundreds of protesters gathered in cities like Washington, D.C. and Portland for demonstrations that were mostly non-violent but tense, punctuated by instances of aggression and scuffles with police. In D.C., hundreds of people began gathering in front of the White House in the late afternoon. At nightfall, demonstrators aligned with different political causes marched through the streets of the capital. A Twitter video posted by host and reporter Elijah Schaffer shows a large group of black-clad Antifa protesters, holding a banner that reads “Burn down the American Plantation” and chanting “F*ck Trump, F*ck Biden”.

There were several scuffles with local police, as seen in this Twitter video by user Andrew Derek where officers pinned a man to the ground and tried to disperse the crowd. According to NBC Washington, three people were arrested that night in two separate incidents.

The outlet also reported that four individuals were stabbed near the White House in the early morning following Election Night. The victims claimed to be members of the Proud Boys, a far-right, pro-Trump group, and said that their attackers were Black Lives Matter protesters. No arrests have yet been made, and the victims are currently being treated for injuries not considered life-threatening.

In Portland, hundreds participated in protests against police brutality, President Trump, and Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler that were mostly non-violent, though tense. Despite the lack of activity from groups like the far-right Proud Boys, The Oregonian, a local newspaper, reported that some protesters burned an American flag and were openly carrying weapons. This Twitter video by host and reporter Drew Hernandez shows a protester carrying swords on their back.

On November 2, the eve of the election, Portland protesters also smashed windows in a local Starbucks and poured flammable liquid inside. Officers at the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office called the event a “potential arson” and have detained two suspects.

Article by Diana Liu.

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