Protests, violence, looting feared as election results trickle in

From Beverly Hills’ Rodeo Drive to the White House, the nation was anxious Tuesday as police and business owners feared Election Day rioting.

With heightened political tensions, cities braced for a repeat of the violence and looting that erupted during this summer’s racial justice demonstrations protesting the deaths of Black people during police encounters, even though there were few reports of election-related violence as the polls closed on the East Coast.

“Everybody’s taking it very seriously — not just here in California, but all across the country,” said California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat. “And I can assure you we’re taking it very seriously at all levels.”

Officials in Beverly Hills closed high-end retail mecca Rodeo Drive to vehicles and pedestrian traffic Tuesday and Wednesday.

In Washington, the National Park Service erected special fencing Monday night to prevent climbing around the White House complex. It also restricted access to parks near the White House at the request of the Secret Service.

Leftist activists have promised to shut down the city if President Trump wins reelection.

In New York, businesses along Fifth Avenue, including stores near Trump Tower, were boarded up and police spent the day patrolling polling stations.

Terence Monahan, chief of department for the New York Police Department, told reporters Tuesday afternoon that no threats had been reported and none was expected.

There were some election troubles at polling places. In Georgia, Fulton County election officials had a pipe burst in a room with ballots, which could slow the speed of the count in the swing state. In Iowa, hand sanitizer caused an election scanner to break. The scanner, in Des Moines, was fixed within an hour.

Police in North Carolina arrested an armed man loitering at a polling site and charged him with trespassing. Justin Dunn, 36, was legally carrying the firearm but stayed at the Charlotte site after voting, prompting officials to call the police.

More than 3,600 National Guard troops have been activated across the country in anticipation of demonstrations and possible violence on election night. Roughly 16 states placed Guard troops on standby to assist in an array of operations including guiding traffic, helping polling stations and providing cybersecurity support as well as being on the ready in the event of mass demonstrations.

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker, a Democrat, deployed state Guard troops to Chicago in anticipation of civil unrest after the election, and Massachusetts activated 1,000 Guard troops for Election Day.

Other states that have Guard troops at the ready include Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Kentucky, New Jersey, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Washington, Wisconsin and Wyoming.

Although states have the power to activate the National Guard to assist in domestic activity, most recently for weather emergencies and to aid in states’ handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, active-duty troops are prohibited from partaking in domestic law and order.

Perhaps the biggest threat was a wave of suspicious robocalls telling voters in battleground states to “stay home” or vote on the wrong day.

In Michigan, the robocalls encouraged residents to vote Wednesday because of long lines, according to Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson.

“We received reports that an unknown party is purposefully spreading misinformation via robocalls in Flint in an attempt to confuse voters there, and I want to ensure everyone plans to vote in person understands they must do so — or be in line to do so — by 8 p.m. today,” Ms. Benson, a Democrat, said in a statement.

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel also weighed in, calling the robocalls “an effort to suppress the vote.”

Michigan was one of the most hotly contested states in the country, and winning it could assure victory for President Trump or former Vice President Joseph R. Biden. But it is not the only state where robocalls popped up. Election officials in Kansas, Nebraska and Iowa said residents there also received calls.

Nebraska Secretary of State Robert Evnen tweeted that residents in his state received calls telling voters to “stay home and stay safe.”

“Our polling places across the state are open,” Mr. Evnen, a Republican, tweeted. “Our voters and our poll workers will be kept safe.”

Kansas Secretary of State Scott Schwab, also a Republican, warned of robocalls.

“We are receiving reports of robocalls telling voters to stay home,” he tweeted. “Disregard these calls.”

A spokesman for Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate said his office reported the calls to the FBI.

In a statement, the FBI said it was aware of the robocalls but declined to comment further.

“As a reminder, the FBI encourages the American public to verify an election and voting information they may receive through their local election officials,” the statement said.

The origins of the calls were unclear.

The “stay home” robocalls first appeared this summer but disappeared before ramping back up in late October, according to media reports.

Hard to stop

Anne Morrison, president of CMIT Solutions, has spoken about how to stop robocalls. She said such calls are difficult to trace and will challenge federal law enforcement agencies to uncover their origins.

She also said it is relatively inexpensive to set up robocalls, which is why the number of such calls grew in recent years.

“It’s pretty cheap to do this,” Ms. Morrison said. “That’s why nonelection calling is so popular, because it is cheap. You can program phones and get mailing lists from all over.”

Last month, conservative operatives Jacob Wohl and Jack Burkman were charged in Michigan with a robocall scheme allegedly attempting to illegally suppress voters of color. The pair were indicted again last week in Ohio, accused of operating a similar scheme.

Democrats accused Mr. Trump and his Republican allies of trying to suppress the vote to win.

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, a Democrat and staunch Trump critic, issued a statement on Election Day touting her state’s electoral system, saying it is 99.9% secure.

The comment was issued to push back against allegations that mail-in ballots increase the frequency of fraud, an argument Mr. Trump and his party had been making for months, petitioning courts to limit the days for counting mail-in votes, hoping to keep the deadline close to Nov. 3.

But the Oregon governor rejected the suggestion of fraud, saying the real issue is voter suppression.

She said other states resemble “the Jim Crow South,” where state officials have moved to make it more difficult for citizens to vote during the pandemic, refusing to permit universal mail-in voting for registered voters.

“We’re seeing in real time as some states take away polling locations and ask voters to risk their health and safety to stand in long lines to cast their ballot,” she said.

Former President Barack Obama’s attorney general, Eric H. Holder Jr., echoed Ms. Brown’s concerns. He said the only way Republicans will win is if they cheat.

“They’re trying to cheat at any number of levels,” Mr. Holder told SiriusXM’s “The Joe Madison Show.”

“I mean, by decreasing the number of polling places, by making it more difficult to vote, and then they’re going to get into court and they have been in court to try to come up with ways in which they can take away the ability of people to actually influence the direction of the country,” he said.

Lauren Toms contributed to this report.

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