Voter intimidation and result delays: The main concerns over polling day

They call it the boiler room.

It’s without its usual crammed intensity in these days of social distancing, but this very different US election keeps them busy.

At the headquarters of “Democracy North Carolina” in its state capital of Raleigh, 10 advisers bash phones and keyboards, providing support to the vote and to voters. The mission statement here is to “educate, mobilise and protect voters”.

The 'boiler room' of Democracy North Carolina, where Democrat recruits take calls from voters
Image:The ‘boiler room’ of Democracy North Carolina, where recruits take calls about the election

Democracy N.C. operates a hotline that’s getting hotter in this election, shrouded as it is in claim and counter claim of voter suppression, intimidation and doubts across 50 states with 50 different sets of rules.

A number of states have taken measures to address fears of voter intimidation.

In Michigan, which allows the “open carry” of weapons, a ban has been placed on weapons being visibly carried close to polling stations.

New Jersey has also issued guidance for the protection of voters amidst expectations of so-called “poll-watchers” attending voting locations to monitor people casting their ballot.

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Its new guidance states that poll watchers “may not harass or intimidate voters, engage in electioneering, cause disturbances at polling places or challenge voters based on their race/ethnicity or how they are expected to vote.”

Voters queue up in North Carolina
Image:Voters queue up in North Carolina

The moves come amidst a recruitment campaign for a “Trump’s Army” to monitor polling stations. The Trump campaign aims to recruit thousands of observers to monitor voting as it happens and to trigger a legal challenge if they spot anything awry.

The threats of voter suppression and intimidation are issues that feature in the work of Democracy North Carolina.

I asked Tomas Lopez, it’s executive director, to list his top five concerns regarding a fair and free voting process on 3 November.

Tomas Lopez, executive director of Democracy North Carolina
Image:Tomas Lopez, executive director of Democracy North Carolina

These are his one to five:

1. Polling Place Intimidation:

“We may see groups that show up who aren’t necessarily organised but they may decide that they want to have their presence felt and that intimidates other voters. I think rhetoric like what we’re hearing from the president does not help, but I think the broader atmosphere around voting is bigger than any one candidate or any one official, including one that obviously takes as much attention as the president.”

2. Intimidation Response:

“We might not have effective responses to incidents like that and so one really important thing is going to be how well local officials, state officials, respond when incidents like that are reported. They are aware of it, they are making statements and in the weeks ahead, I think it’s going to be really important for them to follow through.”

3. Access to the Vote:

“How well, ultimately, will our officials do in processing absentee ballots, turning around absentee ballot requests, getting them to people, and people getting them back? We know that there is huge interest in mail-in voting this year and it’s a real burden on election officials who have a hard job to begin with. It’s something we’re going to be watching.”

4. Result Delay:

“We’re trying to say to people: ‘Look, there’s a very good chance we may not know the outcomes of elections on the night of 3 November, and that’s okay. Given the number of absentee ballots that we have, the number that may still be outstanding after election night, given how close both state-wide and local races may be. We shouldn’t automatically take it as a bad sign that we don’t have those results.”

5. Dubious Claims:

“A fifth area of concern relates to the post-election period and making sure we don’t have dubious claims to undermine the integrity of the election. We saw a candidate in North Carolina in 2016 bring claims of voter fraud that we’re found to be baseless. We are concerned about something like that happening again, and particularly in the context of what could be an uncertain post-election period.”

There is an unprecedented security infrastructure being placed around the integrity of this US election. As the country mobilises its democratic process, it’s moving to underpin procedure.

Mark Gibson

Graduates in Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois 1990. Move to Los Angeles California in 2004. Specialized in Internet journalism.

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