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Law enforcement preps for potential election-related unrest

Michael Balsamo, Michael Kunzelman and Colleen Long
Associated Press

Washington — Federal and state law enforcement officials have begun expanded preparations for the possibility of widespread unrest at the polls on Election Day, a response to extraordinarily high tensions among voters and anxieties about safety.

FBI and local officials in several states have been conducting drills, running through worse-case scenarios, setting up command centers to improve coordination on reports of violence and voter intimidation, and issuing public warnings that any crime that threatens the sanctity of a Nov. 3 vote will not be tolerated.

FILE - In this June 2, 2020, file photo the White House is visible behind a large security fence as uniformed Secret Service and FBI agents stand on the street in front of Lafayette Park in the morning hours in Washington.

The efforts are broader and more public-facing than in past years as fears grow over the potential for violent clashes in cities across the United States. Law enforcement officials say they are not responding to any specific threats or information but are preparing for a host of different scenarios that could play out.

Tensions are especially high given the increased political polarization and months of mass demonstrations against racial injustice that have seen violence by the left and right. Gun sales are way up. Six men were arrested after federal officials said they plotted to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

President Donald Trump has spent months suggesting without evidence that the election could be rigged. His call to supporters to “go into the polls and watch very carefully” has election officials worried about that unofficial or self-appointed “monitors” could chaos and conflict at voting places.

An FBI official said the agency was considering the current climate of the country in its preparations to ensure safety at the polls, as well as working with other agencies to protect the voting system. The official would not discuss the plans publicly and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.

Adding to the alarm is the fact this election will be the first in nearly 40 years in which the Republican National Committee isn’t barred from coordinated poll-monitoring activities. Democrats fear that could open the door to voter intimidation.

So far, experts who study extremism say they haven’t seen any open discussion online of plans to instigate violence or interfere with voting.

Elon University professor Megan Squire, a computer scientist who studies online extremism, said the far-right extremists she tracks appear to be preparing for trouble without citing specifics.