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Poll Workers Bracing for Violence

In most years, poll workers are worried about long lines and folks showing up who aren't in the roll books. But this year they are worried about something worse, something that we haven't seen on Election Day in decades: violence.

NPR's Pam Fessler reported this morning that poll workers across the country are preparing for the worst come Nov. 8. They are on pins and needles after the firebombing of the Republican Party's headquarters in Orange County, N.C., and aren't being made more comfortable by the heavy rhetoric of this campaign.

Fessler spoke to Matt Masterson, a member of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, who said almost every jurisdiction has a plan to deal with emergencies -- many of which were reinforced after Sept. 11, which occurred on a primary election day in New York City. He believes these plans are getting some attention as poll workers prepare for the presidential vote.

Concerns over GOP candidate Donald Trump's inflammatory remarks on vote rigging, and his racially-charged statements on the need to check for voters' identification has, for weeks, created concerns over violence.

“We’re going to watch Pennsylvania. Go down to certain areas and watch and study to make sure other people don’t come in and vote five times,” said Trump at a Pennsylvania campaign even in August. His “certain areas” remark was widely understood to mean predominantly black neighborhoods in Philadelphia that vote heavily Democratic.

Slate’s Jamelle Bouie wrote a widely shared column in which he said Trump’s words were creating a “time bomb” for violence.

“These rhetorical time bombs, in other words, could be the catalyst for actual intimidation and violence, before and after Election Day. And if that violence and intimidation strikes, it will be against the chief targets of Trump’s campaign: people of color,” he wrote.

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Portrait of Jessica Huseman

Jessica Huseman

Jessica Huseman covers voting rights and election administration for ProPublica.

About Electionland

ProPublica’s Electionland project covers problems that prevent eligible voters from casting their ballots during the 2020 elections. Our coalition of newsrooms around the country are investigating issues related to voter registration, pandemic-related changes to voting, the shift to vote-by-mail, cybersecurity, voter education, misinformation, and more.

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