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Wed Oct 28, 2020, 02:16 AM

Anxiety 2020: Voters Worry About Safety At The Polls

Associated Press, Oct. 28, 2020.

- New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, center, stands in line to cast his early vote at the Park Slope Armory YMCA, Oct. 27, 2020, in the Brooklyn borough of New York. The mayor waited over 3 hours in line to cast his vote.

WASHINGTON (AP) — Gary Kauffman says he does not scare easily. So when men waving President Donald Trump flags drive by his house in downtown Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, he stands on his front steps and waves a banner for Democrats Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. “Sometimes I yell at them. They yell back at me,” says Kauffman, 54. Still, Kauffman is keeping a closer eye on who they are and what they’re carrying as Election Day approaches. Tension has been rising in his town, known best as hallowed ground of the Civil War’s bloodiest battle. Recently, it’s become a hot spot of angry confrontations between Trump supporters and liberal protesters.

Kauffman has seen some of the Trump supporters carrying weapons. "If there’s guns, I’m a bit more cautious,” he said on Monday.

Americans aren’t accustomed to worrying about violence or safety ahead of an election. It’s a luxury afforded by years of largely peaceful voting, a recent history of fairly orderly displays of democracy. But after months filled with disease, disruption and unrest, Americans are worried that Election Day could become a flashpoint. With Election Day next week, voters can point to plenty of evidence behind the anxiety. More than 226,000 Americans have died of the coronavirus, and cases are spiking across the country. A summer of protests of racial injustice and sometimes violent confrontations has left many on edge. Gun sales have broken records.

Trump has called on supporters to monitor voting and has refused to commit to a peaceful transfer of power or to explicitly condemn a white supremacist group.

There was the alleged plot to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and another spate of violent protest this week over a police shooting of a Black man in Philadelphia. “Human beings don’t do well with uncertainty, and there’s been a lot of uncertainty this year,” said Mara Suttmann-Lea, an assistant professor of government at Connecticut College conducting research on voting. ”Absolutely I’m seeing heightened levels of anxiety ... and it’s a more general, existential anxiety — ‘What is the state of our democracy?’ Those worries have shown up in polling. About 7 in 10 voters say they are anxious about the election, according to an AP-NORC poll this month. Biden supporters were more likely to say so than Trump supporters — 72% to 61%. For some, the worries are a vague sense of looming trouble that could take many forms — conflict at a polling place, protest over the outcome, protest over no outcome, a conflagration that splits Americans over now-familiar divisions.

“You can feel it in the energy,” particularly on social media, says Cincinnati voter Josh Holsten Sr., 42. “There are just a lot of extra tensions that don’t necessarily need to be there.” Holsten says he is voting for Trump, but thinks neither the president nor Biden is doing enough to calm people down. The car salesman has even stocked up on food, water and bulletproof vests for his family — in case the election sparks something bad. Law enforcement and election officials are preparing, too. FBI and local officials in several states have been conducting drills and setting up command centers to respond to election-related unrest. Election officials are training poll workers on how to de-escalate conflict and ensuring they’re prepped on the rules about poll monitoring, voter intimidation and harassment. "The procedures have always been there. We’ve just never had to use them,” said Ellen Sorensen, an elections judge in Naperville, IL, outside Chicago..The groups, she said, are “extreme places of tension that we really don’t want to meet at these polls.”

Millions of Americans are voting despite the worries. More than 62 million people have already voted in the U.S., and more than 20 million of those cast their ballots in person...


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