After a season of fear, America’s Election Day voting passes mostly in peace

Many polling centers reported minor problems, mostly involving technical issues, the proper distance allowed for electioneering and other fairly routine inconveniences. Fears of potential widespread unrest were not realized throughout the day Tuesday, though authorities in many major cities braced for the moment that they worry could push a tense public over the edge: the election’s outcome.

Police spread throughout New York City in a massive deployment ahead of what were expected to be peaceful demonstrations and marches on Tuesday night. Cities across the nation boarded up — or stayed boarded up — anticipating the possibility of raucous celebrations, protests or clashes between extremists.

One volatile spot Tuesday was here, in this city of about 15,000 people between Greensboro and Durham, where racial tension has risen sharply in the past week.

In advance of a voting rights march Tuesday in Graham, more than a dozen supporters of a Confederate memorial gathered across the street from the monument and the historic courthouse.

A pickup truck parked on the street flew four Trump flags, an American flag and a Black Lives Matter flag, which witnesses said appeared to be in a gesture of sarcasm. The truck also displayed a sign that read, “Honk for Trump.”

Two men, both with pro-Trump baseball caps and who declined to give their names, stood sentinel before the marchers approached. One of them, wearing a Harley-Davidson jacket, said: “I’m hoping to see all those Black sons of b—-es leave.”

Participants in the march, a planned protest against the decision by local law enforcement officers to disperse an earlier peaceful march to the polls using pepper spray, gathered at a Black church outside downtown. They accomplished Tuesday what they couldn’t Saturday: They marched peacefully to a voting site.

But they did pass through a throng of about two dozen White Trump supporters who shouted “child abusers,” “four more years,” and “run ’em over.”

The church’s organizer, the Rev. Greg Drumwright, told the civil rights activists not to engage with the other group or with police. He also warned them to be “cordial” to officers and not to block traffic: “They think we have come to be disruptive, but we have not. We have come in peace.”

The marchers moved quietly through Graham’s residential streets. When they got to the courthouse, a historic space for public protest, they chanted “Black lives matter!” The response from those across from them: “Confederate lives matter!”

Two federal lawsuits were filed Monday by civil rights activists, charging local law enforcement officials with violating civil and voting rights laws and with intimidating voters.

The run-up to Election Day featured violence — and suggestions that violence was in the offing — on several occasions. The Proud Boys, a far-right group, fought for weeks in the streets of Portland, Ore., with members of the Black Lives Matters movement. Trump supporters appeared to try to block a Biden-Harris campaign bus in Texas on Friday, and Trump caravans closed the express lanes of the Garden State Parkway in New Jersey on Sunday as part of widespread weekend campaigning.

The FBI last month revealed what authorities said was a plot by an armed White group to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D), who at one point was on Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s short list as a running mate.

On Tuesday, attorney Katherine Henry, who officials say is close to the people arrested in the alleged Whitmer plot, appeared to have been arrested and accused of trying to gather signatures too close to polling centers. Henry posted the incident to YouTube.

Police in Charlotte said Tuesday they arrested someone at a polling location in North Carolina’s biggest city for allegedly attempting to intimidate voters while armed.

According to the Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department, Justin Dunn, 36, voted Tuesday morning in the closely watched battleground state and then lingered at the polling site while “legally carrying an unconcealed firearm.” Police said they were called shortly after 10:30 a.m. about the man “possibly intimidating other voters,” the department said in a statement.

The man was asked to leave and was banned from returning by a precinct official, police said. About two hours later, the department said its officers were called again because he had returned. They arrested Dunn and charged him with second-degree trespassing.

Although much of the day passed without major incident, law enforcement officials across the country worried that the anger, disappointment and possible violence would emerge once the polls closed.

The Atlanta Police Department said it was coordinating with local, state and federal law enforcement agencies and was ready to respond “should post-election protests or illegal activity” break out. The department said it was using its joint operations center to monitor events Tuesday and would keep observing “post-election day activity as warranted.”

“At present, there are no verified threats to indicate that violent activity is being planned,” the department said Tuesday, adding that if something did happen, it was “prepared to respond quickly to prospective protests or illegal and violent activity.”

Officials in areas rocked by unrest this year also said they stood ready. Mike Schmidt, district attorney in Multnomah County, Ore., which includes Portland, issued a video statement Tuesday saying authorities there did “not support violence, theft or destruction, and we will prosecute these cases when there is clear evidence to do so.”

Portland had been the site of months of steady protests this year, some of them turning destructive and violent. Oregon Gov. Kate Brown (D) on Monday said she had put the state police and the Multnomah county sheriff in charge of the police response in the city, while also putting the Oregon National Guard on standby.

“We know that there are some people who might want to use peaceful election night protests to promote violence and property destruction,” Brown said during a news briefing.

Brian Manley, the police chief in Austin, wrote in a memo released Tuesday that his department in the Texas capital was on “tactical alert,” meaning that all officers would don their field uniforms to deploy as needed.

In New York, no credible threats of election violence were detected hours into voting at 1,200 sites across the city.

“Right now, we’re not tracking any credible threats; we do have several leads that we are running down as we speak,” Chief of Intelligence Thomas Galati said at a briefing with other top police officials at One Police Plaza late in the morning.

NYPD officials are concerned that protests could be used as cover for people with criminal intentions, who aim to injure others or wipe out stores, which was rampant during some of the protests following George Floyd’s police killing months ago.

Dozens of storefronts around the city — including the ground-level shops at the Empire State Building — were boarded up with plywood Tuesday afternoon.

“I think after we find out the results of the election . . . or if there’s no winner, you’re going to see more protests, and I think you’re going to see probably larger protests,” Galati said.

Officials said they doubted armed groups would try to enter the city, something that has not happened before. Legal gun owners who do not have a permit to carry in the five boroughs would be charged with gun possession, Chief of Department Terence Monahan said after the briefing.

“If people are showing up with weapons, they’ll be sitting in Central Booking, going to court and hopefully spending a lot of time in jail,” Monahan said.

Thousands of extra police officers — most of the 34,000-member force — worked on a staggered schedule of tours throughout the city and planned to through Wednesday, when a rise in protest activity is anticipated.

People nationwide steeled for what might happen after results are known.

A truck rally of supporters for President Trump traveled through Des Moines in the late afternoon Tuesday in a last-minute effort to get out the vote. Bryan Kratzker, who owns a business that builds muscle cars and who organized the rally of about 60 vehicles, said he has been leading such parades for weeks because he fears “if Biden gets in, we won’t have no businesses left.”

The vehicles that traveled through Des Moines all sported flags waving in support of the president while passengers urged people to vote.

Kratzker anticipates a “landslide” in favor of Trump, but he said he expects a “civil war” in the form of rioting if that happens because he believes the opposition won’t accept the results. He said legal gun owners like himself are prepared in case that happens.

“These people are criminals,” he said. “We’re all ready for them.”

Wilson reported from Los Angeles, Jacobs reported from New York, and Berman reported from Washington. Abigail Hauslohner in Washington and Mark Guarino in Des Moines contributed to this report.

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