One ballot counter inside a Detroit facility when angry Trump supporters demanded to be let in told BuzzFeed News, “I think we had that feeling of, What if we have to physically defend ourselves?”
Election officials say they are fearful for the safety of their staff and are calling for an end to harassment from the public as they work to finish counting ballots.
“Please stop making harassing & threatening calls to my staff. They are kind, hardworking public servants just doing their job,” tweeted Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel on Thursday. “Asking them to shove sharpies in uncomfortable places is never appropriate & is a sad commentary on the state of our nation.”
With the race tightening as delayed results roll in around the country after Election Day due to a large number of mail-in ballots, President Donald Trump has made unsubstantiated allegations that the election is being stolen. Armed supporters have rallied at election centers in Arizona, demanded entry to a vote-counting site in Michigan, and disrupted a press conference in Nevada.
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Joe Gloria, the registrar of voters for Clark County, Nevada, said Thursday that he was worried about his staff after a Trump supporter screamed at him and reporters during a media event the day prior.
”I can tell you that my wife and my mother are very concerned for me. … I am concerned for the safety of my staff,” he said Thursday. “We’re putting measures into place to make sure that we have the security that’s necessary.”
Gloria said officials would begin monitoring vehicles coming to the site.
Pennsylvania Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar said her team had also taken precautions. “We have security,” she told reporters on Thursday afternoon. “We make sure that we are safe and we make sure that where our operations are are secure and safe.”
In Maricopa County, Arizona, where an estimated 200 Trump supporters gathered on Wednesday night, the state’s elections department tweeted its thanks to the local sheriff’s office for “doing their job, so we can do ours.” The department later tweeted, “It is imperative that we balance the protection and well-being of our election workers and volunteers with the constitutional right of protesters who may wish to demonstrate outside the Elections Department.”
Joe Biden has been declared the winner of the election in Michigan, but Nevada and Arizona — along with Georgia, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania — were still too close to call as of Thursday afternoon. (Fox News and the Associated Press have declared Arizona for Biden, but other outlets, including BuzzFeed News, are waiting for more information.)
As the votes get counted, tensions are high. At the TCF Center in Detroit, dozens of Trump supporters showed up Wednesday to try to monitor the count and began chanting outside when they were not allowed in.
Jane Duggan, a 74-year-old who worked as a ballot counter there on Wednesday, told BuzzFeed News she was on the far end of the hall when she heard yelling coming from the other side of the doors.
“We were working there, and all of a sudden there was this chanting going,” she said. “The people outside broke the glass in the door into this room. They had to immediately board it up. They had police on the inside and the outside. I believe these people were actually in the room at one time.”
“It was stressful — more stressful than frightening,” she recalled. “There was a man at my table who was a military veteran, [and] he said, ‘If they lay a hand on me, all bets are off.’
“I think we had that feeling of, What if we have to physically defend ourselves?”
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One Democratic operative tasked with observing the vote at the TCF Center told BuzzFeed News he and his colleagues were frequently trying to stop their Republican counterparts from intimidating ballot counters. (A representative for the Republican Party in Michigan did not immediately respond to a request for comment.)“It is in their legal right to challenge, but it’s not in their legal right to intimidate or evoke fear. It wasn’t everyone, but many of them were,” said the Democratic operative Steven Benson, 31. “They were raising their voices. A lot of them weren’t adhering to social distancing, and hovering over them.”
As results have rolled in this week, Trump’s path to victory has narrowed, and both he and his supporters have become more on edge. The president demanded a halt to the vote counting in a tweet on Thursday morning, while his son Donald Trump Jr. wrote that their supporters should “go to total war over this election to expose all of the fraud.” His campaign and Republican officials have argued without evidence that there has been widespread fraud, and they have filed lawsuits trying a variety of tactics to affect ballot counting.
The slow count has frustrated voters for both candidates, and there have also been counterprotesters at election centers and demonstrations to “protect the vote” in cities around the country.
Oregon Gov. Kate Brown activated the state’s National Guard after a protest in Portland became destructive, but the country has so far not seen the widespread violence that some feared.
Gloria, the Clark County registrar in Nevada, said he expected to have most of the ballots there counted by the end of the weekend and that he would remain focused in spite of the growing pressure.
“We will not allow anyone to stop us from what our duty is in counting ballots,” he said.