Election Chaos 2020: Are Police Ready? - OZY | A Modern Media Company

WHY YOU SHOULD CARE

Because nothing can upend your Election Day like a voting booth beatdown.

By Eugene S. Robinson

The police forces in America, the self-described thin blue line between order and calamity, occupy a curious place come Election 2020. As they’re expected to quell various calls for near and actual violence from the far right (see: Proud Boys, any number of MAGA militias, the occasionally cop-killing Boogaloo Boys) or far left irregulars (see: the loose coalition of Antifa and anti-Trumpists), the groundwork has been laid for Election Day drama of the highest order.

None of which changes the fact that in American democracy there’s a long-standing and strangely reasonable expectation that on Nov. 3 we will exercise our democratic prerogatives without a hitch. But hoping that’s the case is very different from making sure that it is. Police departments across America are not as much in the hope business as they are in the business of keeping the peace.

“We’re exercising an abundance of caution this year,” says Miami Police Department officer Michael Vega about handling his city’s 1.5 million registered voters this Election Day. “We’ve made sure we’re on the same page with the FBI, because it’s a federal election, and we’ve canceled days off for that entire week.” Vega, a 23-year veteran of the force, also doesn’t have to deal with the thorny open carry issue. Carrying a concealed weapon with a license is legal in Florida. But AR-15s at the voting booth? Not so much.

Preparedness is the standard of the Atlanta Police Department.

Officer Anthony W. Grant

A totally different issue in the open carry state of Texas. And Dallas, with its 1.4 million voters and a sober history of not getting it right — the city where President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963 — very much has dug down deep into getting it right. Which is to say that Dallas is not just relying on its federal partners, but also leaning heavily on local and state partners.

“Plans have been developed that address supporting election site security, maintaining the ability of individuals to access polling locations and providing a safe environment for individuals,” Senior Corporal Melinda Gutierrez says. To vote? “To exercise their First Amendment right to peaceful assembly and freedom of speech.”

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Demonstrators march past a Dallas police car during a peaceful protest against police brutality and racism on June 6.

Source Cooper Neill/Getty

And since crime doesn’t stop just because it’s Election Day, the Dallas PD is also maintaining its continuity of patrol operations. So: business as usual. Refusing to address the what-if contingencies in regards to open carry issues, the DPD is keeping it close to the vest. “The Dallas Police Department is committed to ensuring the safety of our community during this election season.” Outside of feet on the street? Nothing they’re willing to share.

But the reality of competing narratives clashing in a public and violent way is not far from the minds of police departments in Northern California that saw looting and violence as recently as this past May in San Jose, when a MAGA rally was met in force by anti-MAGA protestors.

Incidentally, there was a pro-Trump rally planned for Saturday in San Jose, along with a counter-protest. So San Jose is staffing for problems. And in nearby Mountain View, California, Lieutenant Mike Canfield is on a Zoom call about election preparations with the registrar, the district attorney and a handful of police chiefs and captains. But he breaks away briefly enough to comment on possible looting and violence: “We may have more of the same. We’ll see.”

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Police form a line while trying to break up a demonstration on May 31 in Atlanta.

Source Elijah Nouvelage/Getty

A sentiment similarly echoed by Officer Anthony W. Grant from the Atlanta Police Department. “The Atlanta Police Department is well prepared for events such as large protests or events related to the upcoming election,” Grant says. However, in a security sensible move, “We do not discuss operational/tactical planning of our response to such events. We will continue to monitor events in the city and respond accordingly.”

But did you do anything special this Election Day?

“Preparedness,” Grant concludes, “is the standard of the Atlanta Police Department.”

A hope shared from sea to shining sea.

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