Facing unprecedented warnings of a “rigged” election from Donald Trump, officials in Texas and elsewhere are rushing to reassure voters, and some are taking subtle steps to boost security at polling places because of the passions whipped up by the presidential race.
“We’re not running dishonest elections. We’re not having any fraud, and, if any were brought to our attention, we’d jump on it as quickly as possible,” said Joyce Cowan, who oversees elections in Hays County.
The Texas secretary of state, the state’s chief elections officer, was also dismissive of suggestions of fraud at the polls.
“The amount of collusion it would take among a wide swath of people and neighbors and Texans you and I know to dramatically influence the election on a statewide level would be essentially impossible,” said Alicia Pierce, Texas secretary of state office spokeswoman.
Other states are trying to coordinate with local law enforcement to tighten security without making a heavy-handed — and potentially illegal — show of force. And one city in Maine has canceled classes on Election Day in schools that double as polling places for fear of agitated voters and demonstrators in school hallways.
“This election, the environment is unlike any before,” South Carolina Election Commission spokesman Chris Whitmire said.
Over the weekend, a firebombing heavily damaged a local Republican Party office in North Carolina. No injuries were reported. And after a bomb threat at the Arizona GOP headquarters on Monday, the state party said it will probably hire security guards.
As Trump’s poll numbers have dropped amid accusations from multiple women that he groped them without consent, the Republican nominee has warned that the election is about to be stolen from him on Nov. 8 by backers of Democratic rival Hillary Clinton.
Trump has called on people to act as “election observers” in certain areas of the country to help prevent fraud — a move that has stirred fears of intimidation and confrontations at the polls.
In South Carolina, election officials have asked local law enforcement to increase patrols near voting locations while being careful not to oversaturate the area and intimidate voters.
Given the nation’s long history of intimidating black voters, especially in the South, local officials must tread carefully in stepping up security. In South Carolina, for example, authorities said that, under state law, police aren’t allowed to enter polling places unless they are summoned by election officials.
“If it is not done correctly, not only can it intimidate voters, it can also be against the law,” said Adam Gitlin, counsel for the Brennan Center for Justice’s Democracy Program at the New York University School of Law. “Many states have laws that specifically provide that election officials are the ones who are in charge of keeping order.”
In Falmouth, Maine, local officials decided to call off classes at public schools that will be used as polling places on Election Day.
“Mr. Trump has a way to get people excited, I would say. It’s on both sides. I think everybody has seen it on TV enough to be concerned,” Falmouth Police Chief Ed Tolan said. “We don’t need those kinds of demonstrations with students on school grounds.”
Officials in a number of states said they are following standard security procedures for elections and not taking any special precautions beyond that.
Pierce, the Texas secretary of state spokeswoman, said the voting system’s cross-checks and decentralization —Texas counties oversee their voting machines, for example – mean that “trying to pre-arrange a candidate’s success would essentially be impossible.”
Texas elections officials say their voting machines aren’t hooked up to the internet and are insulated from hackers.
It’s “inappropriate for anyone involved in the (election) process to make this loose talk about the integrity of voting,” said Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir, a Democrat. “It’s not OK because that undermines voter confidence and that undermines our democracy.”
This article includes material from The Associated Press and American-Statesman staff writer Asher Price.