As a momentous election draws closer, government leaders and law enforcement agencies are preparing for a contested election and ensuing civil unrest. The FBI and Department of Justice are getting ready for election-related violence. And National Guard leaders have assembled rapid-response forces in two states to deal with potential disruptions.
Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley has been unequivocal that the military should play "no role" in a U.S. election. "Zero," he said. In fact, it is a federal crime to deploy troops to polling places. But what if there are protests, including when voters have already cast their ballots but the final results remain uncertain?
To be clear, if there is any election unrest, the federal government should not be the one handling it. Elections are run at the local and state levels, so those law enforcement agencies should respond. Yet there's concern the president and his allies may try to interfere with election outcomes by deploying — or threatening to deploy — military forces and turn American streets into "battle spaces."
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Twitter is taking on its No. 1 agitator in the name of protecting electoral democracy by combating both domestic and foreign disinformation.
But the changes announced Friday will also contain the sort of robust and rapid-fire political discourse at the heart of Twitter's identity, not only by politicians but by millions of everyday users.
New warnings will be attached to the lies of candidates, at least through Election Day. The site will reject any posts calling for voter intimidation or violence connected to the presidential or congressional elections. And no one will be permitted to declare victory before races have been called by major news organizations — a mirror of what Facebook announced a day earlier.
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The Department of Justice has abandoned its longstanding policy of waiting until an election is over to investigate allegations of election fraud, according to press reports. Yet it is eminently sensible to delay investigations because it avoids actions that erode confidence in the election.
The policy itself includes this set of justifications: "Such overt investigative steps may chill legitimate voting activities. They are also likely to be perceived by voters and candidates as an intrusion into the election. Indeed, the fact of a federal criminal investigation may itself become an issue in the election."
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President Trump's directive to his supporters "to go into the polls and watch very carefully" has magnified anxiety that the election will soon become marred by violence and voter intimidation.
Since exhorting his allies in last week's debate, the president has not offered more detailed instructions. So it's not altogether clear if he wants fans to go through the process of becoming official partisan observers, who get to be inside voting stations — or if he was encouraging boisterous rallies of loyalists outside thousands of schools and libraries nationwide.
Either way, unnerved voting rights advocates and election officials fear his vague but incendiary call to action will lead to disturbances and chaos. Beyond the confusion between poll watching (formal and strictly overseen) and electioneering (informal and less regulated) are worries about an Election Day imperiled by polarized clashes between the left and the right.
Answers to several questions may help the nation rise above the muddle the president has created, if not the anger.
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