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Virginia's bill to ban guns at polling locations now awaits Gov. Ralph Northam's signature.

Virginia on the verge of banning guns at the polls

Following significant incidents of voter intimidation in the 2020 election, Virginia is poised to enact a law banning people from carrying guns near polling stations.

The measure would prohibit anyone from knowingly possessing a firearm within 40 feet of a polling location beginning an hour before polls open to an hour after they close. With approval from the House of Delegates last month and the state Senate on Thursday, the bill is now headed to Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam's desk for his signature.

Heightened activity and heated rhetoric from partisan extremists led to major concerns about armed conflict at the polls during the early voting period and on Election Day last year. As a result, Virginia and other states are considering rules to improve voter safety.

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For the most part, Election Day started relatively smoothly across the country, including at the Kentucky Exposition Center in Louisville.

By midafternoon, only minor voting problems on Election Day

So far, so relatively good. By the middle of Tuesday afternoon, that was the general sense for how things were going at polling places across the country on this Election Day to end all Election Days.

There were scattered but nothing close to widespread technological glitches and apparent efforts to suppress voting – mainly misleading robocalls in several states that the FBI was investigating – that kept election officials and independent monitors on their toes.

But, with a few hours to go, one of the most divisive and complex tests ever for American electoral democracy seemed to be nearing the end with unexpected calm — and very long lines of people waiting to do their civic duty.

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The army of lawyers ready to protect the election

In a call with reporters today, the National Task Force on Election Crises outlined some of the legal work being done to monitor reports of voter intimidation and to head off violence during the election or its aftermath.

Ugly incidents like the one Saturday in Graham, N.C., where police pepper-sprayed Black Lives Matter marchers who were making their way to the polls, remain rare, said Rachel Kleinfeld of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. When such incidents are discussed, they need to be put in the context of the 97 million votes already cast largely without incident, she said. And the smooth running of elections at nearly 13,000 polling places across the United States. Blowing incidents out of proportion in itself can discourage voting by creating a false impression that it's dangerous to vote in 2020, she said.

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Civil rights groups and state prosecutors say they are prepared to handle complaints from voters on Election Day. Above: Workers process absentee ballots in Santa Ana, Calif.

Civil rights groups and government prosecutors get ready for a heated Election Day

Everything about this year's election season has been exceptional, so it comes as no surprise that the plans for monitoring Election Day are without precedent.

On the day before the big day, members of the Election Protection Coalition, which includes many prominent civil rights groups, and the Voter Protection Program, which includes attorneys general from around the country, outlined ambitious and assertive plans to make sure that people who set out to vote in person Tuesday have unfettered access to the polls and help if they encounter problems.

Although an astonishing 97 million votes have already been cast either by mail or in person, a consequence of intensified partisan feelings and the realities of the coronavirus pandemic, that still means 60 million ballots or more are almost certain to be cast for President Trump or former Vice President Joe Biden at polling places before all voting in the nation ends Tuesday night.

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