About 24 hours after President Trump falsely declared victory on Election Night and baselessly claimed a plot was underway to “steal” the vote from him, tense scenes played out across the country as protesters took matters into their own hands.
Sheriff’s deputies in Maricopa County, Arizona, donned tactical gear as a growing crowd of protesters outside the county’s election center shouted demands to be let inside. Police arrested protesters in Minneapolis, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, and New York City. And Oregon’s governor deployed the National Guard against “widespread violence” in Portland.
Uncertainty over the final presidential ballot count was long expected due to the high prevalence of pandemic-induced mail-in voting, but that didn’t stop many—on both ends of the political spectrum—from taking to the streets with dueling cries of “Count every vote” and “Stop the count.”
In Las Vegas, dozens of Trump's Southern Nevada loyalists took to the sidewalk Wednesday night outside the Clark County Election Department and chanted “Stop the steal” as part of an orchestrated national campaign to build support for a voter fraud narrative in the 2020 election.
The final absentee and hand-delivered ballots are still being counted in Nevada’s most populace county, and Registrar of Voters Joseph Gloria said Wednesday he expects more results by Thursday morning. To that news, protesters responded, “Joe Gloria for prison.”
The views expressed by protesters late Wednesday echoed the rhetoric of the dismissed lawsuit filed by the Trump campaign and the Nevada Republican Party, one of three litigations that have failed to gain traction in the Silver State.
Pro-Trump Twitter commentator Michael Coudrey shouted a macro-view of the fraud narrative, claiming election abnormalities in Arizona, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Georgia. “We did not put Justice (Brett) Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court to let them steal the election,” Coudrey said. “We did not put Amy Coney Barrett on the Supreme Court to let them steal the election.”
During an afternoon press briefing outside the election department, Gloria’s methodical belt-and-suspenders professionalism was interrupted by a frothing zealot with something to say to the reporters assembled. “The vice president will steal this election! The media is covering it up,” he shouted. “We want our freedom for the world! Give us our freedom, Joe Biden!”
In Maricopa County, Arizona, perhaps the closest-watched locale in the most controversial swing state of the 2020 election, a huge crowd of protesters gathered outside the Maricopa County Elections Center, where ballots were still being counted, and yelled “Count those votes.” Many in the crowd shouted profanities at members of the press and hurled allegations of a Democratic conspiracy at those working in the election center. The AP has already called the Arizona race for Biden, and he was still in the lead late Wednesday as thousands more ballots were counted.
During unrest in Portland, police made several arrests after declaring the protests a riot. Windows were smashed out at multiple business and one man was found carrying a “rifle with a full magazine,” police said.
In Detroit, after both Democrats and Republicans sent their allotted 134 “poll challengers” into a vote-counting site on Wednesday, election officials barred additional outside challengers from entering.
The cap on poll watchers was within state rules. But consistent with surging GOP panic that continued counting might hand Democratic challenger Joe Biden the presidency, a mob-like crowd of Republicans cried foul, chanting “stop the vote” and “let us in” outside the building where critical mail-in ballots were still being counted.
Trump and other Republicans have peddled baseless allegations of voter fraud since voting began Tuesday, like falsely claiming Biden’s gains came from fake ballots, or that an error with Sharpie markers negated some pro-Trump votes in Arizona.
Trump supporters at Detroit’s TCF Center crowded around a young, Black Biden supporter, chanting “We love Trump!” Competing Trump and Biden camps—backers of the Democrat soon matched MAGA fans in number—then broke into dueling chants of “All Lives Matter” and “Black Lives Matter.” Republicans also crowded police officers and TCF security, who were guarding the doors.
Laura, a Trump supporter from Manchester, Michigan, asked to speak with an officer’s supervisor. Laura, who declined to give her last name for what she said were professional reasons, told The Daily Beast a grassroots group had called her to the TCF Center to act as a poll watcher. She claimed Democratic poll watchers inside the building outnumbered Republicans, although reports from inside the building documented more than 100 of each.
“It’s very corrupt, it’s not a fair process,” she said, claiming that the “fake Michigan Health Department” was making arbitrary and unconstitutional rules that prevented Republicans from monitoring the count.
Republican hijinks appeared to be the party’s latest attempt to halt or discredit ballot-counting. The spectacle—which saw dozens of Republicans chanting outside the building—came hours after the Trump campaign hinted at a legal challenge to halt the state’s vote count. By about 4 p.m., the campaign had filed that suit in court.
Laura Cox, chair of Michigan’s Republican Party, tweeted on Wednesday that poll challengers from her party were not being allowed into the TCF Center. “Republican poll challengers blocked from entering the TCF Center in Detroit!” she tweeted. “This is egregious!”
In fact, as the Detroit News reported, more than 100 challengers from her party were already inside. The site allowed 134 challengers from each party, as well as 134 challengers from non-partisan groups like the Election Integrity Fund.
Mark Brewer, a Democratic attorney, confirmed to The Daily Beast that there were at least 100 GOP ballot challengers inside the building. He added that they enjoyed the same access as Democrats and that claims that they were outnumbered were false.
The crush of Republican would-be challengers even appeared to keep some Democratic lawyers from entering, according to Jordan Acker, a lawyer and official poll challenger from the Michigan Democratic Party.
“In fact, the @MIGOP has so overwhelmed the Detroit vote counting room with ‘challengers’ (most who are not lawyers), preventing actual Dem lawyers from actually getting in. Sure feels like a deliberate attempt to try to steal the election,” Acker tweeted, alongside video of challengers lined up at the doors shouting.
In an interview with The Daily Beast, Acker, the poll challenger and attorney, said the chief impact of the protest besides slowing down the process and alarming legit poll challengers, was sparking pandemic anxiety.
“Ultimately, I don’t want to get coronavirus,” Acker told The Daily Beast from outside the facility. “These people are unmasked and chanting and singing.”
With the sun setting on downtown Detroit, the count in its final stages, and Biden declared the winner in Michigan by most outlets, Trump supporters outside TCF had mostly vanished late Wednesday. What began as a tense pro-Trump protest that called for a halt to the count had become a mostly quiet gathering of Biden supporters discussing the day’s events and what was next for the state.
—with reporting by Matt Taylor