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Virginia Officials Monitor For Possible Election Conflicts

Back of police stand at event
Chesterfield County Police at an event in 2019. (Crixell Matthews/VPM News)

Virginia’s top public safety officer expressed cautious optimism about the state’s preparations for security during and after what is sure to be a contentious Election Day.

Brian Moran, the state’s Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security, said federal, state and local law enforcement agencies are collaborating to monitor potential threats and plan for any unrest.

“We've sketched out in a number of scenarios, and so far, so good,” Moran said. “It's been peaceful and fairly uneventful.”

The Department of Elections has led meetings at least once a month with agencies that include the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Virginia Department of Emergency Management, local registrars’ offices, and representatives from local law enforcement agencies to share information and prepare for Election Day.

The Virginia Fusion Center, a cross-agency antiterrorism unit, has also continued to monitor social media and the dark web for potential security risks or other disruptions. This week, for example, officials kept an eye on what Moran described as a “bringing a gun to vote day” advertised on social media on Tuesday that he said was “uneventful.” There’s no blanket ban on firearms at polling places in Virginia, though many are located in schools or other facilities that prohibit guns. 

Officials are also watching out for possible traffic disruptions caused by a car caravan of President Trump’s supporters slated for Sunday.

State law allows local election officials to call in one law enforcement officer per polling station if they chose. Moran said voters should only see law enforcement in the event they received a call. “We don't want to be the source of intimidation in any way,” he said.

Local and state police are planning for the possibility of protests, particularly given the potential of a drawn out period of uncertainty as to who won the vote. Some election observers fear President Trump will not concede if he loses the vote given his repeated and unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud. 

Protests erupted in Richmond in the wake of Trump’s election in 2016, when twelve people were arrested for blocking traffic on the Downtown Expressway. Corrinne Geller, a spokesperson for Virginia State Police, said that agency was used to collaborating with local enforcement on elections. But she said their role was mainly to provide backup to local law enforcement agencies.

“They are the lead -- just as they have been during the summer, and as they were after the last election,” Geller said.

Ben Paviour covers courts and criminal justice for VPM News with a focus on accountability.
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