UNITED STATES. Niagara Falls, New York: 42-year-old Marisa Avery waited in line for just over an hour to vote on 31 October. In an amount of time considered relatively short compared to many other US cities, Avery shared that she felt intimidated, not once, but twice.
Lesbian couple feels uncomfortable voting in pro-Trump county
In an interview with Transcontinental Times, she said that she and her girlfriend decided before they left home that they would lay low. “Jodie and I had already discussed that we needed to keep some distance between us—trying to not stick out and all. There’s a distinct level of discomfort as someone who identifies as LGBTQPIA or a person of color in Niagara County.”
Niagara County is nearly 90% white with an average income of $54,000 annually, putting its population at just above living wage according to the Economics Policy Institute. Avery knows that Niagara County, where she lives so she can attend college, is pro-Trump. In the 2016 election, the county, along with many of the poorest counties across the United States voted for Trump. According to Niagara County GOP Chairperson Scott Kiedrowski, “Mr. Trump won here, and he won ‘bigly’.”
Avery recounts how she felt intimidated while voting. “Basically, as we were in line, a huge pickup truck with American flags and Trump flags drove through the (already cramped) parking lot [where we were waiting in line to vote]. It had a trailer attached to it that was decorated with more Trump paraphernalia. The driver continuously honked and shouted as he slowly drove through the lot. He was not on the street. He was very much in the voter parking lot.”
She added, “Of course, people in the line were all watching. Most gave no real response to it. But a few people fist pumped. All in all, as a gay couple in line, it made me incredibly wary of who was standing around me.”
This driver’s actions were in violation of the law that prohibits “electioneering” within 100 feet of a polling place. Unfortunately, Avery said, poll watchers were inside the building and didn’t see what had happened.
The politics of mask-wearing used to intimidate voters
In addition to feeling generally threatened by the Trump-flag-bedecked truck driving through the polling parking lot, Avery shared that she felt personally intimidated. “When we were in the building and nearing the end of the line, there was a man who walked out of the polling area, took his mask off (while still inside), stuffed it into his pocket, and walked past the line on his way out. He and I had distinct eye contact and his nonverbal communication made it very clear that he chose to do that as an act of defiance and ‘freedom.’”
Reports range from truck rallies to candidate paraphernalia at polling places
These types of voter intimidation are being reported in multiple cities across the United States. The LA Times recently reported a similar situation with trucks decked out in Trump flags honking and cheering in Temecula, Riverside County, California. Similar complaints have been lodged in many US states including Ohio, Florida, and Tennessee. While the accusations of voter intimidation skew toward Trump-supporters, Democrats have been aggressively flirting with legal violations as well. A pro-Biden caravan was reported in Texas’s Rio Grande Valley, and the Vice Presidential candidate posted a 24 October video of herself outside a polling place in Ohio, telling voters through a microphone: “You are going to make the decision about your future, about your family’s future. It is through the voice of your vote.”
Forbes details a growing list of voter intimidation accusations that includes police officers wearing pro-Trump face masks while in line (a violation of electioneering laws) and some people wearing Black Lives Matter t-shirts being asked to leave (not a violation of the law). Had those individuals been wearing any Biden/Harris regalia, they too would have been in violation of the law. Fox News reported that a Biden supporter threatened to burn down the home of neighbors who had a Trump sign on their lawn.
While it is unlikely that the outcome of the election will be decided on 3 November, many voters, no matter for whom they cast their ballot are bracing themselves for troubled waters ahead, no matter who claims victory.