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EDITORIAL

On Election Day: Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst

Officials and voters must be vigilant about disruption and intimidation at the polls, and about any premature claims of victory.

Marina Ortega waited in line to cast her ballot during early voting at Boston City Hall on Oct. 29.
Marina Ortega waited in line to cast her ballot during early voting at Boston City Hall on Oct. 29.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

President Trump’s goal for the election is unambiguous — grab four more years in the White House by any means necessary. Law enforcement and elections officials must take the president, who is emboldening voter intimidation and suppression, at his word.

Luckily, in Massachusetts, this has not escaped officials’ notice. “My office has been involved with regular election security meetings with state and local law enforcement, the Executive Office of Public Safety, first responders, secretary of state’s office, as well as civil rights groups to make sure we have a secure and safe election,” Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey told the Globe editorial board.

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Her office has set up an election protection hotline that will be “fully staffed” on Election Day. “If anyone experiences any sort of verbal or physical harassment or threat while they’re attempting to vote, or any interference with their right to vote, people can call the hotline and speak directly to our civil rights division,” Healey said.

For weeks, Trump has called on his supporters to enlist as an “army” of poll watchers. He intentionally tosses around militaristic terms, with their unsubtle hints of warfare and violence. Jim Lyons, Massachusetts Republican Party chairman, has also called on poll watchers to “minimize any risk of fraud,” despite the fact that voter fraud is exceedingly rare.

Trump and too many in the GOP are evoking a not-too-distant past when threats of racist violence at the polls denied many Black people their full participation in democracy. The president wants fewer people to vote; that, he seems to believe, is his best path to reelection.

In Virginia, a small group of chanting and flag-waving Trump supporters have tried to disrupt early voting. There was a similar ruckus in Hialeah, Fla., with people holding Trump banners and a caravan of trucks. There have been no incidents in Massachusetts. Still, what may or may not occur at the polls on Election Day isn’t the only point of concern for officials — or voters. According to a Public Religion Research Institute poll, 77 percent of Americans are worried about a peaceful transfer of power if Trump loses. Even more, 86 percent, fear violent protests may erupt after the election.

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Instead of allaying those fears as a normal president would, Trump has refused to commit to a smooth transition if Joe Biden is elected.

“I worry about the time after polls close and the count is continuing. It’s a time that will be a challenge and people will need to be patient and calm,” Healey said.

Trump wants the vote count stopped by midnight on election night. With a record number of absentee ballots expected, the final tally won’t be available that quickly. But Trump is already showing his hand — if things don’t go his way, he will likely use those days after the election to sow doubts about the process and its result.

“I’m concerned that some may hear that message, then take action to protest the continuing count,” Healey said. “We’ve seen ugly incidents of white supremacists out there and others looking to intimidate.”

Never before has a president used such blatant treachery and deception to upend an election. Without a shred of evidence, Trump has repeatedly and falsely denigrated mail-in voting as an invitation for fraud, an oft-repeated Republican myth.

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Along with its GOP surrogates, the Trump campaign turned to the courts in several states to restrict how long ballots can be counted after Election Day. The Supreme Court thwarted Trump in Pennsylvania and North Carolina, where longer deadlines to count mail-in ballots will be allowed.

In Nevada, absentee ballots are already being counted. But Trump and the state’s Republican Party are suing to stop the count in Nevada’s largest county, which includes Las Vegas, until what they call a “meaningful” election observation plan can be installed.

For this election and its aftermath, officials, and voters can hope for the best but must prepare for the worst. That has been the unspoken mantra of 2020. It also comes with difficulties. Officials need to be vigilant and give voters a sense of security at the polls. Yet they can’t overplay unknown threats to the point that they might scare people away. That, too, would play into Trump’s voter suppression plans.

“My messaging is, ‘Look, everyone is entitled to vote. We’re going to protect your ability to go vote. Don’t be afraid to vote,’ ” Healey said. “It will be safe and secure, and you can trust that your vote will be tabulated so that we get a complete and full result. And we will prosecute any and all threats of voter intimidation and suppression.”

For voters, the onus is to report attempts to suppress the vote, and to be skeptical of Trump’s claims on and after Election Day.

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To report voter intimidation or suppression in Massachusetts, contact the attorney general’s office at 617-963-2917.


Editorials represent the views of the Boston Globe Editorial Board. Follow us on Twitter at @GlobeOpinion.