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Ohio Voting Rights Groups Organizing 'Peacekeeping Teams' For Election Day

A line of people at the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections during the 2020 spring primary. [Gabriel Kramer / ideastream]
A line of people at the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections during the 2020 spring primary.

With many people concerned about the possibility of protests and voter intimidation at polling places this year, some voting rights advocates in Ohio are organizing a “peacekeeping team” to help calm tensions.

The effort is spearheaded by the League of Women Voters of Ohio, which is working with the  Election Protection coalition to recruit clergy, social workers and others with de-escalation training to visit voting sites where issues might arise.

League of Women Voters of Ohio director Jen Miller said their teams won't be on site, but rather will be ready to deploy to polling places in several Ohio cites.

“We gets calls into 866-OUR VOTE, and a lot of times those are just questions about election logistics," Miller said. "But sometimes we will get calls about some kind of voter intimidation or maybe someone being aggressive with voters out in the parking lot.”

Others groups involved in the non-partisan Election Protection coalition include All Voting is Local, Ohio - Faith in Public Life, Ohio Votes, Common Cause, and Universalist Unitarian Justice Ohio, which created the training.

Miller said she hopes the volunteers don’t find themselves “breaking up fights,” but instead using de-escalation techniques to “create more calm in the situation that we start to see issues."

The peacekeeping effort follows President Donald Trump using the first presidential debate to fan the flames over unfounded concerns about voter fraud at polling places.

"I am encouraging my supporters to go into the polls and watch very carefully, because that's what has to happen — I am urging them to do it," Trump said during the  Sept. 29 debate in Cleveland.

Trump has repeatedly cited false or exaggerated instances of absentee ballots being destroyed to help sow seeds of doubts about the upcoming election. He has so far declined to commit to accept the election results if he loses.

Ohio law restricts what groups and individuals can come within 100 feet of a polling place. Only voters, trained poll workers, law enforcement, credentialed media and specially-designated  poll observers, who must register ahead of time with their board of elections, are allowed within that campaigning-free zone. 

Miller said her group is focused on addressing issues that spring up, rather than planned efforts by any groups hoping to lower voter turnout, saying they have not heard of any so far.

“Our hope is that they will be none, but if there are, we want to loan our supporters to voters and to poll workers and boards of elections officials by having these calming folks who are trained in de-escalation be there too," Miller said.

Other teams operated by the Election Protection coalition include poll monitors, a call center, and a legal team to fight for people who might have their vote suppressed.


An earlier version of this story said the presidential debate in Cleveland took place on Sept. 30. It occurred on Sept. 29. 

Copyright 2020 WOSU 89.7 NPR News. To see more, visit WOSU 89.7 NPR News.