Trump supporters staged a rally at a Virginia polling center during early voting, intimidating voters, election officials say

  • Trump supporters waving flags and chanting slogans staged a rally near a polling center in Fairfax, Virginia, Saturday on the second day of early voting in the state, filmed footage shows.
  • “Some voters, and elections staff, did feel intimidated by the crowd and we did provide escorts past the group,” said Gary Scott, the general registrar of Fairfax County.
  • But a local Republican official, Steve Rastatter, denied that protesters had been seeking to intimidate voters and said they had complied with officials’ requests to move away. 
  • President Trump has spread groundless accusations that Democrats are seeking to steal the election, and has called on supporters to act as poll monitors. 
  • Attempts at voter intimidation are illegal in Virginia and other US states. 
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Supporters of President Donald Trump staged a rally during early voting at a polling station in Virginia on Saturday, in a stunt that an election official said had intimidated voters and disrupted voting. 

According to footage of the incident posted online by filmmaker Anthony Tilghman, a group of supporters holding up pro-Trump banners staged the protest near the polling station entrance in Fairfax, on the second day of early voting in the state. 

A county election official, Gary Scott, said that the protest was about 100 feet from the building entrance where voters cast their ballot early.

Contrary to some initial reports, the protesters had not blocked access to the polling station, he said.

“Citizens coming into and leaving the building did have to go by them,” Gary Scott, the general registrar of Fairfax County, said in a statement to The New York Times. “Those voters who were in line outside of the building were moved inside and we continued operations. Some voters, and elections staff, did feel intimidated by the crowd and we did provide escorts past the group. One of the escorts was the county executive.”

Fairfax County Democrats Chair Bryan Graham accused local Republicans of seeking to intimidate voters.

“The Republicans are straight-up attempting to intimidate voters at the Government Center. Circling the parking lots with their Trump flags and horns blaring,” he tweeted. 

But Fairfax County Republican Committee Vice-Chair Sean Rastatter, who was at the protest, told the Times that they not been seeking to intimidate voters. 

He said that he didn’t think “there was any way to need or feel intimidated in any form” and that protesters had complied with a request from election officials to “back away from the curb” and voters waiting to cast their ballot. 

The incident reflects the febrile climate around this year’s election, with Trump having repeatedly spread disinformation that mail-in votes are exposed to fraud, and Democrats are plotting to steal the election.

The president at rallies has called on supporters to act as“poll watchers” to guard against election fraud. Democrats say that the president seeks to delegitimize thousands of mail-in votes to cling to power illegally should he lose in November.

Thousands more Americans are expected to cast their ballot by mail this year amid the coronavirus pandemic, with polls showing Democratic nominee Joe Biden holding the lead over Trump. 

Already some observers say that the escalating tensions could spill over into election day violence.

Russ Travers, who served as acting director of the National Counter-Terrorism Centre until March, told ABC News last week: “I fear there are a lot of people out there with very warped views of reality and a lot of guns who could willingly take up their weapons in defense of what they believe is the President and the constitution.

“That, I think, is a worrisome possibility that is growing as the political rhetoric gets more and more severe.”

In a statement Saturday, Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve Descano said that those seeking to intimidate voters would be prosecuted. 

“I am instructing my office to pursue cases of voter intimidation that may occur,” Descano tweeted. 

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