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Suzanne Lynch’s US Election Diary: Country braced for possible post-vote violence

Voters go to polls in referendum on Trump amid fears president may not accept result

The mood is one of anxious trepidation in Washington DC as Americans go to the polls today in what is effectively a referendum on Donald Trump.

On the eve of election day last night, businesses were boarding up their windows, while fresh fencing was being erected around the White House as the sun set.

Following a summer of social unrest, protests and sporadic violence, America is preparing for all possibilities as the most polarised electorate in years will choose the country’s next president.

There have been reports of isolated incidents across the country in recent days – in North Carolina, local police used pepper spray to disperse a small crowd marching to a polling station on Saturday.


The FBI is investigating an incident in Texas on Friday when Trump-supporting truck drivers surrounded a Biden-Harris bus on an interstate. In New York, vehicles flying Trump flags stopped traffic on some of the main roads and bridges around Manhattan on Sunday.

People here are bracing for possible unrest, particularly if Donald Trump refuses to accept the result of the election or prematurely claims victory. The nation’s capital is on edge.

Worryingly, gun sales have increased dramatically since the spring, and Walmart last week removed ammunition from public display at its stores that sell firearms and ammunition, citing last week’s violence in Philadelphia.

The president’s language has been inflammatory. At a campaign event in Pennsylvania yesterday he warned the governor of the state: “we’re watching you”, telling Pennsylvanians to “make sure your governor doesn’t cheat”.

He also lambasted the recent decision by the Supreme Court to allow Pennsylvania to accept votes that arrive after election day, claiming it “opens up Pennsylvania for cheating”. “I hope it’s going to be readjusted . . . we’re going to be asking for that,” he said of the court’s decision.

In a tweet, he also said the decision could "induce violence in the streets".  "The Supreme Court decision on voting in Pennsylvania is a VERY dangerous one. It will allow rampant and unchecked cheating and will undermine our entire systems of laws. It will also induce violence in the streets. Something must be done!"

However, the coming days play out, polls will close this evening, and the counting process will begin. Despite warnings a final outcome will not be known for some time, there may be some results from early states that will indicate how the election will go.

A clutch of important states are expected to be announced relatively early – Georgia, North Carolina, Florida and Arizona. Florida in particular is crucial. If Joe Biden wins here – and wins either of the other three – Trump's quest for a second term is all but over, and it is highly unlikely that he will pick up sufficient electoral college votes elsewhere to reach the 270 electoral college votes.

If Trump wins Florida – and the polls are extremely tight – we will be in for a long night and potentially weeks. Trump’s path to 270 electoral votes runs through Florida. It is very difficult – though not mathematically impossible – for him to win the election without the state.

Quote of the day

"I could tell you stories about Lady Gaga. I know a lot of stories . . ." – Donald Trump, a fan of conspiracy theories, tells supporters at a rally in Pennsylvania ahead of the star's election eve appearance there with Joe Biden last night.

On the campaign trail

Campaigning will continue throughout election day. Joe Biden's wife, Jill, will travel to North Carolina and Florida to encourage last-minute voters to head to the polls. Kamala Harris's husband, Doug Emhoff, will visit Columbus, Ohio.

The two presidential candidates are staying closer to home. Donald Trump suggested he may visit campaign headquarters in nearby Virginia. He is hosting an election night party in the east room of the White House on Tuesday night, having abandoned plans to host an event in the Trump hotel in Washington DC.

Joe Biden will be in his home in Delaware, but preparations are being made for him to make an address from the Chase Center in Wilmington.

Recommended reads

My guide on how to watch tonight's election.

Fiona McCann has an on-the-ground report from Oregon – the  first state to introduce statewide postal voting back in 2000.

For a last-minute update on where things stand ahead of today's election, I spoke with foreign editor Chris Dooley for the Irish Times World View podcast.

Fintan O'Toole on voters' opportunity to be rid of Donald Trump. "Trump's genius, and his toxicity, lie in his uncanny ability to annex our minds, even – perhaps especially – if we despise him," he writes.

Maureen Dowd's latest column recalls how she drank champagne at dawn at the Lincoln Memorial when Barack Obama was elected. "I often wonder how we got from that moment in only a dozen years, from my little champagne celebration at the Lincoln Memorial to a state of such despair and jitters that we don't even know if the president will use the supreme court, midwifed by Mitch McConnell, to purloin the election."

* Sign up to get Suzanne Lynch's US Election Diary by email every weekday morning of the campaign here.