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Election Day Was Peaceful—Then Trump Opened His Mouth

Fears of voter intimidation and violence didn’t materialize. But the president’s claim that the election was being stolen could incite chaos in the days to come.

Saul Loeb/Getty Images

The 2020 election was never going to be easy to conduct. This year saw a pandemic kill more than 230,000 people throughout the country, widespread protests and civil unrest over police brutality against Black Americans, protracted legal battles over the right to vote, and increased fears of political violence. Despite all that, Election Day appeared to go fairly smoothly across the country—but President Trump threatened to upset that peace by prematurely declaring victory late on election night, potentially setting the stage for unrest as the vote-counting continues.

There were no outbursts of political violence at polls in battleground states or anywhere else in the country. Armed pro-Trump militants did not stalk the streets of Detroit, Philadelphia, or other Democratic strongholds to intimidate would-be voters. And while Trump-aligned convoys disrupted traffic over the weekend in New Jersey, New York, and other states, similar episodes did not strangle highways and thoroughfares across the country.

While some technical issues hindered voting in some precincts and counties in states like Georgia and Pennsylvania, there were no widespread or systemic breakdowns in the electoral process. In Georgia’s Fulton County, home to the city of Atlanta and a major share of the state electorate, election officials announced that a burst pipe in a storage room would delay the counting of absentee ballots stored there. Officials said that the ballots themselves were not affected by the mishap.

While some polling places saw long lines on Tuesday, the nationwide surge in early and absentee voting appeared to reduce the risk of multihour waits to cast a ballot in person in key battleground states. Thanks to the expanded access to different voting options, as well as the high stakes of the presidential election, America appeared on track to set its best turnout record in at least a century. Those are buoying results for advocates of expanded voter access as well as a symbolic rebuke of voter-suppression measures in Republican-led states.

This year also saw a flurry of legal challenges to voting laws by both Democrats and Republicans, with left-leaning advocates usually arguing for greater voting access and Trump-aligned lawyers trying to limit it. On Election Day itself, however, the courtroom drama died down. Legal challenges to voting procedures by the Trump campaign and the Republican Party were sporadic and, so far, apparently nonconsequential.

Tuesday’s calm may not last as the election drags into the days and weeks that follow. President Donald Trump struck a divisive chord shortly after midnight, raising baseless claims about the integrity of the vote. “We are up BIG, but they are trying to STEAL the Election,” he wrote on Twitter. “We will never let them do it. Votes cannot be cast after the Polls are closed!” If he intensifies his scorched-earth campaign over the next week and the election swings toward Trump, this peaceful Election Day could become a distant memory.