With many people concerned about the possibility of protests and voter intimidation at polling places, 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 says 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 says. "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 says she hopes they’re not “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 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 in the September 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’s 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 says 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 officlls by having these calming folks who are trained in de-escalation be there too," Miller says.
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.