Bay Area police prepare for possible Election Day unrest

Bay Area police departments are very aware 2020 isn’t a normal election year and are responding with increased staffing and coordination with other local officials.

“We will likely have some additional officers on overtime,” said Berkeley police spokesman Byron White. “At this point, I am uncertain where they may be deployed. We may have (added officers on Election Day) in the past, but it is not something we regularly do.”

San Francisco police spokeswoman Tiffany Hang said discretionary days off for officers have been canceled on Election Day. She said the department is coordinating with the mayor’s office regarding security at the city’s Civic Center polling station. 

“We will have sufficient resources to respond to routine calls for service in all police districts as well as election-related calls,” Hang said. “At this time, the department has decided to cancel discretionary days off to ensure sufficient resources to respond to calls for service in all police districts as well as election-related calls.”

San Jose police spokesman Sgt. Christian Camarillo said his department “will be monitoring events during election week. We do not comment on specific plans (and) tactics.”

Berkeley police sent out a reminder on social media and the city’s website about Election Day-related information pertaining to the California Elections Code. It points out voter intimidation is a felony, as is bringing a firearm to the “immediate vicinity” of a polling place — including uniformed peace officers, private guards and other security personnel — without written authorization of the appropriate city or county elections office.

“Electioneering” within 100 feet of a polling place is also prohibited on Election Day. That means no signs, initiative circulation, vote soliciting or speaking to voters about their qualifications to vote.

Vandalism, of course, is illegal. No removing, tearing, marking, defacing or destroying of supplies at a polling place is allowed within 100 feet of a polling place.

State law on voting

California law also addresses “corruption of voting process,” which is also a felony. 

“No person shall interfere with the officers holding an election, or with the voters lawfully exercising their rights of voting in an election, as to prevent the election or canvass from being fairly helped and lawfully conducted,” the code states.

People can’t be paid or otherwise rewarded for voting. Nor can anyone tamper with the “correct operation” of a lawful voting system.

Falsely acting as an elected official is illegal, and “providing any unauthorized or non-official vote-by-mail ballot drop box, whether or not is it identified as ‘Official’ or ‘unofficial,’ may constitute a violation of Elections Code section 18575.”

The state issued a cease-and-desist order in October to the California Republican Party over its placing unofficial ballot boxes in at least four counties, including Los Angeles, Ventura, Orange and Fresno. The GOP has said it won’t comply with the order, and it’s not clear whether the state will take further measures.

California law also covers online activity on Election Day. Technically, it says “no person shall commit, through intent to mislead, deceive, or defraud, an act of political cyberfraud.” 

It also covers activities like intentionally diverting or redirecting access from one political website to another site, intentionally preventing or denying exit from a political website, registering a domain name similar to another domain name for a political website, or intentionally preventing the use of a domain name by selling it to another to prevent its use.

Election officials say record numbers of early voting should limit any possible Election Day problems. 

‘De-escalate situations’

“Our workers are trained in how to deal with and de-escalate situations as part of the normal process,” said Scott Konopasek, the assistant registrar of voters for Contra Costa County. “They are given the non-emergency law enforcement numbers for their location with instructions to call and let the police resolve situations they can’t. We have people in the field who often assist if needed and we coordinate responses from our command center.”

Konopasek said his office hasn’t seen any indication there will be any trouble on Election Day beyond the norm.

“Based upon ballots being returned we don’t expect many Election Day voters in any case,” he said.

Alameda County Registrar of Voters Tim Dupuis said sheriff’s deputies will provide the same security to his office, located in the basement of the county courthouse in downtown Oakland, as they do every year.

“As of today, 40 percent of our voters have already voted,” Dupuis said. “This weekend we will open up our 100 Accessible Voting Locations for in-person voting. It is difficult to predict what will happen on Election Day. But currently, it looks like a large percentage of our voters are choosing to vote early.”

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