‘One little incident could set someone off’: How police are working to keep polls safe in Michigan

Law enforcement officials preparing for Tuesday’s General Election

What's being done behind the scenes to keep voters, ballots safe

What’s going to happen when residents around Michigan go to the polls Tuesday to vote in the General Election?

“People are upset,” said Andy Arena, of the Detroit Crime Commission. “People are ready to take action. One little incident could set someone off, so from a law enforcement standpoint, that is what you are worried about.”

Is the state prepared for Tuesday? Are there real threats?

“We are constantly monitoring that through our intelligence operations center,” Arena said.

There’s even more to consider beyond a high voter turnout, a global pandemic and heated emotions on both sides of the presidential race.

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With that comes increased concerns about safety at the polls.

People are on edge this political season, and that’s why state police have been preparing while federal agents have been closely monitoring chatter in hopes of making Election Day a safe one for everybody in Michigan.

“On the day of the election, voter intimidation, attempt to attack a polling place or contaminate or destroy ballots -- I think that is really in the mind of law enforcement these days,” Arena said.

As the former special agent in charge of Detroit’s FBI and the current head of the Detroit Crime Commission, Arena is well aware of what’s on the minds of those trying to protect voters.

“I think you’ve really got to keep an eye on the ballots,” Arena said. “The people coming in getting near the ballots, because I would not be surprised to see somebody come in and try to desecrate a polling site, to cause damage to the ballots or the site.

“The other thing is intimidation. If I can intimidate you into not casting a ballot, then that is a win, too.”

Michigan State Police officials said they are prepared.

“We always hope for the best and plan for the worst,” MSP Lt. Mike Shaw said.

Intimidation at the polls has been talked about frequently in recent days.

“If you are standing there and people are lined up in front of the door and you are trying to get into the polling place and they won’t let you, that is intimidation,” Shaw said.

He said that’s when voters should contact poll workers and let them know they’re being bothered.

“If they are touching you or to the point where assault is taking place, just like any other time, you call 911 and police will respond and take care of that situation.”

Shaw said the public police are apolitical.

“I can tell you law enforcement in Michigan is working together to make sure no matter what party you are part of, you get an opportunity to vote,” Shaw said.

As far as threats, Shaw said at this time there are no threats in the state. But that concern doesn’t end when the polls close.

“The longer you get away from the Election Day with no clear-cut winner, one side, the other or both are going to feel anxious,” Shaw said. “They are going to turn the heat up.”

The United States attorney reminded Michiganders that under the Constitution, it is a right for people to go to the polls without being intimidated. His office is on the lookout for anyone threatening voters who are trying to exercise their rights.

About the Authors:

Karen Drew is the anchor of Local 4 News First at 4, weekdays at 4 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. She is also an award-winning investigative reporter.

Derick is the Lead Digital Editor for ClickOnDetroit and has been with Local 4 News since April 2013. Derick specializes in breaking news, crime and local sports.