As many as 300 people played music, cheered and called out through a megaphone, according to Natalie Adona, a county election official who could see the gathering from her second-floor office at the Eric Rood Administration Center.
But unlike usual Trump rallies, this one was happening at the site of one of the most popular drive-up ballot boxes in the county. And early voting was already underway.
That afternoon, voters were forced to navigate through the pro-Trump crowd, and some felt the electioneering amounted to voter intimidation.
In an election year clouded with anxieties about voter intimidation and the possibility of election-related violence, the first days of early voting have unfolded with dozens of accusations of inappropriate campaigning and possible voter intimidation in at least 14 states. The reports, though anecdotal, illustrate the tensions unfolding as more than 33 million Americans have already cast ballots two weeks before Election Day.
Election officials say voting has progressed relatively smoothly considering the upheaval of the coronavirus pandemic and a bitterly divided electorate. But a wide array of complaints have been reported around the country, many involving Trump supporters, according to tips reviewed by ProPublica’s Electionland project and shared with other news organizations including The Washington Post, and incidents reported by local media.
Adona, the assistant clerk-recorder and registrar of voters in Nevada City, confirmed that residents reported “they did not feel comfortable” and some said they couldn’t access the drop box because of the rally.
Residents should be able to vote “without feeling like they can’t because they feel they don’t have access or are intimidated,” she said. “That’s wrong. We’re acting very quickly to address the problem.”
Thea McDonald, a spokeswoman for President Trump’s campaign, said the campaign had no objection to actions at the polls as long as they are legal. Trump has sometimes encouraged confrontational behavior among his supporters.
“As long as political supporters keep a proper distance from polling places as required by law, they have a First Amendment right to express their opinions,” she said in a statement.
Joe Biden’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment.
At one polling place at a church in Hendersonville, Tenn., last week, a Trump supporter drove by repeatedly in a large truck-and-trailer rig with Trump flags and music blaring from speakers, “creating a lot of havoc,” said Lori Ashley, the administrator of elections for Sumner County.
The Trump supporter was not within the 100-foot buffer around the voting site and was not violating any laws, Ashley said.
“I just stopped him and I said, ‘Hey, it’d be better if you weren’t here,’ ” she recalled. “Legally, there’s nothing I could do about it.”
In Albuquerque, a convoy of vehicles, some with Trump flags, honked and yelled near a voting site on Saturday, the first day of early voting, according to a video submitted to news station KRQE.
The Bernalillo County district attorney’s office said the incident is under investigation.
The anxiety of the election has been exacerbated by the pandemic, which has prompted new protocols that keep voters socially distant and also slow down the voting process. Angry outbursts between the masked and unmasked have added to partisan tensions.
The concerns come as reports surface about other menacing tactics directed at voters. Earlier this week, threatening emails were sent to Democratic voters in several states that claimed to be from a far-right group supportive of Trump, but appeared instead to be from some other deceptive actor. And a 42-year-old man from Frederick, Md., was charged Wednesday with threatening Biden and Sen. Kamala D. Harris, in connection with a letter dropped off at another residence.
Inside a polling place in the Coral Ridge Mall in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., a group of people not wearing masks got into a shouting match Monday with others nearby, according to Stephanie Lillo, 30, a voter who witnessed the disturbance. Police officers eventually arrived and insisted the maskless shouters leave the line and return when they were wearing masks.
In several jurisdictions, voters have reported concerns about the proximity of law enforcement officers to the ballot boxes. A uniformed Miami police officer entered a polling place Tuesday wearing a “Trump 2020” face mask, which drew swift condemnation from city police officials.
Pennsylvania law prohibits police officers from being within 100 feet of a polling site — unless police themselves are voting or they are called in to maintain the peace — but the deputies are permitted.
Sheriff Sean P. Kilkenny said the request for ballot security came at the request of county commissioners and he felt it was a good idea because of concerns in the community that the right to vote was in jeopardy, particularly with “the president making statements that he’s not going to respect the results of the election.”
“I thought it was paramount that the voters of Montgomery County’s franchise be protected,” Kilkenny said.
Kilkenny said there have not been any incidents so far that required deputies to intervene, but he mentioned the recent burning of a ballot box in California as the type of interference that deputies could prevent.
“It’s been a tumultuous time in our county, country and state,” he added. “People just want to feel secure.”
Soltysiak, the chief clerk, said he was aware that some voters might be uncomfortable having visible armed security at polling sites but that “we came down on the side of making sure the integrity of the process was preserved.”
Across the country, concerned voters have complained about aggressive partisan behavior, including exchanges that have happened within the buffer zones around voting sites.
In Randolph County, N.C., one voter reported that Republican volunteers took down Biden signs and contacted voters within the buffer zone at a polling place in Franklinville.
The director of the Randolph County Board of Elections, Melissa T. Johnson, said one of the county’s election site managers reported a similar incident. On the sign removal, he advised the voter to contact law enforcement.
“He also spoke to one campaigner twice about stopping campaigning inside the buffer zone,” Johnson said. “He told this campaigner that if he had to speak to the person again about breaking the rules, then the campaigner will be asked to leave.”
Rude or obnoxious behavior has flared up outside those buffer zones on some occasions. Election officials have little recourse to deal with it. In Craven County, N.C., an election worker reported that a Trump supporter was “loudly exclaiming political statements” and played a Trump rally loudly on her phone within earshot of others lining up to vote.
“Unfortunately, we cannot stop voices,” said Meloni M. Wray, the county’s director of elections, adding that she was not aware of any voter intimidation issues at the county’s voting sites. “We do ask as a courtesy that campaigners be respectful of voters and that they do not block voter access to the polls.”
After the Oct. 11 Trump rally in Nevada City, county officials talked to Republican Party representatives in the county and reminded them about no-electioneering laws, said Adona, the election official.
Elections officials also put up new signs and marked the 100-foot buffer zone around the drop box.
Michael Majchrowicz in Fort Lauderdale and Lori Rozsa in West Palm Beach, Fla., contributed to this report.