The Counterterrorism Group (CTG) is issuing a FLASH ALERT to all those voting across the United States. The current CTG threat matrix indicates there is a HIGH PROBABILITY that individuals may attempt to interfere, or have an influence, with in-person voting. We base this assessment on comments from social media and the general response from both extremist groups and Trump supporters in response to President Trump’s ongoing rhetoric.

President Trump’s reelection campaign openly voiced interest in enlisting ‘poll watchers’, referencing those supporting him as an “army” (Image 1). There is no clear information on what a poll watcher actually will door the legitimacy of their role on election day, but during the Presidential debate on September 29, President Trump stated “go into the polls and watch very carefully.” This statement was interpreted by far-right groups as an order to mobilize individuals to observe polling places for supposed election fraud to prevent the president’s reelection. Election officials are working with local law enforcement and security to provide protection for voters following Neo-Nazi groups’ as well as the Proud Boys’ support of the Trump campaigns poll watching agenda. The threat of white extremist activity to question and intimidate voters, especially those of color, risks the safety of voters and election officials and may result in widespread voter suppression.

Physical Intimidation

Georgetown Law’s Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection (ICAP), compiled a State Facts Sheet for all 50 states explaining the laws barring unauthorized private militia groups. These local laws, rules, and regulations have been established to fight against militia and voter intimidation. Based on the State Facts Sheet the form of poll watching by private militia groups has been deemed as voter intimidation, which is illegal. Federal statutes specify: “it is illegal to intimidate, threaten, or coerce a person, or attempt to do so, ‘for the purpose of interfering with’ that person’s right ‘to vote or to vote as he may choose.’” Official poll watchers cannot intimidate as well, says Bob Brandon, the President, and CEO of the Fair Elections Center. He states that “it is illegal for a poll watcher to walk down the line of waiting voters and say “You know it's a felony to vote if you're not registered.”

The American Civil Liberties Union also compiled a fact sheet defining voter intimidation and providing resources for reporting such intimidation.

Voter intimidation includes, but is not limited to:

  • Aggressive questioning of qualifications to allow an individual to vote.

  • Utilizing firearms as a deterrent to voting.

  • Violent behavior outside of the voting location.

  • Posing as an election official when one is not.

  • Following voters in or around the voting area.

Guns may, or may not, be permitted at polling locations, depending on the restrictions of the state or the municipality. In states with open or concealed carry, if the polling location is held within a place where weapons are not permitted - such as a school - the prohibition remains. However, in five battleground states - Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Wisconsin - there are no laws prohibiting bringing guns near or into polling locations.

Internet Intimidation

Incidents of voter intimidation have been seen over the internet through social media and/or by email. In Florida and Alaska, law enforcement officials were contacted over receiving threatening emails with phrases like “Vote for Trump or else!” Katie Phang, a Trial Lawyer posted on Twitter one of the emails (image below).

Some emails were more tailored to recipients by including their physical addresses and threatening violence.

We assess that there is a low probability of these threats being real. Voter information is sometimes easily accessible online and it is very likely that these threats are coming from “keyboard warriors/Internet Trolls or some type of disinformation/voter suppression operation” without a high probability of action. On October 22, 2020, the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) made a disputed and unverified announcement that Iran was behind the email threats but this should not deter an individual from voting. However, by building on the current fear, these threats must be immediately reported to local authorities and election officials.

Poll Watchers

There is a legitimate kind of poll watcher, officially titled a Partisan/NonPartisan Citizen Observers who are appointed to major political parties to monitor the election, as well as nonpartisan advocacy groups, or international observers such as the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODHIR). Each state has different requirements and allowances for these positions. In Alabama, poll watchers must be appointed by the chairman of the party’s county executive committee, a nominee, or by a beat committeeman” as well as be a resident of that state. In Hawaii, each party on the ballot is permitted one poll watcher for every precinct. Poll watchers, in some states, do have the authority to challenge the qualification of a potential voter, though, in many states, there are only as many poll watchers as parties running. States do require political parties to provide names of poll watchers or authorized observers to the appropriate Office of Elections in advance of the election.

To learn more about your respective state, please refer to the National Association of Secretaries of State and the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), which both provide a breakdown of each state to define who can be a poll watcher and who can challenge voters when they come to vote. Often, authorized observers and poll watchers are required to present documentation confirming their status to the polling location’s Chief election officer. Chiefs, (or the equivalent officer), are recommended to request and thoroughly review these documents carefully for validity and legitimacy.

The National Conference of State Legislatures provides the following guidance:

“Poll watchers closely monitor election administration and may keep track of voter turnout for their parties. They are not supposed to interfere with the electoral process apart from reporting issues to polling place authorities and party officials.

Georgetown Law openly recommends calling 9-1-1 in cases of imminent danger. However, voters may also call:

  • Election Protection at 866-OUR-VOTE (866-687-8683). It is available in Spanish at 888-VE-Y-VOTA (888-839-8682), Arabic at 844-YALLA-US (844-915-5187), Asian languages at 888-API-VOTE (1-888-174-8683), and a video call number for American Sign Language is available at 301-818-VOTE (301-818-8683).

  • The U.S. Department of Justice Voting Rights Hotline is 800-253-3931.

Those who see suspicious activity are asked to document and not engage in the confrontation. Following election day, individuals may file a report with their election official. Offices and contact information may be found at https://www.usa.gov/election-office.

If you are turned away from voting, (i.e., your registration validity is challenged, or questioned if you have already voted) a provisional ballot may be requested from an election official. You are encouraged to request to speak with your polling place’s Chief Election Officer (or the equivalent) with any concerns.


Poll workers, also referred to as election officials are advised to remain alert for any such intimidation at their polling locations. If election officials are concerned for the safety of that of the voters, they are advised to engage their Chief (or equivalent election officer) or, in the event of a combative confrontation, call 9-1-1.

Several states also protect poll workers as they do voters, with Virginia stipulating “no one may hinder or delay any officer of election or voter”. Non-violent intimidation and campaigning are also restricted within defined perimeters of “prohibited areas”. Virginia includes sound restrictions, stating, “Loudspeakers cannot be used within 300 feet of any polling place.” Monitoring other election officials is necessary to identify if individuals used the shortage of poll workers as an insider opportunity to intimidate voters or tamper with ballots. Poll workers have a few legal reasons to deny an individual the right to vote:

  • Lack of appropriate ID required to vote.

  • Voter records showing the voter requested an absentee ballot but you are not casting an absentee ballot (in which case a provisional ballot may be requested).

  • Voter registration cards are inaccurate or contain outdated information.

  • Eligibility to vote was challenged (in which case ask for a provisional ballot ).

Turning away potential voters for wearing particular clothing, such as Black Lives Matter t-shirts, is not allowed. However, some states have banned the wearing of political attire - including, but not limited to, New Jersey, California, Texas, and Vermont. Poll workers should research and understand their state’s rules and regulations before exercising the ability to legally deny an individual the right to vote. Poll workers are strongly encouraged to involve their Chief Election Officer with any questions or unclear cases of a potential voter’s eligibility.

Additionally, knowledge of precinct, county, and state rules and/or regulations is necessary to monitor for others who intend to cause disruptions. In some areas, phones may not be allowed within the polling places, requiring election officers workers to be secondary witnesses in incidents. In preparation, poll workers are advised to be ready to document incidents, as allowed, and report to an election official or law enforcement if necessary.

Fraud and/or interference may include, but not limited to:

  • Destruction of voters’ provisional ballots.

  • Turning voters away for no legal reason.

  • Official poll watchers veering from their official duties.

  • Tampering with voting booths.

If concerned, please report to an official immediately and keep a note of the individual in question for potential formal reporting.


Our analysis indicates that there is a MEDIUM to HIGH probability there will be some form of voter interference during the November 2020 election. Voters should do everything possible to educate themselves about the voting process. Do not be intimidated by any tactics. If there are any concerns talk to an Election Official at the voting location or call 9-1-1. No voter should ever be denied the right to vote or find out official information from an Election official at a voting location.

If any individuals are interested in learning more about security measures to protect their facilities and members, please contact us.

The Counterterrorism Group (CTG) is a unit of the global risk consulting and security firm Paladin 7.

CTG proactively searches for and analyzes the threat of terrorism that comes from International Terrorist Organizations, Domestic Terrorist Organizations, and Individuals determined to inflict terror upon societies, organizations, and individuals. Our international and national security professionals set up protective measures to detect, deter, and prevent, discourage, and dissuade any terrorist organization or individual from carrying out an attack on organizations and individuals. We work to protect our clients from any terrorist threat or attack. We also work proactively with the proper authorities to find those in terrorist organizations and individuals who will cause harm and assist in bringing them to justice and mitigating the threat long-term.

Army for Trump, Twitter, October 2020, https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/1316057013592481794

Here’s Why Trump Telling Supporters To Watch The Polls Could Be An Even Bigger Threat This Year, Forbes, September 2020, https://www.forbes.com/sites/alisondurkee/2020/09/30/trump-debate-poll-watchers-election-even-bigger-threat-this-year-consent-decree/#6e7126851b59

Neo-Nazi and Proud Boys groups push Trump campaign poll-watching operation online: Reports, ABC, October 2020, https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/neo-nazi-proud-boys-groups-push-trump-campaign/story?id=73663331&fbclid=IwAR1JocpNgETqj3C-qgim9l_C2_jT4SKV1Z1lGRKC4ufSMrjJqrRRCdhDEKg

State Fact Sheets, Georgetown Law, 2020, https://www.law.georgetown.edu/icap/our-work/addressing-the-rise-of-unlawful-private-paramilitaries/state-fact-sheets/

Fact Sheet: Protecting Against Voter Intimidation, Georgetown Law, 2020, https://www.law.georgetown.edu/icap/wp-content/uploads/sites/32/2020/10/Voter-Intimidation-Fact-Sheet.pdf

Trump Urged Supporters Go To Polling Places And Watch. This Is What Poll Watchers Actually Do., Buzzfeed, October 2020, https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/skbaer/poll-watchers-election-trump

Voter Intimidation, American Civil Liberties Union, n.d., https://www.aclu.org/sites/default/files/field_pdf_file/kyr-voterintimidation-v03.pdf

It’s legal to bring guns to polling places in five battleground states, a new study says. New York Times, September 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/23/us/elections/its-legal-to-bring-guns-to-polling-places-in-five-battleground-states-a-new-study-says.html

Election officials in at least two states contact law enforcement after threatening emails sent to voters, CNN, October 2020, https://www.cnn.com/2020/10/20/politics/threatening-emails-sent-to-voters-florida-alaska/index.html

Katie Phant Proud Boys Screenshot, Twitter, October 2020, https://twitter.com/KatiePhang/status/1318722723368095744

U.S. government concludes Iran was behind threatening emails sent to Democrats, Washington Post, October 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2020/10/20/proud-boys-emails-florida/?tid=ss_tw

Policies for Election Observers, National Conference for State Legislatures, October 2020, https://www.ncsl.org/research/elections-and-campaigns/policies-for-election-observers.aspx

Poll Watchers and Challengers, National Conference of State Legislatures, October 2020, https://www.ncsl.org/research/elections-and-campaigns/poll-watcher-qualifications.aspx

Fact Sheet: Protecting Against Voter Intimidation, Georgetown Law, 2020, https://www.law.georgetown.edu/icap/wp-content/uploads/sites/32/2020/10/Voter-Intimidation-Fact-Sheet.pdf

Voter Intimidation, American Civil Liberties Union, n.d., https://www.aclu.org/sites/default/files/field_pdf_file/kyr-voterintimidation-v03.pdf

Election Day Guide For Officers of Election, Commonwealth of Virginia Department of Elections, August 2020, https://www.elections.virginia.gov/media/formswarehouse/election-management/election-day-instructions-and-forms/EDG-rev-082020.docx

Dos and Don’ts for Campaigners and Authorized Representatives, Virginia Department of Elections, N.d., https://www.fredericksburgva.gov/DocumentCenter/View/9948/ELECT-Dos--Donts--9pg?bidId=

A poll worker was fired for turning away voters wearing ‘Black Lives Matter’ shirts., The New York Times, October 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/live/2020/10/20/us/trump-biden-election/a-poll-worker-was-fired-for-turning-away-voters-wearing-black-lives-matter-shirts

Electioneering: State Statutes on Apparel in Polling Places, National Conference of State Legislatures, October 2020, https://www.ncsl.org/research/elections-and-campaigns/electioneering.aspx

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