Are We Ready for Potential Unrest Following the Election?
Food for thought from Bolivia on preparing for political turmoil
What is going to happen on and after November 3?
No one really knows but many are speculating, particularly because expanded mail-in voting will change the timeline over which results are tallied.
Trump’s rhetoric on the campaign trail is raising concerns about if, when, and how a peaceful transfer of power will take place, especially after calls to “stand back and stand by” and the recent domestic terrorist attack in Michigan. Doomsday scenarios are being described as some brace for disaster.
Are we ready for what is coming? Should we be doing more to brace ourselves for potential unrest?
I lived in Bolivia briefly earlier this year I continue to receive updates from the U.S.Embassy there. Today they sent out the restrictions being issued by the Plurinational Electoral Body for the upcoming presidential election this Sunday, October 18. These strict guidelines are specifically for election day as the country braces itself following their controversial election last fall which led long-term leader Evo Morales to flee the country.
These restrictions posed some food for thought.
Bolivia’s National Election Restrictions
Taken from the U.S. Embassy website/email notifications:
“The Plurinational Electoral Body issued the following nine nationwide restrictions that will be in effect on the days before and during the general elections scheduled on October 18.
1. Any form of public demonstration in support of or against any of the candidates is prohibited from 00:00h on Thursday, October 15 until 18:00h on October 18.
2. It is forbidden to sell or consume alcoholic beverages in public or private spaces from 48 hours before general elections until 12:00h on the day after the elections.
3. It is prohibited to carry firearms or dangerous instruments from 00:00h on October 18 until the day after the elections.
4. Stores, restaurants, food courts, supermarkets, and markets are prohibited from opening on election day.
5. It is also forbidden to carry out acts, meetings, or public shows of any kind.
6. It is forbidden to move voters from one precinct to another using any means of transportation.
7. It is forbidden to drive public and private vehicles from 00:00h on October 18 until the day after elections. Only those authorized by the TSE may circulate. Drivers who do not comply with the vehicle restrictions will be detained until 00:00h on October 19. The vehicle will be returned once the fine is paid.
8. Cable car service is suspended, as well as land, lake, rail, and air transportation services throughout the country from 00:00h on October 18 until the day after elections.
9. Domestic flights, inter-departmental and inter-provincial travel is prohibited from 00:00h on October 18 until the day after elections, with the exclusion of TSE officials to travel based on their work.
International flights originating in, arriving in, or going out of Bolivia are exempt from the ban.”
After reading over this list I began to wonder, are we doing enough in the U.S. to be ready for this election? What’s going to happen? Should we be taking more precautions? It seems the U.S. is so divided right now that regardless of the outcome of the election there will likely be some unrest. Should potential protests be preempted in any way? If so, by whom?
Some reflections I had on this list:
- I personally think it would actually be really nice if folks weren’t allowed to carry firearms on voting day. But what exactly is the definition of a dangerous instrument?
- What impact would limiting political demonstrations have in the immediate lead up to the polls?
- It is comical to think that an election board could prevent people from consuming alcohol in private places.
- While closing all businesses and transportation seems unrealistic and extreme, it was a good reminder that it would be more equitable and justify if folks did not have to work on election day. But restricting transportation options seems like a clear bias towards the able-bodied and independently mobile.
- Some of these are clear First Amendment violations, but then again First Amendment rights have been disregarded all summer as peaceful protesters have been attacked by militarized police. So what would we actually be forgoing? Would forgoing the right to protest for a couple of days prevent the loss of innocent lives? Let’s remember the terrorist shooting of protesters in Kenosha, Wisconsin in August.
When talking with some Bolivian coworkers in recent weeks about the upcoming elections, one made the comment that we should be more worried in the U.S. than they are in Bolivia because they’re accustomed to unrest following elections but it will be new for us.
While I was in Bolivia I watched the police round up people experiencing homelessness and load them into literal metal cages mounted on the back of pick-up trucks, so I’m not advocating that we follow their example verbatim. But it is interesting to think about.
While I don't think restrictions as severe as these listed would be either practicable or productive in the U.S., they raise questions about what will happen after November 3 and who will bear the consequences. There could be merit to limiting some freedoms on election day if it meant protecting innocent lives. The tricky part would be having a non-partisan body to fairly impose restrictions. Regardless, it's too late to do much now and we will learn in retrospect whether we should have done more.