Protests broke out across several cities in the United States, as exit polls gave two key states to Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden on Wednesday.
Dozens of angry supporters of President Donald Trump converged on vote-counting centres in Detroit and Phoenix as the returns went against him on Wednesday.
In the state of Arizona, a crowd of Trump supporters gathered outside the Maricopa County Elections Department in Phoenix after unsubstantiated rumours that votes for the Republican president were deliberately not being counted.
“Stop the steal!” and “Count my vote” chanted the mostly unmasked protesters – some armed with rifles and handguns.
Representative Paul Gosar, an Arizona Republican and staunch Trump supporter, joined the crowd, declaring: “We’re not going to let this election be stolen. Period.”
— Nicole Valdes (@NicoleValdesTV) November 5, 2020
Some news outlets have called the critical battleground state for Biden, but Trump’s campaign says it is still in play. According to the Edison Research for the National Election Pool, with 86 percent of the estimated vote tallied so far, Biden leads with 50.5 percent compared with Trump’s 48.1 percent.
Trump himself dismissed the election as a “fraud” after The Associated Press news agency and Fox News called Arizona for Biden, and claimed he wanted to stop the counting of votes and leave the results to the Supreme Court.
According to the New York Times, Arizona’s Governor Doug Ducey, a Republican, had been on the phone all night with administration officials and campaign staff members, insisting there were still Republican votes to be counted in his state.
In Detroit, Trump supporters demonstrated outside the TCF Center shortly before The AP news agency declared Biden had won Michigan.
Video shot by local media showed angry people gathered outside the building and inside the lobby, with police officers lined up to keep them from entering the vote-counting area. They chanted, “Stop the count!” and “Stop the vote!”
Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, a Democrat, insisted both parties and the public had been given access to the tallying, “using a robust system of checks and balances to ensure that all ballots are counted fairly and accurately.”
Meanwhile, hundreds of state police and left-wing protesters were locked in a tense standoff in downtown Portland late on Wednesday after rampaging anti-Trump groups smashed shop windows a day after the election, prompting the state governor to activate the National Guard.
The Multnomah County Sheriff’s office declared a riot and made at least nine arrests, citing “widespread violence” in the city’s downtown area and repeatedly warning it could deploy munitions and tear gas.
Armed police advanced on demonstrators in unison but there were no clashes, according to an AFP news agency reporter at the scene.
The protesters had earlier attended a peaceful rally in a downtown park hosted by a coalition of left-wing anti-capitalist groups featuring lectures and music.
“The mass gathering in downtown Portland is still declared a riot. Leave the area now,” the sheriff’s office posted on Twitter just before 8:30pm (04:30 GMT). It earlier said officers were being targeted with projectiles, such as glass bottles.
“In the interest of public safety, Governor Kate Brown, under advice of the Unified Command, has activated the use of the Oregon National Guard to assist local law enforcement,” it said.
Portland has been the scene of months of clashes between police and protesters, angered at the repeated killings of Black Americans by law enforcement officers across the country.
Protesters who had gathered by Portland’s river promised to “protect the results” of Tuesday’s close-run election and held banners proclaiming “Count Every Vote” and “The Vote is Over. The Fight Goes On”.
“We want Trump out of office, that’s the main focus,” one protest leader told the crowd, to loud cheers.
Several of the demonstrators were openly carrying firearms, including rifles, and one anti-racism and anti-imperialism banner showed an image of an assault rifle, with the slogan: “We Don’t Want Biden. We Want Revenge.”
One protester, Richard March, attended the anti-Trump demonstration despite having a heart condition that makes him vulnerable to COVID-19.
“To cast doubt on this election has terrible consequences for our democracy,” he said. “I think we are a very polarised society now – and I’m worried about what’s going to come in the next days and weeks and months.”