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“Stop the count” vs. “count every vote”: The post-election protests around the country, explained

Trump supporters and progressive activists are in the streets, with very different — and potentially confusing — goals.

Protesters wearing masks, two with hands in the air, outside a ballot-counting facility.
Pro-Trump protesters chant “Stop the count” outside a ballot-counting center in Detroit, Michigan, on November 4.
Kent Nishimura/Getty Images
Anna North is a senior correspondent for Vox, where she covers American family life, work, and education. Previously, she was an editor and writer at the New York Times. She is also the author of three novels, including the New York Times bestseller Outlawed.

As the country waited anxiously for the result of an election that had yet to be called on Wednesday, the tension extended to the streets of many American cities.

In Phoenix, Trump supporters converged on a county recorder’s office to demand that all votes be counted — while officials were inside, busily counting votes in a state where Democratic nominee Joe Biden was ahead.

In Detroit, meanwhile, a pro-Trump crowd demanded that authorities stop counting votes in the state, arguing that their poll observers had been unfairly treated.

It was a discordant response from supporters of the president on a day that also included protests by leftwing groups around the country calling for all votes to be counted, and by activists calling for racial justice, as the New York Times reported. Some of these protesters were arrested, with officers in riot gear “kettling” demonstrators in Manhattan. “Why are you in riot gear? We don’t see no riot here,” some protesters chanted in response.

Protests and unrest were widely expected in the wake of Tuesday’s election, given the president’s repeated refusal to say whether he’d accept the results — as well as his years-long history of stoking animosity against Democrats and the steady drumbeat of popular protest against his administration.

Indeed, while activist groups have led demonstrations around the country calling for those results to be tabulated fairly, the president has pursued a strategy of trying to stop counts in swing states where he looks ahead (and in some cases where he doesn’t), while issuing baseless allegations of fraud in places where he’s been declared the loser. And his supporters — some of them armed — are trying to follow his confusing lead.

Protests took place around the country — but with very different goals

Demonstrations took place across the country on Wednesday, both in swing states and in Democratic strongholds. And while both Trump supporters and leftwing activists were in the streets, they had very different reasons for being there. Here’s a rundown of some of the protest activity so far:

  • In Phoenix, about 150 pro-Trump protesters, some with guns, demonstrated outside the Maricopa County recorder’s office, where votes were being counted, according to the Times. A key swing state this year, Arizona was called for Biden by Fox News on Tuesday night, but other outlets have yet to call the state, and Biden’s lead has narrowed as more Maricopa ballots have been counted.

County officials have been working late into the night to tabulate the remaining votes, but some pro-Trump protesters made baseless claims that ballots were being discarded. Demonstrators chanted “stop the steal,” a slogan that has been gaining popularity in right-wing social media circles based on Trump’s false claims that the election is being stolen from him.

Sheriff’s deputies arrived in response to the growing crowd, and one journalist reported leaving the area after being threatened by a protester.

  • In Detroit, pro-Trump poll challengers — along with some Democratic challengers — gathered outside the TCF Center on Wednesday as votes were counted. Michigan, which Hillary Clinton narrowly lost in 2016, was called for Biden on Wednesday. But there, as elsewhere, Trump has falsely claimed victory — and Republican poll challengers at TCF Center pounded on windows and shouted “Let us in” and “Stop the count,” according to the Detroit Free Press.

A limited number of certified poll challengers of both parties were also allowed inside the center, where some say Republican challengers intimidated ballot counters by taking their masks off, getting too close, and demanding that they stop counting. Republicans, meanwhile, argued that not enough challengers from their party were being allowed in the center, and the Trump campaign filed a lawsuit charging that Michigan had denied the campaign “meaningful access” to the count. But as in Arizona, the counting continued. “We will not allow ANYONE to distract us from the job at hand,” Detroit City Clerk Janice Winfrey said in a statement Wednesday.

  • In Minneapolis, the site of many racial justice protests after George Floyd was killed by police there earlier this year, hundreds of protesters marched onto the I-94 freeway in an action that had been planned prior to the election, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

Protesters were there to demonstrate against President Trump’s policies and his false statements claiming victory in the election. “Our focus is on not allowing Donald Trump to steal this election from the American people,” Nekima Levy Armstrong, a lawyer and demonstrator, told the Times. But some speakers also expressed little confidence in a President Biden and said protests would continue even if he is elected.

Police arrested multiple protesters, charging them with trespassing and unlawful assembly for being on the freeway. But Armstrong told the Times police were not allowing some protesters to leave the area.

  • In Portland, a march for racial justice converged downtown with another march opposing President Trump, according to Portland’s KPTV. Demonstrators carried signs reading “Count every vote” and “Black lives matter.” Members of the anti-Trump group later broke windows at a hotel and a church, according to OregonLive, and police arrested at least 11 people. Oregon Gov. Kate Brown also called in the state’s National Guard to respond to the protest.
  • In Philadelphia, protesters congregated on Wednesday to protest both Trump’s false claims about the election and the death of Walter Wallace, Jr., a Black man fatally shot by police in the city on October 26. Police body-camera footage of the killing was released on Wednesday, documenting Wallace’s shooting in graphic detail. Protesters on Wednesday said the causes of counting every vote in the 2020 election and opposing police violence were connected, with Bryan Mercer, executive director of the Movement Alliance Project, telling the Philadelphia Inquirer, “We believe the same systems trying to stop every vote from being counted are the same systems that murdered Walter.”

Then, on Thursday, with Pennsylvania’s count tightening and many predicting a Biden win there, Trump supporters and progressive activists both rallied outside the Pennsylvania Convention Center, where votes were being tabulated. Progressives played music and called for all votes to be counted, while Trump supporters called for the count to stop.

  • In Manhattan, demonstrators gathered Wednesday at the New York Public Library before marching to Washington Square Park, calling for all votes to be counted as well as racial justice and police defunding, according to the Times. When the march reached the West Village, police used the tactic of kettling, or trapping protesters in a confined space, and made at least 58 arrests, accusing protesters of blocking subway entrances, setting trash can fires, or throwing eggs. One demonstrator, Chloe Hartstein, told the Times that police had arrested her friend as he walked down Sixth Ave. and put him in the back of a police van. “They didn’t give a reason for his arrest,” she said. “They just took him.”

The tension between Trump supporters and progressives existed long before Election Day, as Trump spent much of the last few months predicting that Democrats would try to steal the election while signaling that he might not concede. And the protests both in favor of and against counting all the votes will surely continue until the election is called. Depending on the president’s response to any call, they may well continue afterward as well, as Americans respond to the words and deeds of a president known for stoking chaos at every turn.