Aubrey Calaway, 23, waits to vote in the general election outside Victory Houston polling station in Houston on Friday, Oct. 30, 2020. The location was one of the Harris County’s 24-hour locations. (Elizabeth Conley/Houston Chronicle via AP)

Aubrey Calaway, 23, waits to vote in the general election outside Victory Houston polling station in Houston on Friday, Oct. 30, 2020. The location was one of the Harris County’s 24-hour locations. (Elizabeth Conley/Houston Chronicle via AP)

In an unforgettable year, Americans brace for impact as a seismic election day looms

The Black Lives Matter movement and the COVID-19 pandemic have led to turmoil this year

George Washington’s “last great experiment” faces an existential litmus test beginning Tuesday as the bristling polarities of an energized, outraged and well-armed body politic finish weighing in on who should be the next American president.

Theirs may not be the final word.

Be it because of Donald Trump, COVID-19 or Black Lives Matter, Americans seem all in, for once, on the 2020 vote: more than 92 million ballots have already been cast, two-thirds of the total turnout from four years ago.

Thanks to the pandemic, mail-in voting has shattered records. But it takes time to count those votes, and Trump — who sows baseless fears of electoral fraud at every turn — has repeatedly signalled he’ll take his battle with Joe Biden from the campaign trail to the courtroom.

The Texas Supreme Court on Sunday rejected a two-pronged GOP effort to get 127,000 drive-thru votes thrown out in largely Democratic Harris County, a challenge that has also been filed in federal court.

Republicans also tried unsuccessfully last week to convince the Supreme Court to fast-track a decision on Philadelphia’s three-day extension for counting absentee ballots.

It all points to a president with no plans to concede defeat Tuesday, regardless of outcome. Indeed, Axios reported Sunday that Trump wants to declare victory on election night, even before such a result is clear.

Against this backdrop, meanwhile, Americans have been engaged in another time-honoured tradition of U.S. democracy: buying guns.

Demand for virtually everything in stock has been off the charts since the onset of the pandemic in March, said Dan Aldridge, the owner of Maxon Shooter’s Supplies and Indoor Range in Des Plaines, Ill.

That includes handguns, long guns and ammunition — in particular the hollow-tipped rounds that are specifically designed for self-defence, as well as Maxon’s three-a-day firearms training classes.

“In the past, buying surges were driven by fears of anti-gun legislative changes — ‘They’re going to ban this, they’re going to ban that, I better load up.’ It’s different this time,” Aldridge said.

“It’s people that are truly concerned about personal safety.”

The first nine months of the year saw 28.8 million background checks — a necessary step to obtain a handgun in 22 states and D.C. — initiated in the U.S., FBI data show, a record total that has already surpassed 2019’s full-year tally of 28.4 million.

The Trace, a U.S. media website dedicated to analyzing gun issues, estimates 1.92 million guns were purchased in September, the sixth-highest month on record and a 67 per cent increase over the same period last year.

That could mean a polarized, angry and heat-packing electorate suddenly being confronted with an inconclusive or even disputed election outcome after months of COVID-induced cabin fever — a period that’s already been marked by dramatic displays of civil unrest over the country’s deep-seated racial divide.

“I think you have a fear among a good percentage of Americans that something bad could be coming,” said Ryan Williams, a criminal justice professor at the University of Illinois Springfield.

“And they don’t know what that is. They don’t know what that looks like.”

READ MORE: U.S. election results one factor that could impact immigration to Canada next year

Walmart briefly pulled guns and ammunition from store shelves Thursday, citing a risk of “isolated civil unrest” — a decision that may have been linked to recent racial tensions in Philadelphia.

But the U.S. retail giant quickly reversed itself Friday on the grounds that recent incidents “have remained geographically isolated.”

In downtown Washington, D.C., businesses that endured a raucous summer of social-justice protests marred by looting and vandalism were again protecting storefronts over the weekend, hoisting sheets of plywood in front of plate glass windows as if bracing for a looming hurricane.

The candidates, meanwhile, were in barnstorming mode over the weekend.

Trump hosted nine rallies over the two days, four of them alone in Pennsylvania, the blue-collar battleground that’s worth 20 electoral votes and is widely expected to play a pivotal role in determining the final outcome.

So too will Florida, Georgia, Michigan, Iowa and North Carolina, the five states Trump visited Sunday. All five landed under his name in 2016, and all five are in play this time around.

On Monday, the president returns to Pennsylvania and North Carolina, with a stop in Wisconsin before one final event in Grand Rapids, Mich.

Joe Biden, meanwhile, has been setting a more modest pace — partly to keep safety concerns to a minimum, but also to take advantage of a tactic that has been a cornerstone of the Democratic campaign: let Trump be Trump.

The former vice-president visited Michigan on Saturday with his old boss, Barack Obama, before moving on to Ohio and Pennsylvania, where he’ll be on Monday.

Ironically, a steady decline of public faith in institutions like the federal government has exacerbated the instability that risks undermining the election, the Canadian-born Williams said.

And for millions of Americans, particularly those living near the poverty line, the pandemic has only served to deepen that distrust.

In Canada, “there’s basic agreement on what the government’s there for and why we need them. I haven’t seen that here,” Williams said.

The deaths of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and countless others at the hands of police — Walter Wallace Jr. became the latest victim last week in Philadelphia — have also served to undermine that faith, he added.

“That really breaks away and wears down people’s idea that somebody is there to protect me, protect my life, protect my property,” he said.

“When that is gone, Americans will go protect themselves.”

James McCarten, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

Donald TrumpJoe BidenUSA

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Vaccinations are set to resume in the small community of Tatchet, according to Lake Babine Nation’s Deputy Chief. (Black Press Media file photo)
Lake Babine Nation vaccine rollout resumes after a short pause

A COVID positive test within the care team had put the vaccinations on hold

Cheslatta Chief Corrina Leween received one of the COVID-19 vaccines on the Southside, on Wednesday, Jan. 13. (Submitted/Lakes District News)
COVID-19 vaccination begins in Burns Lake

Senior population, health care workers and First Nations among the first to get the vaccine

Sasquatch sighting. (Omineca Ski Club photo/Lakes District News)
Sasquatch on the loose at Omineca Ski Club

Head out to the trails to see if you can spot it; a tongue-in-cheek response from the club President

Two books in particular became quite popular at the start of the pandemic — Soap and Water Common Sense, The definitive guide to viruses’ bacteria, parasites, and disease and The Great Influenza, The story of the deadliest pandemic in history. (Priyanka Ketkar photo/Lakes District News)
Burns Lake Public Library lent 20,916 books in 2020

Gained 67 new patrons throughout the year

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry prepares a daily update on the coronavirus pandemic, April 21, 2020. (B.C. Government)
B.C. adjusts COVID-19 vaccine rollout for delivery slowdown

Daily cases decline over weekend, 31 more deaths

Health-care workers wait in line at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Canadians who have had COVID-19 should still get the vaccine, experts say

Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines were found to have a 95 per cent efficacy

An empty Peel and Sainte-Catherine street is shown in Montreal, Saturday, Jan. 9, 2021, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
Poll finds strong support for COVID-19 curfews despite doubts about effectiveness

The poll suggests 59 per cent remain somewhat or very afraid of contracting COVID-19

A female prisoner sent Langford police officers a thank-you card after she spent days in their custody. (Twitter/West Shore RCMP)
Woman gives Victoria-area jail 4.5-star review in handwritten card to police after arrest

‘We don’t often get thank you cards from people who stay with us, but this was sure nice to see’: RCMP

An elk got his antlers caught up in a zip line in Youbou over the weekend. (Conservation Officer Service Photo)
Elk rescued from zip line in Youbou on Vancouver Island

Officials urge people to manage items on their property that can hurt animals

A Trail man has a lucky tin for a keepsake after it saved him from a stabbing last week. File photo
Small tin in Kootenay man’s jacket pocket saved him from stabbing: RCMP

The man was uninjured thanks to a tin in his jacket

Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation Chantel Moore, 26, was fatally shot by a police officer during a wellness check in the early morning of June 4, 2020, in Edmundston, N.B. (Facebook)
Frustrated family denied access to B.C. Indigenous woman’s police shooting report

Independent investigation into B.C. woman’s fatal shooting in New Brunswick filed to Crown

Delta Police Constable Jason Martens and Dezi, a nine-year-old German Shepherd that recently retired after 10 years with Delta Police. (Photo submitted)
Dezi, a Delta police dog, retires on a high note after decade of service

Nine-year-old German Shepherd now fights over toys instead of chasing down bad guys

Nurses collect samples from a patient in a COVID suspect room in the COVID-19 intensive care unit at St. Paul’s hospital in downtown Vancouver, Tuesday, April 21, 2020. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward)
5 British Columbians under 20 years old battled COVID-19 in ICU in recent weeks

Overall hospitalizations have fallen but young people battling the virus in hospital has increased

Most Read