Thousands of National Guard troops in states across the US are bracing for election unrest

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Members of the National Guard.
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  • National Guard troops in at least seven states are on standby and bracing for possible unrest as Americans go to the polls to vote for their next president.
  • While active-duty military cannot conduct domestic law enforcement missions, except in rare situations, the US National Guard can be called in to support local law enforcement, as they did when protests rocked states across the US.
  • National Guard troops are also conducting cybersecurity missions to help protect election integrity and working at polls in an administrative role. 
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National Guard troops in at least seven states have been activated and put on standby in case of unrest sparked by the US presidential election.

Massachusetts and Texas have activated as many as 1,000 National Guard members in anticipation of potential civil unrest and violence, according to Military Times. Arizona and Alabama each have 300 troops on standby, and Florida, Illinois, and Texas all have some number of troops on alert.

Some National Guard troops are on standby to respond only to incidents in their states, while others, such as the 600 troops activated in Alabama and Arizona, are ready to support the National Guard Regional Response Unit mission and respond to crises in their own states as well as others that need assistance.

The highly-divisive and uncertain nature of the American presidential election has led to significant concerns that the results could ignite violence and other lawlessness. On the eve of Election Day, US President Donald Trump suggested counting Pennsylvania ballots received after Nov. 3 could lead to "violence in the streets."

While active-duty military personnel cannot carry out domestic law enforcement missions, except in very rare circumstances, due to the Posse Comitatus Act, National Guard troops can be called upon to support law enforcement in overwhelming situations.

National Guard troops were activated in a number of states across the US in response to civil unrest following the death of George Floyd.

During that tense time, there were concerns that the president would invoke the Insurrection Act, an exception to the Posse Comitatus Act, and deploy active-duty military to US cities. Active-duty troops were even moved into position outside of Washington, DC in preparation for such a move, but they were never sent in.

US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper argued publicly against invoking the Insurrection Act, saying in June that he believes "the National Guard is best suited for performing domestic support to civil authorities in these situations in support of local law enforcement."

He added that the "option to use active-duty forces in a law enforcement role should only be used as a matter of last resort and only in the most urgent and dire of situations."

Military Times reports that nearly 4,000 National Guard troops have been activated for missions related to the election, but not all of these troops are on call to respond to unrest.

Dozens of Guard personnel have been activated in Colorado, Delaware, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Washington, Wyoming, and possibly other states to support the cybersecurity mission by monitoring networks and protecting state operations.

National Guard troops are also working at polling stations. Wisconsin, for instance, has around 400 Guard members working at the polls. They are not armed and serve in civilian clothes. In an emergency, their response would be the same as a civilian and would involve a 911 call.

This year has been a very busy year for the National Guard not only because of protests and the elections, but also because of Covid-19. In June, as the virus and protests rocked the nation, around 86,000 National Guard troops were activated for various missions.

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