By Nathan Layne, Maria Caspani and Katanga Johnson
HARRISBURG, Pa. (Reuters) – A second day of sometimes dueling demonstrations over the integrity of the U.S. presidential election started early on Thursday in Philadelphia and other cities as ballot counting dragged on in a handful of states that would decide the outcome.
Some groups, mainly Democrats, rallied around the slogan to “count every vote,” believing a complete tally would show former Vice President Joe Biden had beaten Republican President Donald Trump.
Ardent Trump supporters countered with cries to “protect the vote” in support of his campaign’s efforts to have some categories of ballots, including some votes submitted by mail, discarded.
Both factions appeared outside a vote-counting center in Philadelphia on Thursday morning. A group of Trump supporters holding Trump-Pence flags and signs saying “vote stops on Election Day” gathered across the street from Biden supporters who danced to music behind a barricade. Similar rallies were planned later in the day in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania’s capital.
Scott Presler, a pro-Trump activist, said he organized the “Stop the Steal” rally in Harrisburg to ensure that only legal ballots are counted.
“I want to bring national attention for people to take action, for them to call their state legislators,” Presler said in a phone interview while en route to Harrisburg. “I want them to demonstrate and show up in force, that we are not going to allow this election to be stolen by any fraudulent ballots.”
In Washington, a procession of cars and bicycles, sponsored by activists from a group called Shutdown DC, paraded slowly through the streets of the capital to protest “an attack on the democratic process” by Trump and his “enablers,” according to its website.
Most demonstrations in cities around the country have been peaceful and small — sometimes amounting only to a few dozen people with signs standing in a city center — as Biden’s path to victory looks a bit more assured than Trump’s, even though either outcome remains possible.
On Wednesday, a few demonstrations led to clashes with police. The demonstrations were triggered in part by Trump’s comments following Tuesday’s Election Day in which he demanded that vote counting stop and made unsubstantiated, conspiratorial claims about voter fraud.
Police in New York City, Denver, Minneapolis and Portland, Oregon, all reported they had arrested some protesters, often on charges of blocking traffic or similar misdemeanors.
On the second floor of Atlanta’s State Farm Arena, county election officials sat at six tables steadily processing a few thousand remaining mail-in ballots on Thursday morning, some pausing only to order coffee.
Some Republican and Democratic ballot-counting watchers took notes as officials sorted each batch of 400 ballots one by one, ensuring signatures matched between envelopes and ballots.
Hoping to avoid Election Day crowds during the coronavirus pandemic, more than 100 million Americans submitted ballots during early voting this year, a record-breaking number.
The counting in Atlanta was far calmer than in Phoenix where a crowd of Trump supporters, some armed with rifles and handguns, gathered outside a counting center on Wednesday after unsubstantiated rumors that Trump votes were deliberately not being counted.
(Reporting by Nathan Layne in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; Maria Caspani in New York; Katanga Johnson in Atlanta; Additional reporting by Kanishka Singh in Bengaluru and Michael Martina in Detroit; Writing by Jonathan Allen; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore, Peter Graff and Jonathan Oatis)