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Voter intimidation is illegal. What counts and what to do if you see it at the election polls

In case you spot voter intimidation, report it.


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This story is part of Elections 2020, PJDM’s coverage of the run-up to voting in November.

Whether or not you are planning to vote in-person early or on Election Day this yr, you want to know your voting rights, together with the precise to not be harassed about which candidate you’ve got solid your poll for, or if you’re allowed to vote in any respect. These unlawful practices are known as voter intimidation, they usually’re in opposition to federal regulation. In case you see it, report it.

Voter intimidation has been occurring for decades, and traditionally targets Black communities and communities of colour in an unlawful effort to discourage them from exercising their constitutional right to vote

The crime of voter intimidation grew to become a subject of dialogue final month in the course of the first presidential debate when President Donald Trump advised his supporters to “go into the polls and watch very rigorously,” a statement that stirred concern amongst civil rights and voting rights advocates. 

In September, Trump additionally urged supporters to vote twice, an act that’s in opposition to the regulation. Double voting can also be a felony offense punishable by incarceration and/or fines.

There’s a notable distinction between a respectable ballot watcher and somebody who breaks legal guidelines defending voters from harassment, together with the precise to vote in non-public. We’ll take you thru precisely what voter intimidation is and is not — and what to do should you see it.

Vote stickers for the election

Do not let somebody deter you from voting. 


James Martin/PJDM

What’s voter intimidation?

Voter intimidation is when somebody makes an attempt to sway a voter’s selection or stop them from voting by making a hostile verbal or bodily atmosphere. For instance, questioning your voter rights by asking private questions on your felony file or citizenship is prohibited. 

Spreading false details about voter necessities, like the power to talk English, can also be thought of voter intimidation, in line with the American Civil Liberties Union says (PDF). You can receive a ballot and election materials in your native language, in line with the US Election Help Fee, as protected by the Language Minority Provisions of the Voting Rights Act.

What are the legal guidelines in opposition to voter intimidation?

Together with voter fraud like double voting and marketing campaign finance crime, voter intimidation is a federal crime. It applies to anybody who “intimidates, threatens, coerces, or makes an attempt to intimidate, threaten, or coerce, another individual for the aim of interfering with the precise of such different individual to vote.” If the regulation is violated, the perpetrator could possibly be discovered responsible and sentenced as much as one year in prison, up to a $1,000 fine, or each.

The National Voter Registration Act of 1993 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 additionally prohibit voter intimidation.

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How can I report voter intimidation?

In case you or another person is being harassed or threatened on the polls, let a ballot employee know. Then name and report it to the Election Safety Hotline (1-866-OUR-VOTE) or the US Division of Justice voting rights hotline (1-800-253-3931). You must also contact your state board of elections. In some circumstances, a ballot employee could name native authorities to take away the person in query.

Is ballot watching thought of voter intimidation?

Ballot watching, additionally known as ballot difficult, is authorized. A ballot watcher is a partisan particular person whose goal is to watch a polling place in assist of constructing certain their occasion has a good likelihood, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures

For instance, a ballot watcher could carefully monitor the election administration and preserve observe of voter turnout for his or her events. They should not, nonetheless, attempt to persuade somebody to vote a method or one other.

There are essential {qualifications} to change into a ballot watcher, however they vary by state. Authentic ballot watchers are usually not people who merely resolve to point out up at a polling place. Some states could require ballot watchers to be registered voters or a US citizen.

For extra voting data, here is how to find your polling place on Election Day, who has the right to vote and who doesn’t, and how to track your election ballot online after you vote.

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Katie Conner