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Yes, voter intimidation at the polls is illegal. Here’s what to do about it

For those who spot voter intimidation, report it.


James Martin/PJDM

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

For those who’re planning to vote in person on Election Day this yr, you might be involved about individuals questioning your proper to vote or harassing you about which candidate you are voting for. It is known as voter intimidation, and it is in opposition to federal regulation. For those who see it, report it.

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

The crime of voter intimidation has not too long ago develop into a subject of debate. On Sept. 29 throughout the first presidential debate, President Donald Trump informed his supporters to “go into the polls and watch very rigorously,” a statement that stirred concern amongst civil rights and voting rights advocates. Earlier within the debate, Trump refused to sentence white supremacist teams and informed the Proud Boys, an extremist group, to “stand back and stand by.”

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

There’s a notable distinction between a legit ballot watcher and somebody who breaks legal guidelines defending voters from harassment, together with the best to vote in personal. 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 forestall them from voting by making a hostile verbal or bodily setting. For instance, questioning your voter rights by asking private questions on your prison file or citizenship is prohibited. 

Spreading false details about voter necessities, like the flexibility to talk English, can also be thought-about voter intimidation, in response to the American Civil Liberties Union says (PDF). You can receive a ballot and election materials in your native language, in response to 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, every other individual for the aim of interfering with the best of such different individual to vote.” If the regulation is violated, the perpetrator might 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?

For those who 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 also needs to contact your state board of elections. In some circumstances, a ballot employee might name native authorities to take away the person in query.

Is ballot watching thought-about voter intimidation?

Ballot watching, additionally known as ballot difficult, is authorized. A ballot watcher is a partisan particular person whose objective is to look at a polling place in help of creating certain their occasion has a good likelihood, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures

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

There are needed {qualifications} to develop into a ballot watcher, however they vary by state. Legit ballot watchers are usually not people who merely resolve to indicate up at a polling place. Some states might require ballot watchers to be registered voters or a US citizen.

For extra voting data, this 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