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Yes, voter intimidation at the polls is illegal. What to do about it

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.

In case you’re planning to vote in person on Election Day this yr, you could know your voting rights, together with the fitting to not be harassed about which candidate you have solid your poll for, or should you’re allowed to vote in any respect. These unlawful practices are known as voter intimidation, and so they’re in opposition to federal legislation. 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 has lately turn out to be 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 fastidiously,” 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 legislation. Double voting can 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 fitting 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 stop them from voting by making a hostile verbal or bodily atmosphere. For instance, questioning your voter rights by asking private questions on your prison document or citizenship is prohibited. 

Spreading false details about voter necessities, like the flexibility to talk English, can be thought-about voter intimidation, in keeping with the American Civil Liberties Union says (PDF). You can receive a ballot and election materials in your native language, in keeping 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, some other individual for the aim of interfering with the fitting of such different individual to vote.” If the legislation is violated, the perpetrator may very well 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 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 function is to look at a polling place in assist of creating certain their social gathering has a good likelihood, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures

For instance, a ballot watcher might carefully monitor the election administration and preserve monitor 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 crucial {qualifications} to turn out to be a ballot watcher, however they vary by state. Authentic ballot watchers are usually not people who merely determine to indicate up at a polling place. Some states might require ballot watchers to be registered voters or a US citizen.

For extra voting info, 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