Record numbers of voters are turning in their ballots by mail, in dropboxes, and in person all across the U.S. in what has become a tense and divisive election cycle. The political heat is on, with many voters fearing that voter fraud, voter suppression, voter intimidation, and voting irregularities may prevent a free and fair election. You have a Constitutional right to cast your ballot free of influence and have it counted equally. If you believe someone has attempted to intimate you or you have witnessed irregularities, it’s essential to know what to do about it.
Got a legal question?
Get legal advice in minutes. Real Lawyers. Real Answers. Right Now.
What is voter intimidation?
In a legal context, voter intimidation is considered the effort of one person or a group to threaten or coerce someone into changing their vote to another candidate. This type of interference can be difficult for law enforcement officials to prosecute when employed subtly. However, the following rank among the more obvious voter intimidation violations.
- Someone or a group blocks you from entering a polling station.
- Someone or a group verbally or physically threatens you near a polling location.
- Shouting, name-calling, or using threatening tones while you are in a voting line.
- Someone tries to look at your ballot while you are filling it out.
- Someone raises questions about your party affiliation, criminal history, or citizenship.
- False information is spread to deter voters from casting a ballot.
- Signs that are meant to sway or deter voters are displayed close to polling stations.
According to the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, these and other attempts to intimidate voters may be punishable at the federal level. This raises an important question about campaigning, which enjoys fairly robust First Amendment protection. Is campaigning in or around polling places legal? According to the ACLU, campaigning inside a polling place is not permitted, but campaigning outside a polling place may be permitted, with the allowable distance outside the entrance regulated by state laws.
Are guns at polling places a type of voter intimidation?
Given the rise in gun violence across the country, voters may have real concerns when they see firearms near polling facilities. It’s essential to understand that individual states consider the issue of the open carry and concealed carry of firearms at polling places. Some states have complete bans, while some do not necessarily prohibit firearms. Other states have niche laws on the books that outline legal and illegal practices. If you are unsure about your state’s policy, you can ask a lawyer for guidance.
Is poll watcher interference considered voter intimidation?
The underlying concept of impartial poll watchers was intended to ensure fair elections. But political parties have sometimes claimed the opposition also uses poll watchers to intimidate voters. These individuals are generally required to receive training regarding appropriate and inappropriate behavior when monitoring a polling station.
Some states allow poll watchers to inspect signatures and others go as far as to allow them to bring a challenge to someone’s right to vote. This could involve a state that doesn’t allow felons to vote, resident issues, or citizenship, among others.
Only certified and appointed poll watchers are allowed to remain inside the facility. If someone other than an official poll watcher interferes with your act of voting, that could be considered voter intimidation. Like firearm carry, the authority of poll watchers is largely determined on a state-by-state basis.
What to do if you are concerned about safety while voting?
If you feel that someone has tried to coerce, threaten, or otherwise intimidate you while waiting in line or inside a polling station, promptly report the incident to a poll worker. If you witnessed someone else being intimidated or pressured in connection with a mail-in ballot, consider reporting it to your state elections official, local police department, or the voter hotline of the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice at 1-800-253-3931.
What are voting irregularities?
There are a wide range of ways that unscrupulous individuals taint elections. Some of the headline-grabbing irregularities include voter fraud and suppression related to mail-in ballots. These are some of the irregularities that have surfaced.
- Ballots not being delivered to counting locations or being altered
- Buying ballots from registered voters
- Duplicate voting by mail and at polls
- Impersonating a registered voter
- Ballots sent to wrong addresses
- Ballots filled out by people no longer living in the state
Other irregularities may include partisan third parties acting as surrogates to collect mail-in ballots or vote-counters setting aside what appear to be legitimately cast votes. While the overwhelming majority of polling stations and election officials fulfill their duty and voting fraud is rare, unethical or potentially illegal activities do sometimes occur.
Where and to whom can I report my voting concerns?
Election fraud and intimidation affect every American because they impact the legitimacy of elections. Discrepancies can put someone in office who did not necessarily garner the required votes. If you have concerns about fraud, intimidation, or irregularities, the Election Protection hotline can be a valuable resource.
- English: 866-OUR-VOTE (866-687-8683)
- Spanish: 888-VE-Y-VOTA (888-839-8682)
- Asian Languages: 888-API-VOTE (888-274-8683)
- Arabic: 844-418-1682
You can also file your concerns with the U.S. Department of Justice online using your full name or anonymously. If you are unsure about voting issues, rights, or how to proceed with a unique problem, ask a lawyer.
This article contains general legal information and does not contain legal advice. Rocket Lawyer is not a law firm or a substitute for an attorney or law firm. The law is complex and changes often. For legal advice, please ask a lawyer.