Voter Intimidation

*****Disclaimer: This is not legal advice and is for educational purposes only. This does not create an attorney-client privilege.

Voter intimidation has a long, shameful and violent history in the United States. Even with its long history, this, and other recent years`, elections have shown a marked uptick in people attempting to suppress the vote through the use of intimidation. Following the 2016 election, Arizona Democrats reported and complained of Republican Party officials encouraging their constituents and supporters to even follow voters into the parking lots to interrogate them and even call 911 on them for exercising their right to vote. Even if these kinds of actions may sound ridiculous or like they could not be threatening to such a fundamental right as an American, the reality is that these kinds of ploys truly act to suppress the democratic process. Voter intimidation is in fact a felony, and if one is found guilty of violating the federal voter intimidation law the consequences can include up to a year incarcerated and a $1,000 fine. Depending on the particular state the convicted person is from, there can be more and varied consequences associated with having a felony on your criminal record as well.

(Trump Supporters Disrupting Early Voting in Virginia, 2020- New York Times)

The term “voter intimidation”, as defined by 18 U.S. Code 594, refers to the use of coercion, threats, or other attempts to intimidate as a means of discouraging or otherwise interfering with the ability of another person or group to exercise their right to vote in elections for “the office of President, Vice President, Presidential elector, Member of the Senate, Member of the House of Representatives, Delegate from the District of Columbia, or Resident Commissioner”. This could include directly stopping them or using intimidation to get them to vote differently than was their intention.

Voter intimidation can take a variety of forms. Some things that are classified as such include using threatening language in or near a polling place, yelling at, interrogating or getting into altercations with people in line to vote, physically blocking access to polling places, spread false information about voting or displaying political or misleading signage in the vicinity of people attempting to vote. It can also include things that may seem to be less aggressive actions, such as questioning someone about their political preferences, citizenship status or criminal record or looking over someone's shoulder as they attempt to cast their ballot. But what the law covers as intimidation is still considered by many to be too limited. For example, in many states or specific municipalities it is legal to bring a gun to a polling place.

If you do experience some form of voter intimidation in your attempt to access a polling place, you should report it! You can report incidents to a few places. One is the Election Protection Hotline at 1-866-OUR-VOTE or 1-888-VE-Y-VOTA if you need support from someone who speaks Spanish. Alternatively, you could report to the U.S. Department of Justice Voting Rights Hotline at 800-253-3931 or 877-267-8971. Finally, you can also report voter intimidation to both local and state officials, including poll workers, the state board of elections or your local elections commissioner, elections supervisor or county clerk.

Sources: (image)