Don’t Even Think About Intimidating Voters: State Laws and Penalties

4 mins read

Federal law prohibits voter intimidation. The right of each voter to cast his or her ballot free from intimidation or coercion is the foundation of a free and democratic society. Federal law also provides for civil lawsuits based on voter intimidation.

The Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection at Georgetown Law offers a convenient factsheet which spells out the laws by state. SeeSay2020 provides a map with this information to make it easy to understand and explain the consequences.

Federal law prohibits voter intimidation. The right of each voter to cast his or her ballot free from intimidation or coercion is the foundation of a free and democratic society. Federal law also provides for civil lawsuits based on voter intimidation.

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Protecting Against Voter Intimidation

“Voter intimidation is illegal? The right of each voter to cast his or her ballot free from intimidation or coercion is a foundational principle of a free and democratic society. Federal law prohibits voter intimidation.Multiple federal statutes make it a crime to intimidate voters: it is illegal to intimidate, threaten, or coerce a person, or attempt to do so, “for the purpose of interfering with” that person’s right “to vote or to vote as he may choose.” And it is a crime to “by force or threat of force” willfully injure, intimidate, or interfere with any person because he or she is voting or has voted or “in order to intimidate” anyone from voting.” – Georgetown Law

The U.S. Department of Justice has explained that voter intimidation is conduct that is intended to compel prospective voters to vote against their preferences, or to not vote at all, through activity that is reasonably calculated to instill fear. Some actions that ordinarily would be legal may be unlawful if they are intended to intimidate voters. Voter intimidation is often subtle and context-dependent, so it can be difficult to identify in advance. Here are some examples of conduct near polling sites that likely would constitute illegal voter intimidation, although other conduct could also qualify: 

– Violent behavior inside or outside the polling site
– Verbal threats of violence
– Confronting voters while wearing military-style or
– Spreading false information about voter official-looking uniforms fraud, voting requirements
– Brandishing firearms or the intimidating display of firearms
– Aggressively approaching voters’ vehicles or writing down voters’ license plate numbers
– Disrupting voting lines or blocking the entrance to the polling place
– Harassing voters, aggressively questioning them about their qualifications to vote
– Following voters to, from, or within the polling place

What to do if you face intimidation

If you fear imminent violence, call 9-1-1.
Notify your local election official at your polling place.
Document what you saw or experienced: what happened, where, and when, and whether any voters were deterred from voting.
Call Election Protection at 866-OUR-VOTE (866-687-8683).
Source: ICAP that uses the power of the courts to defend American constitutional rights and values.

Report issues with SeeSay 2020, a free mobile app for voters to report any cases of voter suppression, intimidation and other voting obstacles. Reports are screened and then shared on a public dashboard. Learn more here.

Take Away: Report voter intimidation and follow ICAP suggestions.

Deepak
DemLabs

Image credit: Damir Spanic on Unsplash
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