Voters in the United States have the right to cast their ballots freely, safely and privately—without fear. Both federal and state law provide protections against voter intimidation.
These protections can sometimes be confusing. But they are important. Recent events have raised concerns that voters may face intimidation at the polls, and high-profile prosecutions have made clear that state voter intimidation statutes can be effective if state officials enforce these rules aggressively.
Voters and election officials need to know how the law protects them in order to guard against voter intimidation on Election Day.
Federal law protects voters from intimidation.
The federal voter intimidation law makes it a crime for any person to intimidate, threaten or coerce any other person in order to interfere with their right to vote. The law applies to any federal election and applies to attempted intimidation, too. This law protects voters in a wide variety of ways. For instance, it is a federal crime under this law to:
- Verbally or physically confront voters
- Physically intimidate voters, such as by standing or hovering close to voters as they attempt to vote
- Post flyers threatening jail time or other punitive action against persons who vote
- Ask voters for documentation when none is required
- Vandalize polling places
- Photographing or videotaping voters inside a polling place
- Threaten the job, wages or benefits of an employee if he or she does not vote in a particular manner
- Fly Confederate flags outside a polling place or in a parking lot
- Occupy the parking lot of a polling place in such a way that voters might be hindered from entering
Violations of federal voter intimidation law can be reported to the United States Department of Justice via phone at (800)-253-3931, e-mail ([email protected]) or an online form. Voters can seek advice on how to report intimidation by calling the national, nonpartisan Election Protection coalition at 866-OUR-VOTE.
In addition to federal laws against voter intimidation, states have additional laws to protect voters.
States have their own rules to protect voters. In most states, voter intimidation is a crime, and campaigning and electioneering in direct proximity of the polls is illegal. Furthermore, local election officials and law enforcement have the legal right to remove individuals who violate these rules and voters have the right to report individuals who intimidate them at the polls.
State rules often include details on who may observe polls and make clear that ‘poll-watchers,’ ‘challengers’ and others who would like to observe the voting process are subject to strict behavioral rules. These observers are not allowed to intimidate or deter eligible voters under the guise of fighting voter fraud.