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Expert Brief

Dangers of “Ballot Security” Operations: Preventing Intimidation, Discrimination, and Disruption

After recent claims of a “rigged” election, some called for police and volunteers to monitor the polls. This briefing memo outlines why “ballot security” operations are risky — and how to prevent intimidation, discrimination, and disruption.

Published: August 31, 2016

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Over the past few weeks, the issue of voting has been thrust to the center of public discussion. Multiple courts across the country ruled against discriminatory and disenfranchising new voting laws, and politicians responded by claiming our elections are “rigged.” Some have gone so far as to call for off-duty police officers to monitor polling places and for citizen volunteers to serve as “election observers” to root out supposed fraud — even though overwhelming evidence makes clear that polling place fraud is virtually nonexistent.

But deploying non-official, private actors to conduct supposed “ballot security” operations or to challenge whether a voter can cast a ballot is highly risky: it can easily lead to illegal intimidation, discrimination, or disruptions at the polls.

Drawing on extensive research and prior publications, this fact sheet outlines the threat posed by so-called ballot security and poll-watching operations, how such operations can cross the line to illegal activity, what is and is not allowed under the law, and what must be done to protect against intimidation, discrimination, confrontations, and other potentially harmful activity at the polls this November.

Election officials can — and should — take steps now to minimize the risk of problems on and before Election Day.

Dangers of “Ballot Security” Operations: Preventing Intimidation, Discrimination, and Disruption by The Brennan Center for Justice on Scribd