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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