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Federal Laws Protecting Against Intimidation of Voters and Election Workers

This resource details federal laws protecting against the intimidation of voters and election workers and the disruption of the voting process.

Published: October 28, 2022
View the entire Laws Protecting Voters and Election Workers from Intimidation series

Civil Provisions

Anti-Intimidation Protections

  • Section 11(b) of the Voting Rights Act, 52 U.S.C. § 10307(b): prohibits actual or attempted “intimidation,” “threats,” or “coercion” against a person “for voting or attempting to vote” or “for urging or aiding any person to vote or attempt to vote.” No showing of intent to intimidate is required so long as the behavior has the effect of intimidating voters.
  • Section 131(b) of the Civil Rights Act of 1957, 52 U.S.C. § 10101(b): prohibits actual or attempted “intimidation,” “threats,” or “coercion” with the purpose of interfering with a person’s right to vote in federal elections.
  • Section 1 of the Enforcement Act of 1871 (“Ku Klux Klan Act”), 42 U.S.C. § 1983: prohibits any state official from violating the constitutional rights of any person, including the right to vote, the right to equal protection, and the right to due process.
  • Section 2 of the Enforcement Act of 1871 (“Ku Klux Klan Act”), 42 U.S.C. § 1985(1): prohibits two or more persons from conspiring to use “force, intimidation, or threat” to prevent a person from “discharging any duties” related to administering a federal election.
  • Section 2 of the Enforcement Act of 1871 (“Ku Klux Klan Act”), 42 U.S.C. § 1985(3): prohibits two or more persons from conspiring to use “force, intimidation, or threat” to deprive a person of equal protection, to hinder state officials in securing equal protection for others, or to prevent voters from engaging in lawful activity related to voting in federal elections.

Mass Challenge Protections

  • Section 8 of the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, 52 U.S.C. § 20507: protects against mass voter challenges by, for example:
    • Requiring that one of three conditions be satisfied before removing a voter from the rolls due to a change in residence:
      • -the voter has requested to be removed;
      • -the voter has confirmed in writing a change in residence; or
      • -the voter has failed to respond to a notice and failed to vote during the next two federal general election cycles after receiving the notice (“notice-and-waiting”). footnote1_peitorf 1 52 U.S.C. § 20507(a)(3), (d).
    • Prohibiting systematic removal of voters from the rolls within 90 days of a federal election. footnote2_ti7obc5 2 52 U.S.C. § 20507(c)(2)(A).

Criminal Provisions

  • Section 12 of the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, 52 U.S.C. § 20511(1)(A): provides criminal penalties for “knowing” and “willful” actual or attempted intimidation, threats, or coercion against any person registering to vote, voting, or attempting to register or vote. It also protects those who urge or aid any person to do the same.
  • 18 U.S.C. § 241: provides criminal penalties for any person who conspires with another to intimidate any person exercising a constitutional right, including the right to vote.
  • 18 U.S.C. § 242: provides criminal penalties for a state official who willfully subjects a citizen to the deprivation of a constitutional right, including the right to vote.
  • 18 U.S.C. § 594: provides criminal penalties for any person who intimidates or attempts to intimidate voters with the purpose of interfering with their right to vote.
  • 52 U.S.C. § 10308(a): provides criminal penalties for any person who deprives or conspires to deprive a voter of their right to vote.
  • 18 U.S.C. § 875(c): provides criminal penalties for any person who threatens to injure another person using methods of interstate communication.

Examples of Prohibited Intimidation

  • Actual or threatened violent or physical acts. footnote3_0y02bak 3 Katzenbach v. Original Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, 250 F. Supp. 330 (E.D. La. 1965); Council on American-Islamic Relations — Minnesota v. Atlas Aegis, LLC, 497 F. Supp. 3d 371, 379 (D. Minn. 2020).
  • Improperly following, monitoring, or surveilling voters at polling places. footnote4_3bzfq98 4 Daschle v. Thune, No. Civ. 04–4177, 2004 WL 3650153 (D.S.D. Nov. 1, 2004).
  • Actual or threatened criminal prosecution, arrest, or other legal actions. footnote5_27dduts 5 National Coalition on Black Civic Participation v. Wohl, 498 F. Supp. 3d 457, 465–66 (S.D.N.Y. 2020); United States v. North Carolina Republican Party, No. 5:92-cv-00161 (E.D.N.C. Feb. 27, 1992); United States v. McLeod, 385 F.2d 734, 747–50 (5th Cir. 1967).
  • Actual or threatened dissemination of voters’ personal information. footnote6_ajewxe0 6 League of United Latin American Citizens – Richmond Region Council 4614 v. Pub. Interest Legal Found. (LULAC), No. 1:18-cv-00423, 2018 WL 3848404, at *4–10 (E.D. Va. Aug. 13, 2018); United States v. Nguyen, 673 F.3d 1259, 1264 (9th Cir. 2012).
  • Phone and physical canvassing campaigns that interrogate individuals about their voting status and history. footnote7_k6yemsd 7 Letter from U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division to Arizona State Senator Karen Fann (May 5, 2021), https://www.justice.gov/crt/case-document/file/1424586/download; see also U.S. Department of Justice, Federal Law Constraints on Post-Election “Audits”, 2021, 5–7, https://www.justice.gov/opa/press-release/file/1417796/download.
  • Baseless voter challenges, particularly those that target voters and communities of color. footnote8_22kqnqt 8 Democratic National Committee v. Republican National Committee, No. 81–03876, 2016 WL 6584915, at *2–4 (D.N.J. Nov. 5, 2016).

End Notes