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Expert Brief

Guide to Laws Against Intimidation of Voters and Election Workers

Federal and state laws protect access to the ballot.

Published: June 18, 2024
View the entire Laws Protecting Voters and Election Workers from Intimidation series

In the last four years, violent political rhetoric and thinly veiled incitement of intimidation has proliferated. Vigilante groups and individuals — fueled by the false narrative that the 2020 election was stolen — have perpetrated misguided and often antagonistic door-to-door canvassing, aggressive drop box monitoring and poll watching, and baseless mass challenges. We expect such efforts to intimidate voters and election workers to continue this year.

This resource guide identifies the kinds of intimidating conduct that we think are most likely to arise and outlines legal tools to deter, mitigate, and respond to such tactics.

Federal and state laws are clear: intimidation of voters, volunteers assisting voters, and election workers is illegal. And these protections apply throughout the election lifecycle — including registering to vote, assisting voters, casting a ballot, counting ballots, and certifying results.

Jump to a section:

Blockading, Following, Menacing, or Shouting at Voters and Volunteers
Intimidation by Poll Watchers
Intimidation by Poll Workers
Intimidation by Door-to-Door Canvassers
Intimidation by Law Enforcement Officers
Intimidation through Online or Telephonic Targeting
Intimidation through Mass Voter Challenges
Guns at Polling Places
Harassing Election Workers Online and In Person

Blockading, Following, Menacing, or Shouting at Voters and Volunteers

The Problem

In recent years, violent political rhetoric — often grounded in the election denial movement — has increased fears of voter intimidation. One 2022 poll found that two in five voters were worried about threats of violence or voter intimidation at polling sites. In 2020, a group of demonstrators in Fairfax County, Virginia, disrupted early voting, forcing election officials to move voters inside. Members of the group waved Donald Trump campaign flags, chanted, yelled, and honked horns as voters entered an early voting site, at one point reportedly forming a line that voters had to walk around to enter the polling place. In 2022, right-wing extremist groups recruited volunteers in Arizona to monitor drop boxes; in at least one instance, volunteers showed up armed and in tactical gear. And during the Michigan primaries this year, someone installed a fake camera near a drop box that flashed when anyone approached to deposit a ballot. Trump has called 2024 “the final battle,” and in December, he invited supporters to “guard the vote,” particularly in Detroit, Philadelphia, and Atlanta — cities with large populations of Black voters.

What to Look Out For: Surveillance of voters or volunteers; demonstrations who prevent voters from accessing polling sites or drop boxes; voters being followed from their cars to polling sites or drop boxes; menacing chants that explicitly or implicitly threaten voters or volunteers; armed individuals loitering around drop boxes or polling sites.

Legal Tools

  • Federal law prohibits voter intimidation. Under well-established federal law, intimidating, threatening, or coercing voters or attempting or conspiring to do so is unlawful.footnote1_zhJfAvweWwsE152 U.S.C. § 10307(b); 52 U.S.C. § 10101(b); 42 U.S.C. § 1983; 42 U.S.C. § 1985(3); 52 U.S.C. § 20511(1)(A). Federal observers monitor polling and vote counting sites to assess compliance with federal voting rights laws; local and state officials and advocates can request such monitoring based on anticipated need for federal presence.
  • Intimidation laws also protect third parties, including volunteers and voter assistants. Intimidation of anyone for “urging or aiding any person to vote or attempt to vote” is illegal.footnote2_kVaj8AV3136722 U.S.C. § 10307(b). That means that individuals who help register voters, participate in get-out-the-vote efforts, or provide language assistance may not be subject to threats and other intimidating conduct.
  • Intimidating conduct can take many forms. For example, courts have found the following conduct to constitute unlawful intimidation: physical threats;footnote3_neU5ojDeM51Q318 U.S.C. § 245(b)(1)(A). efforts to closely follow, monitor, or surveil voters at polling places;footnote4_lVURI4jGnUfk4Complaint, Daschle v. Thune, No. Civ. 04–4177, 2004 WL 3650153 (D.S.D. Nov. 1, 2004); Temporary Restraining Order, Daschle v. Thune, (D.S.D. Nov. 2, 2004).  and improper threats of potential criminal prosecution, arrest, or other legal action.footnote5_dmidy6DEijbd5See, e.g., National Coalition on Black Civil Participation v. Wohl, 498 F. Supp. 3d 457, 465–66 (S.D.N.Y. 2020) (robocall suggested that voting would lead to personal information being “used by police departments to track down old warrants and be used by credit card companies to collect outstanding debts”); United States v. North Carolina Republican Party, No. 5:92-cv-00161 (E.D.N.C. February 27, 1992) (approving a consent decree where defendants sent 150,000 postcards to predominantly Black precincts warning that giving false information to an election official was a crime); and United States v. McLeod, 385 F.2d 734, 747–50 (5th Cir. 1967) (discussing “baseless arrests and prosecutions”).
  • State laws also prohibit intimidation. Every state prohibits voter intimidation, and some provide protections that are even stronger than federal law, such as those provided by state voting rights acts in Virginia and Connecticut.
  • Intimidators face both civil and criminal consequences. Federal and state prosecutors may criminally charge individuals who attempt or partake in intimidating conduct; state attorneys general may also seek civil sanctions against such individuals.footnote6_sUeTggv5ro4C6See, e.g., 18 U.S.C. §§ 241 (imprisonment up to 10 years), 242 (imprisonment up to one year), 594 (imprisonment up to one year); 52 U.S.C. §§ 10101(c), 10308(d), 10310(e), 20510(a); and 42 U.S.C. § 1985(3). See also Richard C. Pilger, ed., Federal Prosecution of Election Offenses, 8th ed., U.S. Department of Justice, December 2017, 33–38, 49–54, 56–58, https://www.justice.gov/criminal/file/1029066/dl. 
  • States limit electioneering. Every state limits campaigning and political activity (i.e., electioneering) within a buffer zone around polling places to mitigate the risk of intimidation and harassment. While political speech is permitted outside of electioneering buffer zones, conduct that interferes with or discourages voter access (like disruptive blockades) is not protected.

 

End Notes

Intimidation by Poll Watchers

The Problem

Poll watchers help to ensure transparency and public trust in elections. But they can also disrupt the voting or counting process, intimidate voters, and misunderstand or mischaracterize what they observe, offering inaccurate and potentially inflammatory accounts.

There is a long history of poll watchers harassing and intimidating voters, inappropriately surveilling voters, threatening voters, and otherwise interacting with voters in a manner that violates voter intimidation law. This trend continued in 2022.footnote1_z5cKEt7nBzZY1Ned Parker, Linda So and Moira Warburton, “‘Stop the Steal’ Supporters Train Thousands of U.S. Poll Observers,” Reuters, October 13, 2022, https://www.reuters.com/world/us/stop-steal-supporters-train-thousands-us-poll-observers-2022–10–13; and Hannah Schoenbaum and Nicholas Riccardi, “Election Officials Brace for Confrontational Poll Watchers,” AP News, October 2, 2022, https://apnews.com/article/2022-midterm-electionspolitics-voting-presidential-biden-cabinetc3d31b3b3c8957a51a2cc32e009d59be.   Since then, some election deniers have become state Republican Party chairs and will influence how observers are chosen.footnote2_y5ty5VtD3ocN2Nicholas Riccardi and Joey Cappelletti, “Failing at Polls, Election Deniers Shift Focus to State GOP Posts Including Colorado and Michigan,” USA Today, February 27, 2023, https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/elections/2023/02/27/republicanelection-deniers-chair-state-parties-gop/11358766002; Zach Montellaro, “Election Officials Ready Themselves for the Next Wave of Trump Followers,” Politico, February 1, 2023, https://www.politico.com/news/2023/01/31/election-officials-2024-reelection-presidential-vote-00080543; and Kyle Melnick, “Colorado GOP Picks Election-Denying Former State Legislator to Lead Party,” Washington Post, March 13, 2023, https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2023/03/13/colorado-dave-williams-republican-leader Election deniers have also recruited and trained large numbers of poll watchers.footnote3_migremfK6omj3Schoenbaum and Riccardi, “Election Officials Brace for Confrontational Poll Watchers.” See also Maegan Vazquez, “Trump Tells His Supporters to Become Poll Watchers with a Baseless Claim About Fraud at Voting Locations,” CNN, September 8, 2020, https://www.cnn.com/2020/09/08/politics/donald-trump-poll-watchers-north-carolina/index.html (quoting President Trump at a Winston-Salem, NC, rally: “Be poll watchers when you go there. Watch all the thieving and stealing and robbing they do.”); and Sam Levine, “Republican Push to Recruit Election Deniers as Poll Workers Causes Alarm,” Guardian, June 30, 2022, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2022/jun/30/republican-recruit-poll-workers-election-integrity

Several states — including Georgia, North Carolina, and Texas — have recently enacted laws to expand the scope of observer access while limiting the circumstances under which election workers may constrain or remove disruptive observers.footnote4_wiRr8unkW2sG4S.B. 202 (Ga. 2021); S.F. 413 (Iowa 2021); S.B. 747 (N.C. 2023); and S.B. 1 (Tex. 2021). As a result, 2024 may see a higher risk of observer abuse. 

What to Look Out For: Poll watchers posing intrusive questions, physically threatening voters, or otherwise confronting, menacing, following, or interfering with voters. 

Legal Tools

End Notes

Intimidation by Poll Workers

The Problem

Poll workers play a vital role in executing elections — put simply, we couldn’t hold elections without them. But in recent years, there has been an increased threat of intimidation by poll workers. Media reports have identified efforts around the country to recruit individuals who subscribe to election falsehoods as poll workers. One poll worker training hosted by the Wayne County GOP the day before Michigan’s 2022 primary instructed attendees to ignore election laws, referring to them as “undercover agents.” The same year, a federal court ordered election workers at a polling site in Beaumont, Texas, to stop harassing and intimidating voters. Plaintiffs in that suit alleged that “[w]hite poll workers throughout early voting repeatedly asked in aggressive tones only Black voters and not [w]hite voters to recite, out loud within the earshot of other voters, poll workers, and poll watchers, their addresses, even when the voter was already checked in by a poll worker.” 

What to Look Out For: Poll workers singling out voters to ask aggressive, intrusive, or unnecessary questions; poll workers threatening, confronting, following, or interfering with voters without cause.  

Legal Tools

  • Intimidation laws apply to poll workers. Federal and state prohibitions on intimidation apply to poll workers. Section 11(b) of the Voting Rights Act, 52 U.S.C. § 10307(b), prohibits all voter intimidation, including by officials. Section 1 of the Enforcement Act of 1871 (coined the 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 11(a) of the Voting Rights Act 52 U.S.C. § 10307(a) prohibits any official from failing or refusing to permit a voter to cast their ballot.  
  • Abusive poll workers can be dismissed. Disruptive poll or election workers may be removed from voting or counting sites and can be discharged from their roles.footnote1_mJO0TBVElBB41See, e.g., Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 16–531(A), (I); Fla. Stat. § 104.051(1); Mich. Comp. Laws § 168.678; N.H. Rev. Stat. § 92:2; see In re Removal of Minority Dist. Election Inspector, 1 Pa. D. & C.2d 783, 784–85 (1955) (explaining that a county court maintains “the right to declare that an individual may be disqualified as an election officer if he does not possess the qualifications required by the Constitution or the laws, and then declare the existence of a vacancy in the office.”); and Tex. Elec. Code §§ 32.002(g), 32.034(f). 
  • States require poll workers to uphold the law. Many states require poll workers to take an oath to perform their duties faithfully and impartially.footnote2_diJsNKjKCCgZ2See, e.g., Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 16–534(C); Fla. Stat. § 102.012(1)(a); Ga. Code §§ 21–2–93, 21–2–95, 21–2–405(a); Mich. Comp. Laws § 168.680; Ohio Rev. Code § 3501.31; N.H. Rev. Stat. §§ 658:4, 658:7; N.C. Gen. Stat. §§ 163–41(e), 163–42(d); 25 Pa. Stat. §§ 2676–2680; Tex. Elec. Code § 62.003; Tex. Const. art. XVI, § 1; and Wis. Stat. §§ 6.875(5), 7.30(5).  These oaths provide strong legal bases for preventing and addressing abuses by poll workers. 

    For more information on the state-specific guardrails in place for poll workers, see the Brennan Center’s poll worker guides

End Notes

Intimidation by Door-to-Door Canvassers

The Problem

Political canvassing — direct contact with voters through door-knocking and phone-banking — is a valuable political activity protected by the First Amendment. However, that protection does not extend to intimidating conduct. In recent years, election deniers have undertaken widespread canvassing efforts, both by phone and in person, questioning voters’ eligibility or past voting records, purportedly to root out election fraud. In 2022, residents in at least 19 states reported aggressive door-to-door canvassing efforts in which official-seeming civilians knocked on doors and accosted them under the guise of identifying voting irregularities.

In 2020 in Oregon, for example, individuals affiliated with a so-called election integrity group knocked on doors alleging that mail-in ballots were tampered with. As one voter described, “There was no boundaries with their ethics or with civility. They will push until you give an answer. They are very intimidating. . . . It’s not a question of, ‘Do you think that this was done? How do you feel about it?’ It is, ‘We know that this is done. How do you know it wasn’t?’” In New York, officials warned last fall that people pretending to be election workers were going so far as to knock on doors and falsely accuse voters of committing election fraud.

What to Look Out For: Door-to-door canvassing accompanied by aggressive behavior; misinformation intended to deter election participation; the presence of firearms; targeting based on race or language; misrepresentation of having an official election role. 

Legal Tools

  • Intimidation laws apply to canvassers. Federal and state prohibitions on intimidation apply to canvassers. In 2021, the Department of Justice issued a letter expressing concern about aggressive door-to-door canvassing and affirming the applicability of federal anti-intimidation prohibitions.footnote1_jyomZhha4c5A1Pamela S. Karlan (principal deputy assistant attorney general, Civil Rights Division, U.S. Department of Justice) to Karen Fann (president, Arizona State Senate), May 5, 2021, https://www.justice.gov/d9/case-documents/attachments/2021/05/05/civil_rights_division_letter_to_arizona_senate_president_5–5_final_ro_tag_prop.pdf. 
  • Canvassers cannot impersonate officials. Canvassers who portray themselves as acting in an official capacity may violate state laws. For example, in North Carolina, it is illegal to falsely “represent to any person that they are duly authorized employees of a county, a municipality or the State.”footnote2_n0Qh7Ma6JdIv2N.C. Gen. Stat. § 14–277(e). In Texas, impersonating a public servant with intent to induce another to rely on the person’s pretended acts is unlawful.footnote3_dJTGnhxa7wxa3Tex. Penal Code § 37.11(a)(1). Similar prohibitions exist in many states, including Florida, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.footnote4_amA1IJjy7pVz4Fla. Stat. § 843.0855(2); Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.217c; Nev. Rev. Stat. § 199.430; 18 Pa. Comp. Stat. § 4912; and Wis. Stat. § 946.69(2).

End Notes

Intimidation by Law Enforcement Officers

The Problem

Voters may feel intimidated by the presence of law enforcement while voting. Recent state efforts directing law enforcement resources into the investigation and prosecution of election-related crimes may exacerbate voter fears.  

At the same time, state and local law enforcement are critical partners for ensuring the safety of voters and election workers; their presence may be necessary to respond to intimidating or disruptive conduct.  

Legal Tools

  • Intimidation laws apply to law enforcement. Federal and state prohibitions on intimidation apply to police and other peace officers. Several federal laws expressly target individuals acting under the color of state law, like 42 U.S.C. § 1983, 52 U.S.C. § 10307(a), and 18 U.S.C. § 242.  
  • State laws may limit law enforcement presence. In Pennsylvania, officers who show up to the polls without being called by election officials have committed a crime.footnote1_vAanm87gDVCe125 Pa. Stat. §§ 3047, 3520. In Arizona and Florida, respectively, law enforcement may not be inside a polling location unless responding to an emergency, or with permission from poll workers (unless they are voting).footnote2_fBO8GXjUW2na2Arizona Secretary of State, “Guidance on Voting Location Conduct,” accessed June 4, 2024, https://azsos.gov/elections/about-elections/guidance-voting-location-conduct; and Fla. Stat. § 102.031(3)(a)(6).  
  • State laws may create a chain of command led by election officials. In some states, including Florida, Nevada, North Carolina, and Wisconsin, officers at the polls must obey orders from election officials.footnote3_slOYh9GjOzUi3Fla. Stat. § 102.031(2); Nev. Rev. Stat. 293C.220; N.C. Gen. Stat. § 163–48; and Wis. Stat. § 7.37(2).

End Notes

Intimidation Through Online or Telephonic Targeting

The Problem

Election officials are planning for agitators using artificial intelligence and deepfakes to spread misinformation, including falsehoods intended to keep voters from casting their ballots. The risk is not theoretical: earlier this year, thousands of New Hampshire voters received a robocall impersonating President Joe Biden’s voice and discouraging them from voting in the state’s presidential primary. Less sophisticated technology can also be harmful. For example, in 2020, robocalls targeted Black voters, threatening that if they voted by mail, their personal information would be sent to law enforcement agencies, debt collectors, and the government.

What to Look Out For: Robocalls threatening retaliation for voting; robocalls targeting communities of color; misinformation coming from ostensibly official sources.

Legal Tools

  • Federal interstate communications law may apply. In addition to ordinarily applicable intimidation laws, anyone who makes violent threats using interstate communications — including phone lines, the postal service, and the internet — is guilty of a felony under federal law.footnote1_xA1HSgtMAe72118 U.S.C. § 875.
  • Federal law provides penalties for robocalls. Civil and criminal penalties may be sought if robocalls are made for anything other than emergency purposes or made without the consent of the recipient. Robocalls using voices generated by artificial intelligence are illegal and may be subject to civil enforcement under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act.footnote2_qTCq8sywOkFk247 U.S.C. § 227(b).
  • State telecommunications laws may apply. For example, the perpetrators of the 2020 multistate robocall scheme pleaded guilty to telecommunications fraud in Ohio. 
  • Doxing voters may be unlawful. Disseminating or threatening to disseminate voters’ personal information, particularly when the dissemination is intended to discourage voting or trigger harassment, may be illegal.footnote3_aXaf6NZ0Z8yZ3League 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. August 13, 2018) (denying motion to dismiss VRA and KKK Act claims where defendants published a list of “names and personal information” in an effort to falsely link those individuals to “felonious voter registration in a clear effort to subject [them] to public opprobrium”). See also United States v. Nguyen, 673 F.3d 1259 (9th Cir. 2012) (discussing letter in which congressional candidate targeted foreign-born Latino registered voters and threatened to provide recipients’ personal information to anti-immigration groups if they exercised their right to vote). 

 

End Notes

Intimidation Through Mass Challenges

The Problem

Efforts to gather information on voters and build a record for mass voter challenges can be used to disenfranchise eligible voters by seeking to remove them from the rolls before an election.

Since 2020, election deniers have brought meritless mass challenges based on flimsy and unreliable evidence, such as amateur matching between voter registration lists and the National Change of Address registry.footnote1_cdq3Ev9hivUD1Nick Corasaniti and Alexandra Berzon, “Activists Flood Election Offices with Challenges,” New York Times, September 28, 2022, https://www.nytimes.com/2022/09/28/us/politics/election-activists-voter-challenges.html; and Kate Hamilton, “Frivolous Mass Challenges to Voter Eligibility Are Damaging to Democracy,” Campaign Legal Center, October 6, 2022, https://campaignlegal.org/update/frivolous-mass-challenges-voter-eligibility-damaging-democracy They have focused their efforts on battleground states and voters registered as Democrats. In Georgia, activists challenged more than 364,000 voters in the lead-up to a 2021 Senate runoff election and 92,000 voters in the 2022 midterms.footnote2_eN8wokLnGhhS2Doug Bock Clark, “Close to 100,000 Voter Registrations Were Challenged in Georgia — Almost All by Just Six Right-Wing Activists,” ProPublica, July 13, 2023, https://www.propublica.org/article/right-wing-activists-georgia-voter-challenges; Jane C. Timm, “Fraud Hunters Challenged 92,000 Voter Registrations in Georgia Last Year,” NBC News, February 27, 2023, https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/elections/fraud-hunters-challenged-92k-georgia-voterregistrations-2022-rcna71668; and Margaret Newkirk and Ryan Teague Beckwith, “Trump Allies Back Mass Challenge to Voter Eligibility in Georgia,” Bloomberg, September 1, 2022, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2022–09–01/trump-allies-back-mass-challenge-to-voter-eligibility-in-georgia.   Although these challenges were mostly rejected, they swamped election offices and may have confused voters or caused improper removals from the rolls.footnote3_duxOIVGJCWMR3Brennan Center for Justice et al. to Blake Evans (director of elections, Georgia State Board), re: Guidance on Voter Challenges, February 3, 2023, https://www.brennancenter.org/sites/default/files/2023–02/Letter%20to%20State%20Board%20on%20Challenges%20Guidance%20SOS%20Final.pdf  

This year, there may be an even greater risk of improper mass challenge attempts. In 2023, motivated by mis- and disinformation, several states withdrew from the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC), a consortium that improves the accuracy of state voter rolls by sharing information among its member states. Relying on anti-ERIC rhetoric, prominent election deniers have launched a supposed alternative, EagleAI, to serve as a tool for election deniers to compile mass challenges.footnote4_u1eUvoTpBMsb4Alice Clapman and Andrew Garber, “A New Antidemocracy Tool,” Brennan Center for Justice, September 5, 2023, https://www.brennancenter.org/our-work/analysis-opinion/new-antidemocracy-tool; and Carline Haskins, “A New Tool Targets Voter Fraud in Georgia — but Is It Skirting the Law?,” Guardian, February 26, 2024, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2024/feb/26/eagleai-georgia-voter-registration-election

What to Look Out For: Challenges to voter eligibility brought a few weeks or months before an election; multiple challenges (possibly hundreds or thousands) brought by one person; challenges unsubstantiated by specific, reliable evidence of ineligibility; challenges targeting communities of color. 

Legal Tools

  • Voter challenges cannot circumvent the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA). The NVRA is the federal law that governs voter list maintenance. It prohibits systematic removal of voters from the rolls on the grounds of change of residence within 90 days of a federal election.footnote5_uUnyiBFb9hnQ552 U.S.C. § 20507(c)(2)(A).
  • Voter challenges may not be discriminatory. The Voting Rights Act prohibits voter challenges premised on race, color, or membership in a language minority group.footnote6_rtILxhJQtwpF6United States v. Long Cty., Georgia, No. CV 206–040, 2006 WL 8458526, at *2 (S.D. Ga. February 10, 2006) (consent decree requiring defendants to provide to each person who wishes to challenge the right to vote of any elector and to each person who wishes to challenge the qualifications of any elector on the list of registered voters a notice that states: “A challenger must have a legitimate non-discriminatory basis to challenge a voter. Challenges filed on the basis of race, color, or membership in a language-minority group are not legitimate bases for attacking a voter’s eligibility.”).  Additionally, the NVRA prohibits nonuniform or discriminatory voter list maintenance.footnote7_nxEI3T2rqOdM752 U.S.C. § 20507(b)(1).
  • Voter challenge procedures must satisfy due process. To comply with federal due process requirements, challenged voters should receive notice and an opportunity to respond to a challenge.footnote8_rGCFuIy8wOfz8Reynolds v. Sims, 377 U.S. 533, 561–62 (1964) (establishing the right to vote as a fundamental right); and Mathews v. Eldridge, 424 U.S. 319, 333 (1976) (establishing that “[t]he fundamental requirement of due process is the opportunity to be heard ‘at a meaningful time and in a meaningful manner’”). 
  • Unsubstantiated voter challenges could violate the Civil Rights Act’s materiality provision. Upholding a challenge based on unreliable data may run afoul of the prohibition against denying the right to vote “because of an error or omission on any record or paper relating to any application, registration, or other act requisite to voting, if such error or omission is not material in determining whether such individual is qualified under State law to vote in such election.”footnote9_q8ps7GvYIyyu952 U.S.C. § 10101(a)(2)(B). 
  • State laws constrain voter challenges. State laws provide several different kinds of safeguards that minimize improper voter challenges. For example, some states limit specious voter challenges.footnote10_sG0QaWG3ISZ310See, e.g., Fla. Stat. § 101.111(2) (criminalizing “frivolous” challenges); and N.C. Gen. Stat. § 163–90.1 (prohibiting indiscriminate challenges and requiring affirmative proof to sustain a challenge). Several states require a challenger to reside in the same county and for a challenge to be based on personal knowledge.footnote11_gdKe1yb8fLUt11See, e.g., Nev. Rev. Stat. 293.303(1)(a); N.H. Rev. Stat. §§ 659:27, 659:27-a; N.C. Gen. Stat. § 163–90.1(a); 25 Pa. Comp. Stat. § 1329(c); and Tex. Elec. Code §§ 16.091, 16.092. Other states limit pre–Election Day challenges. North Carolina and Nevada, for example, only permit non–Election Day voter challenges to occur 25 days or more prior to the date of an election.footnote12_r1JmwVaPdXD212N.C. Gen. Stat. § 163–85(a); and Nev. Rev. Stat. § 293.547.

End Notes

Guns at Polling Places

The Problem

The United States now has more guns than people and fewer restrictions on carrying those guns in public than ever. In most states, gun advocates have successfully pushed deregulation of firearms in legislatures and courts. And in 2022, the U.S. Supreme Court forced the six states with the strongest concealed carry laws, as well as Washington, DC, to weaken their restrictions.footnote1_cyEzUGYVjxkB1New York State Rifle and Pistol Association, Inc. v. Bruen, 142 S. Ct. 2111 (2022).  At the same time, violent political rhetoric and intimidating conduct increasingly permeate the atmosphere around elections, making the proliferation of guns even more dangerous for our democracy.

What to Look Out For: Individuals carrying a visible firearm while at or near a polling location, drop box, or vote counting site; displaying a concealed firearm during a discussion or argument with a voter or election worker; or approaching a voter or election worker while displaying a firearm. 

Legal Tools

  • State laws limit the presence of guns at the polls. Thirteen states and Washington, DC, broadly prohibit both open and concealed carry in polling places. Eight additional states impose limited restrictions on guns in polling locations. Several other states prohibit guns from government buildings, schools, libraries, or houses of worship (which often serve as polling sites). See the Brennan Center’s 2023 report on Guns and Voting for more detail on specific state policies.footnote2_kQ7axYJ0xZQn2See also S.B. 5 (N.M. 2024); and S.B. 209 (Vt. 2024). 
  • Intimidation prohibitions apply. Even at polling and elections sites where firearms are not expressly prohibited, or even when certain people are exempt from the probation, firearm carry may constitute unlawful intimidation.footnote3_fKl9mhbUPc843See, e.g., Arizona Secretary of State, “Guidance on Voting Location Conduct” (“Activities Prohibited Inside the 75-Foot-Limit”),” last accessed May 30, 2024, https://azsos.gov/elections/about-elections/guidance-voting-location-conduct; and Temporary Restraining Order, Arizona Alliance for Retired Americans v. Clean Elections USA, No. CV-22–01823-PHX-MTL (D. Ariz. November 1, 2022), https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/23257289troballotboxwatchers. 

End Notes

Harassing Election Workers Online and in Person

The Problem

False claims of voter fraud and supposed election irregularities have prompted widespread harassment and threats of violence against election workers, election officials, and their families.

A 2024 Brennan Center survey of local election officials showed that more than one in three have faced harassment, abuse, or threats. More than one in four local election officials worries about being assaulted at home or at work, and more than half are concerned about the safety of their colleagues or staff. Election officials have faced surveillance, stalking, threats to their safety and the safety of loved ones, doxing, “swatting,” and other abuse. Election officials confront intimidation and harassment at their homes, offices, polling places, and vote counting sites.

What to Look Out For: Disruption or surveillance at polling sites, vote counting sites, election offices, or election officials’ residences; menacing or following of election workers; threatening phone calls or voicemails to election workers; public posting of election workers’ sensitive personal information; spreading misinformation about election workers to incite abuse by others.  

Legal Tools 

  • Intimidating election officials violates federal law. Federal law prohibits the intimidation of those “urging or aiding” another person to vote or register to vote, providing protection for election officials, workers, and others.footnote1_ujqwAFbcPegV152 U.S.C. § 20511(1)(B); and 52 U.S.C. § 10307(b). See also 42 U.S.C. § 1985(1), (2) (prohibiting intimidation “to prevent an officer . . . from accepting or holding any office or trust, or place of confidence under the United States,” or “from discharging any duties” thereof); and 42 U.S.C. § 1985(3) (broadly prohibiting conspiracies for the purpose of “depriving, either directly or indirectly, any person or class of persons of the equal protection of the laws” or “preventing or hindering the constituted authorities of any State or Territory from giving or securing to all persons . . . the equal protection of the laws”).  In other words, attempting to or actually preventing election officials and poll workers from doing their jobs is unlawful. 
  • Generally applicable criminal prohibitions may be relevant. Election officials have confronted abuse and threats that violate criminal laws not specific to the election context. For example, federal law prohibits threats across state lines to injure or kidnap anyone, including election officials.footnote2_u5QxeLdKN9Eg218 U.S.C. § 875(c).
  • New state laws protect personal information. Since 2020, at least 18 states have enacted laws providing additional protections for election officials and poll workers. Many of these laws allow election officials to be part of state address confidentiality programs or bolster criminal penalties for intimidating election officials. 
  • Defamation is illegal. Spreading harmful falsehoods about election workers can create civil liability. For example, two Georgia election officials won a defamation lawsuit last year that resulted in a $148 million damages award. 

End Notes