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The Law in Georgia on Voter Intimidation, Poll Watchers, and Challengers

Intimidating or harassing voters, poll workers, and election officials is against the law in Georgia. Voters should feel safe when voting, and election officials and poll workers should feel safe when doing their jobs.

Published: December 14, 2020

Federal and state law protects voters, poll work­ers, and elec­tion offi­cials from intim­id­a­tion and aggress­ive beha­vior in multiple ways:

  • The law prohib­its intim­id­a­tion and harass­ment of voters and places severe limits on which indi­vidu­als can observe elec­tions and what they can do.
  • Elec­tion offi­cials and law enforce­ment are empowered to protect voters and elec­tions work­ers by keep­ing aggressors away from polls and vote count­ing loca­tions, placing limits on their conduct, and enfor­cing the law against them if neces­sary.

The law in Geor­gia is crys­tal clear: intim­id­at­ing voters is a crime. Ga. Code §§21–2–566(3)-(4) and 21–2–567; 18 U.S.C. §§ 241 and 594; 52 U.S.C. § 10101(b). Examples of illegal voter intim­id­a­tion could include:

  • Direct confront­a­tion of prospect­ive voters
  • Insult­ing, offens­ive, or threat­en­ing language
  • Raised voices
  • False inform­a­tion about voter require­ments
  • Block­ing entry to a polling place
  • The use or threat of phys­ical force
  • Guns at polling places. All fire­arms, apart from those belong­ing to police officers and certi­fied secur­ity guards, are prohib­ited within 150 feet of polling places. Ga Code § 21–2–413(i).

Any actions that have the effect of intim­id­at­ing voters are also illegal, regard­less of intent. 52 U.S.C. § 10307(b).

It is illegal to intim­id­ate poll work­ers and elec­tion offi­cials in Geor­gia.

Geor­gia law provides strong protec­tions for poll work­ers and elec­tion offi­cials. It is a felony under Geor­gia law to threaten a poll worker or elec­tion offi­cial, use viol­ence against a poll worker or elec­tion offi­cial, or attempt to prevent a poll worker or elec­tion offi­cial from doing their job in any way. Ga. Code § 21–2–566(1)-(2).

Intim­id­a­tion of poll work­ers and elec­tion offi­cials is illegal at all stages of the elec­tion process, includ­ing during mail ballot processing and vote count­ing.

Protec­tions for elec­tion offi­cials and poll work­ers continue after votes are cast. Geor­gi­a’s protec­tions against intim­id­a­tion of elec­tion offi­cials and poll work­ers extend to the vote count­ing process and all other aspects of elec­tion admin­is­tra­tion. Intim­id­at­ing elec­tion offi­cials or poll work­ers during mail ballot veri­fic­a­tion or ballot count­ing processes is a felony. Ga. Code § 21–2–566(1)-(2).

There are strict legal limits on who can be a poll watcher in Geor­gia.

Not just anyone can show up to a polling place and be a poll watcher. Geor­gia law subjects poll work­ers to strict limits, and elec­tion offi­cials are empowered by law to remove unau­thor­ized or unruly poll watch­ers.

  • All poll watch­ers must be iden­ti­fied to elec­tion offi­cials in advance of the elec­tion by party or candid­ate repres­ent­at­ives. Ga. Code § 21–2–408(b).
  • All poll watcher appoint­ments must be confirmed in writ­ing and submit­ted to elec­tion offi­cials before Elec­tion Day. Ga. Code § 21–2–408(b).
  • All appoin­ted poll watch­ers must report imme­di­ately to the poll manager to obtain their offi­cial poll watcher badges prior start­ing their shifts. Ga. Code § 21–2–408(d).

There are strict legal limits on what poll watch­ers can do at polling places in Geor­gia.

Author­ized poll watch­ers may not do whatever they want at polling places. In addi­tion to the prohib­i­tions on intim­id­a­tion, Geor­gia law imposes strict rules on poll watcher beha­vior inside polling places:

  • Poll watch­ers may not in any way inter­fere with the conduct of the elec­tion. Ga. Code § 21–2–408(d).
  • Poll watch­ers may not talk to voters, use cell phones, take photos, record videos, or campaign for candid­ates. Code § 21–2–408(d).
  • Elec­tion offi­cials are author­ized to remove any poll watcher who fails to follow these rules after a warn­ing. Ga. Code § 21–2–408(d).

There are strict legal limits on what poll watch­ers can do during the ballot tabu­la­tion process in Geor­gia.

The rules and regu­la­tions that apply to poll watch­ers at polling places also apply during the mail ballot tabu­la­tion process and the vote count­ing process.

  • Polit­ical parties may only desig­nate two poll watch­ers to monitor the mail ballot tabu­la­tion process. These monit­ors must be appoin­ted in advance. Ga. Code § 21–2–386(a)(3).
  • Anyone who mater­i­ally inter­feres with or inter­rupts an elec­tion offi­cial or poll work­er’s duties during mail ballot processing or the vote count is guilty of a felony. Ga. Code § 21–2–566(2).

Geor­gia law strictly limits the conduct of anyone seek­ing to chal­lenge a voter’s right to vote.

Chal­lengers must abide by strict regu­la­tions at all stages of the elec­tion process in Geor­gia. Any chal­lenge that is inten­ded to intim­id­ate or results in intim­id­a­tion is a felony under Geor­gia law. Ga. Code § 21–2–567.

  • Any chal­lenge to a voter’s right to vote must be made in writ­ing, prior to the voter cast­ing a ballot, and must distinctly specify the grounds for the chal­lenge. Ga. Code § 21–2–230(a).
  • A chal­lenge must be based on specific personal know­ledge or evid­ence that a voter is ineligible. Ga. Code § 21–2–230(d).
  • It is illegal under federal law to chal­lenge any voter’s eligib­il­ity based on their race, ethni­city, national origin, language, appear­ance, surname, or reli­gion. 18 U.S.C. § 242; 42 U.S.C. § 1983; 52 U.S.C. §§ 10301, 10303, 10503.
  • Chal­lenges can’t be based solely on returned mail, the racial or ethnic compos­i­tion of a polling place, or discrep­an­cies between the voter regis­tra­tion list and any other list of people. 52 U.S.C. § 10101(a)(2)(B).
  • If a chal­lenge is actu­ally based on personal, specific know­ledge or evid­ence, the voter must be given the oppor­tun­ity to address the chal­lenge before the board of regis­trars imme­di­ately. A voter who can’t imme­di­ately appear should be allowed to cast a provi­sional ballot. Ga. Code § 21–2–230(i).

Elec­tion offi­cials are empowered to remove any indi­vidual who is disrupt­ive or is not adher­ing to any of these rules.

Ga. Code § 21–2–90 puts poll officers in charge of managing polling places, and § 21–2–493 puts super­in­tend­ents in charge of the vote count­ing process. § 21–2–50 empowers the Secret­ary of State to assist elec­tion offi­cials in these duties. Ga. Code § 21–2–408(d) author­izes Geor­gia elec­tion offi­cials to remove any poll watcher who is disrupt­ive or is not adher­ing to any of these rules.