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North Carolina: Protections Against Intimidation of Voters and Election Workers

This resource details state laws and policies 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

Voters in North Carolina have the right to vote free from intimidation under federal and state law. footnote1_874lew0 1 18 U.S.C. §§ 594, 241; 52 U.S.C. § 10101(b); N.C. Gen. Stat. §§ 163–271, 163–272.1, 163–273, 163–274. The federal protections that apply to all states are explained here. The North Carolina State Board of Elections issued updated guidance earlier this month outlining the state provisions prohibiting intimidation and guiding election officials in maintaining order at the polls in November.

The below addresses the laws and policies that serve as guardrails against specific threats of intimidation.

Intimidation by Poll Watchers

North Carolina places limits upon who may serve as poll watchers and how many watchers may be at the polls:

  • The chair of each political party of the county may designate two watchers to be present at each polling place, as well as designate 10 additional at-large watchers who are residents of that county who may be present at any polling place in that county. Further, the chair of each political party in the state may designate up to 100 additional at-large watchers who are residents of the state to be present at any polling place. footnote2_o6y2k62 2 N.C. Gen. Stat. § 163–45(a).
  • Two watchers from the same political party may be in a polling location at one time, as well as one of the at-large watchers from each party. footnote3_nn6qe1m 3 Id.
  • Watchers must be designated in advance and must be of “good moral character.” footnote4_80nz6jz 4 N.C. Gen. Stat. § 163–45(a)–(b).
  • Election workers for each precinct may reject any appointee for good cause and require that another be appointed. footnote5_4l20jod 5 N.C. Gen. Stat. § 163–45(b).

North Carolina law also restricts what poll watchers may do in their position:

  • Watchers are prohibited from engaging in electioneering at a polling location, impeding the voting process, or communicating with any voter casting a ballot. footnote6_g64m9eu 6 N.C. Gen. Stat. § 163–45(c).
  • Poll watchers may not hinder access to a polling place or harass voters, whether inside a polling place or within a county-designated zone outside a polling place, to be no more than 50 feet and no less than 25 feet. footnote7_bla65um 7 N.C. Gen. Stat. § 163–166.4(a).
  • Election workers are responsible for enforcing peace and order at a polling place and may eject from a polling place any poll watcher who violates any of the state’s election laws. footnote8_692kgkz 8 N.C. Gen. Stat. §§ 163–47(a); 163–48.
  • Individuals are subject to misdemeanor charges for interfering with elections or intimidating a qualified voter. footnote9_i7rwndd 9 N.C. Gen. Stat. § 163–274(a).

Intimidation of Poll Workers and Election Officials

In North Carolina, it is a felony to intimidate or threaten an election official. footnote10_yjw4h48 10 N.C. Gen. Stat § 163–275(11). It is also a felony for any person to assault an election official while in the discharge of duties in the registration of voters or in conducting an election. footnote11_fl7uidf 11 N.C. Gen. Stat. § 163–275(10).

Challenges to Voter Eligibility at the Polls

In North Carolina, a voter’s eligibility to vote may be challenged by any registered voter of the same county. footnote12_9dm07a6 12 N.C. Gen. Stat. §§ 163–85(a), 163–87. North Carolina limits the bases for bringing challenges to residence, age, felony conviction, death, noncitizenship, or misrepresentation of identity. footnote13_1ly1sa0 13 N.C. Gen. Stat. § 163–85(c)(1)-(9). Additionally, challenges can only be made if the challenger knows, suspects, or reasonably believes the person is not entitled to vote. footnote14_xh3ocu6 14 N.C. Gen. Stat. § 163–90.1(a).

North Carolina law also outlines the process for mounting a challenge and what standard of proof is required to sustain it:

  • When a challenge is made on Election Day, a hearing is held on the same day. footnote15_y1o0cae 15 N.C. Gen. Stat. §163–88(a).
  • A challenge can only be sustained if it is substantiated by affirmative proof. Otherwise, there is a presumption that the voter is qualified. footnote16_cbfg633 16 N.C. Gen. Stat. § 163–90.1(b).

Coordinated Canvassing of Voters

While North Carolina law does not explicitly prohibit canvassing, both state and federal law prohibit canvassing efforts that are used to intimidate voters. The state board of elections issued a statement in February 2022 in response to private individuals knocking on doors to collect information from North Carolina voters about the 2020 election. The statement reminded voters that they need not disclose any private information, such as their voting record, to anyone who comes to their home. In addition to the federal laws prohibiting voter intimidation, North Carolina law provides further safeguards to protect against intimidation caused by predatory canvasses:

  • North Carolina law prohibits engaging in disruptive behavior that interferes with voting. footnote17_2ghkr0e 17 N.C. Gen. Stat. § 163–274(a)(5).
  • It is illegal to misrepresent the law to the public through mass mailing or any other means of communication to intimidate or discourage voters from exercising their rights. footnote18_oufa1uo 18 N.C. Gen. Stat. § 163–275(17).
  • It is illegal to impersonate a local or state government employee. footnote19_7keesxr 19 N.C. Gen. Stat. § 14–277(e).

Firearms at Polling Stations

North Carolina is an open carry state, meaning that a permit is not required for individuals to carry firearms in public. While there are no specific prohibitions on firearms in polling places, North Carolina law does limit the carrying of guns in a number of places that are commonly used as polling places, including schools and at demonstrations on state or county property. footnote20_yw4jhdp 20 N.C. Gen. Stat. §§ 14–269.2, 14.269.4. It is also a crime to brandish a firearm at a person or to carry a firearm in public for the purpose of terrifying others. footnote21_j2qotdg 21 N.C. Gen. Stat. § 14–34.

Voter Intimidation by Poll Workers

The Brennan Center published a detailed resource on the rules and constraints for North Carolina poll workers here.

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