Voters in Pennsylvania have the right to vote free from intimidation under federal and state law. footnote1_82ehk4g 1 18 U.S.C. §§ 594, 241; 52 U.S.C. § 10101(b); 25 Pa. Stat. § 3547(a)–(b). The federal protections that apply to all states are explained here. The following actions are specifically prohibited by Pennsylvania law and are punishable by fine or imprisonment:
- Using or threatening to use force or violence to compel any person to vote or refrain from voting, vote or refrain from voting for a particular candidate or question, or register or refrain from registering to vote. footnote2_o1xamsl 2 25 Pa. Stat. § 3547.
- Interfering with the ability of any elector to vote through duress, coercion, force, or fraud. Any person who violates this statute is guilty of a misdemeanor in the second degree. footnote3_wgpqmq2 3 Id.
In addition to federal and state law protections against voter intimidation, the Pennsylvania Department of State specifies that intimidation includes “disseminating false or misleading election information, including information on voting eligibility, polling place procedures, polling place hours, or voting methods.”
The below addresses the laws and policies that serve as guardrails against specific threats of intimidation.
Intimidation by Poll Watchers
In addition to Pennsylvania’s intimidation laws detailed above, the state places limits on who may serve as poll watchers at polling locations:
- Each watcher must be a qualified registered elector of the county in which the watcher is appointed to serve. footnote4_16wceo0 4 25 Pa. Stat. § 2687(b).
- Each candidate is entitled to appoint two poll watchers per electoral district in which he or she is on the ballot, and each political party that has nominated candidates may appoint three poll watchers for each district in which those candidates are to be voted for. footnote5_sw329ix 5 25 Pa. Stat. § 2687(a).
Further, Pennsylvania law restricts what poll watchers may do in their position:
- Watchers are allowed in a polling place, permitted to keep a list of voters, and entitled to challenge any voter. When no voters are present at a polling place, watchers are also permitted to inspect the voting checklist and the list of voters maintained by the county board. footnote6_yfyxccj 6 25 Pa. Stat. § 2687(b).
- Watchers may not engage in certain activities, including speaking directly to or threatening voters, asking voters for documentation, and blocking a polling place entrance.
- Each watcher is provided with a certificate from the county board of elections, stating their name and the name of the candidate or party they represent. Watchers are required to show their certificates upon request. footnote7_ao0y3oi 7 Id.
Finally, while the judge of elections — the lead poll worker — may not inhibit poll watchers from performing their duties, the judge is obligated to remove watchers engaging in the prohibited activities listed above.
Intimidation of Poll Workers and Election Officials
In Pennsylvania, it is illegal to threaten or intimidate election officials and poll workers:
- It is a crime to prevent or attempt to prevent any election official from holding the election, to interfere with the execution of their duties, or to use or threaten any violence against an election official. footnote8_bmf0lal 8 25 Pa. Stat. § 3527.
- It is illegal for any person, including election officials, to refuse to permit any election official, clerk, or machine inspector to perform their duties or to threaten violence against any such person. footnote9_6ui7zre 9 25 Pa. Stat. § 3508.
Although on-duty law enforcement officers in Pennsylvania are generally prohibited from being within 100 feet of a polling place, they may be called upon by election officials or any three qualified electors of an election district to handle disturbances and maintain order. footnote10_afs090d 10 25 Pa. Stat. § 3047.
Challenges to Voter Eligibility at the Polls
- In Pennsylvania, a voter’s eligibility based on their identity or residence may be challenged by any qualified elector, election official, overseer, or watcher at any primary or election. footnote11_ba93tbo 11 25 Pa. Stat. §§ 1329(a), 3050(d).
- A challenge must be in good faith and should be directed to the judge of elections, who shall determine if the challenge is based on actual evidence and if there is a good-faith basis to believe the challenged person is not qualified to vote. In determining the qualifications of electors, the judge of elections must “impartially and faithfully perform [his or her] duties,” as required by the oath taken before each election. footnote12_cr12ond 12 25 Pa. Stat. § 2677.
- A voter may not be refused a ballot unless the election officials of the precinct are satisfied that the challenger has properly proven the voter’s ineligibility with sufficient evidence.
- If a challenge is sustained, the voter must produce at least one qualified elector of the election district as a witness, who must make an affidavit of the voter’s identity or continued residence in the district. footnote13_q81p816 13 25 Pa. Stat. § 3050(d).
- Election officials may also challenge whether a voter’s signature on the voter’s certificate matches the signature in the district register. If challenged on this basis, the voter is required to affirm their identity and produce evidence in the form of at least one qualified voter of the election district as a witness, who must affirm the challenged voter’s identity or residence in the district. footnote14_u8po29b 14 25 Pa. Stat. § 3050(a.3)(2), (d).
Coordinated Canvassing of Voters
While Pennsylvania law does not explicitly prohibit canvassing, both state and federal law prohibit canvassing efforts that are used to intimidate voters. Any voter who receives a visit from a privately organized canvassing group does not have to answer any questions and should report any incidents of intimidation to their local officials. Additionally, it is a misdemeanor in Pennsylvania to impersonate a public official. footnote15_a8gjmzq 15 18 Pa. Stat. § 4912.
Voter Intimidation by Poll Workers
The Brennan Center and All Voting is Local published a detailed resource on the rules and constraints for Pennsylvania poll workers here.
118 U.S.C. §§ 594, 241; 52 U.S.C. § 10101(b); 25 Pa. Stat. § 3547(a)–(b).
225 Pa. Stat. § 3547.
425 Pa. Stat. § 2687(b).
525 Pa. Stat. § 2687(a).
625 Pa. Stat. § 2687(b).
825 Pa. Stat. § 3527.
925 Pa. Stat. § 3508.
1025 Pa. Stat. § 3047.
1125 Pa. Stat. §§ 1329(a), 3050(d).
1225 Pa. Stat. § 2677.
1325 Pa. Stat. § 3050(d).
1425 Pa. Stat. § 3050(a.3)(2), (d).
1518 Pa. Stat. § 4912.