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Virginia: Protections Against Intimidation of Voters and Election Workers

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

Last Updated: May 21, 2024
Published: May 14, 2024
View the entire Laws Protecting Voters and Election Workers from Intimidation series

Voters in Virginia have the right to vote free from intimidation under federal and state law. footnote1_gm55mib 1 See, e.g., 18 U.S.C. §§ 594, 241; 52 U.S.C. § 10101(b); Va. Code § 24.2–1005.  The federal protections that apply to all states are explained here. The following actions are specifically prohibited by Virginia law:

  • Intimidating, threatening, or coercing or attempting to intimidate, threaten, or coerce any person to vote or to deter or prevent the person from voting. footnote2_9lpq6b0 2 Va. Code § 24.2–1005(A).
  • Hindering, intimidating, or interfering with a voter to prevent the casting of a secret ballot. footnote3_yfr0ze4 3 Va. Code § 24.2–607(A).
  • Hindering or delaying a voter in entering or leaving a polling place. footnote4_8yeq9kn 4 Va. Code § 24.2–604(A).
  • Conspiring with two or more people to injure, oppress, threaten, intimidate, prevent, or hinder any citizen from the free exercise of their right to vote or because of their exercise of such right. footnote5_hjprzgg 5 Va. Code § 24.2–1015.
  • An official failing or refusing to permit a qualified voter to vote. footnote6_5jy7uzi 6 Va. Code § 24.2–1005.2(A).
  • Providing a ballot to someone who cannot understand the language of the ballot and providing misinformation regarding its contents with the intent to deceive the voter and induce a vote contrary to the voter’s choice. footnote7_p6fsehl 7 Va. Code § 24.2–1005.2(B).
  • Knowingly communicating false information about the date, time, place of an election, or registration status with the intent to impede a voter in exercising the right to vote. footnote8_qm0edor 8 Va. Code § 24.2–1005.1(A).
  • Interfering or attempting to interfere, by threat or force, with a registrar, a person applying or declining to register to vote, or a person entering or leaving a registration location or location offering mail ballot applications. footnote9_cjg7qro 9 Va. Code § 24.2–1002.
  • Campaigning at voter registration locations. footnote10_yrjho8c 10 Va. Code § 24.2–1003.
  • Electioneering within 40 feet of a polling place. footnote11_9wosotc 11 Va. Code § 24.2–604(A).
  • Using loudspeakers within 300 feet of any polling place. footnote12_9hls3ke 12 Va. Code § 24.2–605.

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

Challenges to Voter Eligibility at the Polls

In Virginia, a voter may be challenged by another qualified voter or by an election official. footnote13_f0paz8b 13 Va. Code § 24.2–651.  However, state law also provides for some guardrails. For example, a challenge must be completed on a signed written form that expressly states that the challenger is subject to penalties for hindering, intimidating, or interfering with a voter. footnote14_t8c98h5 14 Va. Code § 24.2–651.  A challenged voter who signs a statement affirming eligibility can vote a regular ballot unless the pollbook indicates that the voter has already cast a ballot in person (in which case the voter would vote provisionally). footnote15_xqaklo9 15 Va. Code §§ 24.2–651, 24.2–651.1.

The National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) provides additional safeguards to protect voters from mass challenges before an election:

  • The NVRA expressly recognizes that National Change of Address information is not sufficient on its own to serve as the basis for canceling a voter’s registration. footnote16_s0mquqj 16 52 U.S.C. § 20507(c)(1)(B).
  • The NVRA prohibits the systematic removal of voters from the rolls within 90 days of a federal election. footnote17_tcbhz76 17 52 U.S.C. § 20507(c)(2)(A).

Intimidation of Poll Workers and Election Officials

In addition to federal protections against the intimidation of election workers, Virginia law prohibits intentional intimidation, threats, or coercion to hinder or prevent election officials and their employees from administering an election, and attempts thereof. footnote18_mfs70ll 18 Va. Code § 24.2–1000.  Other general criminal laws also apply and prohibit some of the kinds of intimidating conduct that election officials have confronted in recent years, including, for example, picketing at a person’s residence in a manner that disrupts or threatens to disrupt an individual’s right to tranquility at home. footnote19_61k06rz 19 Va. Code § 18.2–419.

Voter Intimidation by Poll Workers

Federal and state prohibitions on intimidation apply equally to poll workers. Virginia has many additional guardrails in place to stop poll workers from disrupting election processes. These limitations include but are not limited to:

  • Appointment, bipartisan representation, and removal: In Virginia, general registrars are responsible for voter registration, maintaining the pollbooks, and preserving order and voter registration locations, among other duties. footnote20_9swp71c 20 Va. Code § 24.2–114.  General registrars are appointed by their local election boards to four-year terms, subject to annual performance reviews by those boards, and subject to removal for failure to discharge their duties. footnote21_qd7bzu1 21 Va. Code §§ 24.2–109, 24.2–109.1, 24.2.110.  General registrars appoint and may remove deputy registrars. footnote22_ct9qai9 22 Va. Code § 24.2–112.  General registrars appoint at least three citizens to serve as “officers of election,” or poll workers, for each precinct; such officers should be precinct voters insofar as is practicable. footnote23_4sz6dd9 23 Va. Code § 24.2–115.  Electoral boards may also appoint additional officers at any time as needed or as required by law. footnote24_8xgtdh4 24 Va. Code § 24.2–115.  The two political parties with the highest number of votes in the last gubernatorial election must be represented by the election officers. footnote25_t7ucyft 25 Va. Code § 24.2–115.  Each precinct must have a chief election officer and assistant, representing different parties where practicable. footnote26_55chhbr 26 Va. Code § 24.2–115.
  • Training: All election officers must receive training consistent with state board of elections standards, and additional training whenever election procedures change in such a way to alter the officers’ duties or conduct. footnote27_hymsd2o 27 Va. Code § 24.2–115.2.
  • Oath: All registrars and election officers must be willing to follow applicable laws and procedures. Under Virginia law, registrars and election officers must take an oath to “support the Constitution of the United States, and the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Virginia, and [to] faithfully and impartially discharge all the duties incumbent upon” them. footnote28_5cxonk4 28 Va. Code § 24.2–120; Va. Const. art. II, § 7.

Intimidation by Poll Watchers

In Virginia, the official term for a poll watcher or observer is “authorized representative.” State law limits who may serve as an observer and what observers may do:

  • Observers must be qualified to vote in Virginia and may not be a candidate on the ballot. footnote29_j3dc83w 29 Va. Code § 24.2–604.4(B).
  • Election officials may permit no more than three observers per party or independent candidate in a room where the election is being conducted. footnote30_ereobyw 30 Va. Code § 24.2–604.4(A).
  • Observers may not: (1) hinder or delay a voter, (2) provide or show any ballot or campaign material to anyone, (3) attempt to influence any person casting a vote, (4) hinder or delay an election official, (5) be in a position to see a voter’s marked ballot, or (6) otherwise impede the orderly conduct of the election. footnote31_skq4pec 31 Va. Code § 24.2–604(C).
  • Observers must be close enough to see and hear what is occurring at a polling place or vote-counting site, so long as such observation does not violate a voter’s right to a secret ballot and does not interfere with the orderly process of the election. footnote32_nawu4kb 32 Va. Code § 24.2–604.4(C).
  • Observers may not use a wireless device to record images inside a polling place or vote-counting site. footnote33_ttt2yqy 33 Va. Code § 24.2–604.4(D).
  • Election officials may prohibit observers from using wireless devices if their use would intimidate a voter, violate the right to a secret ballot, or otherwise disturb or interfere with the election. footnote34_4eepw7q 34 Va. Code § 24.2–604.4(D).
  • Observers may not assist voters or wear anything indicating that they may assist voters inside or within 40 feet of a polling place. footnote35_os7b935 35 Va. Code § 24.2–604.4(E).

Election officials may remove any observer who does not adhere to the applicable guidelines.

Law Enforcement

Election officials, with the consent of the local chief law enforcement officer, may designate a law enforcement officer to be present at a polling place to preserve order inside and outside. footnote36_3xfkmfb 36 Va. Code § 24.2–606.

Guns at Polling Places

Virginia prohibits the knowing possession of any firearm within 40 feet of any building, or part thereof, used as a polling place, with exceptions for law enforcement. footnote37_5kfblk3 37 Va. Code § 24.2–604(A), (F).  Therefore, the presence of any such firearm in or around a polling place should be treated as intimidation. Virginia also prohibits firearm possession in government buildings, footnote38_gxu7isw 38 Va. Code § 18.2–283.2(B).  which are commonly used as drop-box locations and vote-counting sites. Additionally, it is a crime in Virginia to point, hold, or brandish a firearm with the intent to intimidate any person or in a manner that reasonably induces fear in another. footnote39_ifxl542 39 Va. Code §§ 18.2–433.2(A)(3), 18.2–282(A).

Even at locations where firearms are not prohibited, firearm carry may constitute unlawful intimidation. Such conduct may consist of carrying a visible firearm while near a polling location or at a 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.

Door-to-Door Intimidation

Both state and federal law prohibit canvassing efforts that are used to intimidate voters. footnote40_l8hbxlf 40 18 U.S.C. §§ 594, 241; Va. Code § 24.2–1005.  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.

End Notes