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Voter Intimidation and Election Worker Intimidation Resource Guide

Federal and state laws provide protection from the new threats facing voters and election officials this year.

Published: October 28, 2022
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This year, many voters and election workers are increasingly concerned about threats of intimidation from official and private actors both at the polls and beyond. Since 2020, there have been more threats, politicization, and violence around the election process. While these are not new concerns, the sources and the targets of these threats have shifted in 2022. Thankfully, the many federal and state laws addressing intimidation are flexible enough to account for this, and officials are already working to ensure free and fair elections.

This resource provides an overview of the federal and state laws that serve as guardrails against the intimidation of voters and election workers and the disruption of the voting process. We focus on 10 states where the risk of disruption has been especially high based on the volume of false allegations and anti-voter activity: Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Wisconsin. We have also created state-specific resources detailing the relevant safeguards under state law that protect voters and officials from intimidation.

Emerging Threats of Election Intimidation in 2022

Heading into the midterms, there are increased threats to the political process, raising concerns about the potential intimidation of voters and others involved in elections.

During the 2020 election and in the months following, misinformation and lies about the integrity of the electoral process fueled political violence across the country. The insurrection at the Capitol on January 6, 2021 — aimed at overturning the results of the presidential election — was the most visible example, but it was not the only one. There were a number of particularly concerning incidents of voter intimidation, as documented in a Brennan Center report.

The risk of such violence and intimidation has only increased in 2022. Violent rhetoric is being used to fuel grievances about election losses. The Brennan Center’s survey of election officials found that over half now fear for the physical safety of their colleagues. The FBI issued a press release earlier this month warning that seven states continue to see unusual levels of threats to election workers.

There have already been reports of intimidation and disruption by poll watchers taking place in the 2022 primary elections, which are traditionally less contentious than general elections. Poll watchers can play an important role in ensuring transparency in elections, but they have also been a source of intimidation in the past, and there’s new reason to be concerned in 2022. A number of states have passed new laws since 2020 strengthening protections for partisan poll watchers or removing poll workers’ authority to restrain them. And the Republican Party has set out to recruit a grassroots “army” of poll watchers now that the GOP is no longer restrained by a decades-long federal consent decree put in place after the party used observers to intimidate voters in the early 1980s.

Voters may also face intimidation beyond the polls from vigilante actors fueled by the false narrative that the 2020 election was “stolen.” In Arizona, right-wing extremist groups have recruited volunteers to monitor drop boxes; in at least one instance, volunteers showed up armed and in tactical gear. In Colorado, a group called the U.S. Election Integrity Project organized volunteers, some of whom may have been armed, to go door-to-door in search of voter fraud, allegedly knocking on as many as 10,000 voters’ doors. And meanwhile, in Georgia, activist groups organized unfounded mass challenges to tens of thousands of voters’ eligibility.

Voters and election workers also face increased threats from official actors, such as poll workers and law enforcement. Across the country, organizations that spread false conspiracy theories about the 2020 election are attempting to recruit and train thousands of poll workers this year. In a poll worker training hosted by the Wayne County GOP the day before the Michigan primary, attendees were instructed to ignore election laws and were referred to as “undercover agents.” At other recruitment events, speakers have outlined combative strategies for poll workers to challenge voters and question routine election processes.

There are numerous signs that politicized law enforcement officials could pose new threats in 2022. A national association of sheriffs who falsely claim the authority to ignore laws they deem to be unconstitutional has encouraged its members to investigate election fraud. And several states have taken action in the last two years that could exacerbate problems. Many have passed laws that criminalize the conduct of election officials or others who seek to help voters. And some states, such as Florida, have given partisan politicians new law enforcement departments or resources to investigate allegations of voter fraud or election official misconduct. In August, Florida’s newly created Office of Election Crimes and Security arrested 20 formerly convicted people for allegedly voting illegally — many of whom were led to believe by a government actor that they were eligible to vote.

These disturbing trends and today’s tense political climate raise the specter of potential misconduct at the polls in 2022 and beyond. But federal and state laws provide broad safeguards against these threats and others.

General Safeguards Against Election Intimidation

Both federal and state law are clear: intimidating voters or election workers is illegal.

Federal law prohibits anyone, whether state official or private citizen, from intimidating or threatening any citizen for voting, or attempting to do so. Whether the person intended their actions to intimidate is irrelevant if they have the effect of intimidating voters.

Specifically, both the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act of 1957 prohibit actual or attempted intimidation, threats, or coercion of voters.footnote1_xR8fGm0nRRvp152 U.S.C. § 10307(b); 52 U.S.C. § 10101(b).The Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871 prohibits conspiracies that use “force, intimidation, or threat” to prevent voters from giving “support or advocacy” in federal elections.footnote2_ykPqFVuGpsWP242 U.S.C. § 1985(3).And the National Voter Registration Act prohibits the intimidation of persons for registering or attempting to register to vote.footnote3_knD4dCsR2YOZ352 U.S.C. § 20511(1)(A).

These laws and companion provisions in the criminal code provide significant civil and criminal penalties for bad actors who engage in intimidation.footnote4_fKdcxekWM9q14See, 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); 42 U.S.C. § 1985(3). See also U.S. Department of Justice, Federal Prosecution of Election Offenses, Eighth Edition, 2017, 33–38, 49–54, 56–58, operate expansively to prohibit any form of intimidation by private individuals or official actors that puts others “in fear of harassment and interference with their right to vote.”footnote5_yrKVyOFFxmoG5National Coalition on Black Civic Participation v. Wohl, 498 F. Supp. 3d 457, 480 (S.D.N.Y. 2020); see also U.S. Department of Justice, Federal Law Constraints on Post-Election “Audits”, 2021, 5–7,

Of course, this covers any form or threat of violent, physical intimidation. But federal law extends beyond physical threats to cover a wide range of intimidating behavior. Intimidation may include, for example, efforts to closely follow, monitor, or surveil voters at polling places;footnote6_tgodBfFtInF36Daschle v. Thune, No. Civ. 04–4177, Complaint, 2004 WL 3650153 (D.S.D. Nov. 1, 2004); Temporary Restraining Order (D.S.D. Nov. 2, 2004). improper threats of potential criminal prosecution, arrest, or other legal action;footnote7_gOFcmRU4LtO47See, e.g., Wohl, 498 F. Supp. 3d, at 465–66 (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. Feb. 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); see also, e.g., United States v. McLeod, 385 F.2d 734, 747–50 (5th Cir. 1967) (discussing “baseless arrests and prosecutions”).and threats to disseminate voters’ personal information, particularly when the dissemination is intended to trigger harassment.footnote8_iH5fcDJz4yVe8League 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. Aug. 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).And baseless voter challenges may also violate federal intimidation laws, especially when those challenges target voters of color.footnote9_kTEk5LZ3uw869Democratic National Comm. v. Republican National Comm., No. 81–03876, 2016 WL 6584915, at *2–4 (D.N.J. Nov. 5, 2016) (describing several baseless voter challenges that violated the initial consent decree issued in 1982).

While these laws have typically been used to protect voters, many also provide protection to election officials, election workers, and others “urging or aiding” another person to vote or register to vote.footnote10_irWG0peQvPI81052 U.S.C. § 20511(1)(B); 52 U.S.C. § 10307(b); see also 42 U.S.C. § 1985(1) (prohibiting intimidation “to prevent…any person from accepting or holding any office or trust, or place of confidence under the United States, or from discharging any duties thereof”); 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 fact, in 1965 Congress specifically added language to the Voting Rights Act to extend coverage of the anti-intimidation provision beyond voters to also prohibit the intimidation of others involved in the broader voting process.footnote11_wEgV0bOH3vZi11H.R. Rep. No. 89–439, at 30 (1965).Federal law also provides specific protection against the disturbing new trend of threatening phone calls, emails, and social media messages aimed at election officials and election workers. 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.footnote12_qIlrqxVSLh2m1218 U.S.C. § 875.For example, in August, the Department of Justice indicted a man in Missouri for threatening an Arizona election official through a voicemail message.

Federal anti-intimidation laws may be enforced directly by the DOJ, and criminal charges can be brought by local prosecutors where appropriate. The DOJ may also send election monitors to polling places to monitor voting processes for compliance with federal voting laws, including the prohibition against intimidation. The DOJ launched a task force last year dedicated to addressing the rise in threats against election workers nationwide. Regardless of government action, however, victims of intimidation can bring their own suits to stop bad actors in federal court.

Beyond the broad federal provisions prohibiting all forms of intimidation, state laws also provide additional safeguards to protect voters and election workers, sometimes carrying steeper penalties than federal provisions.footnote13_ea1j4hyECzQE13See, e.g., Fla. Stat. § 104.0615 (carrying a sentence of up to five years in prison).Each of the 10 states included in this analysis have their own laws prohibiting voter intimidation.footnote14_a8MmJXEEyE4S14Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 16–1013(A); Fla. Stat. § 104.0615; Ga. Code § 21–2–567; Mich. Comp. Laws § 168.932(a); Nev. Rev. Stat. § 293.710; N.H. Rev. Stat. § 659:40; N.C. Gen. Stat. § 163–274(a)(7); 25 P.S. § 3547; Tex. Elec. Code § 62.0115(b)(2); Wis. Stat. § 12.09.And intimidating a voter to deter them from voting is a felony in Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, and Wisconsin.footnote15_ofCIzDsOp6TO15Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 16–1006; Fla. Stat. § 104.0615; Ga. Code § 21–2–567; Mich. Comp. Laws § 168.932(a); Nev. Rev. Stat. § 293.710(2); N.H. Rev. Stat. § 659:40(IV); Wis. Stat. § 12.60(1)(a).

End Notes

Specific Safeguards Against Election Intimidation

In addition to the general safeguards against intimidation under federal and state law, many states have rules in place that provide additional protection against specific threats. State laws often regulate many of the actors involved in the election process — including poll watchers, election workers, and voter challengers — in ways that help reduce the risk of intimidation.

Intimidation by Poll Watchers

State laws provide specific limitations on poll watchers, thereby lessening the risk of misconduct or voter intimidation at the polls.

Most states limit who can serve as poll watchers and how many poll watchers may be present at any one polling location.footnote1_tx2CfyoUHODs1Ariz. Rev. Stat. §16–590; Fla. Stat. §101.131(1); Ga. Code § 21–2–408; Nev. Admin. Code § 293.245; N.C. Gen. Stat. § 163–45(a); 25 P.S. §§ 2687(a), Tex. Elec. Code § 33.007(a); Wis. Stat. § 7.41(1).In many states, poll watchers are limited to appointed representatives of a candidate or a party. Some states also permit neutral, nonpartisan observers at the polls. In Florida, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania, poll watchers must also be registered to vote in the county where they seek to observe the polls.footnote2_e4L44T4145BZ2Fla. Stat. §101.131; N.C. Gen. Stat. § 163–45(a); 25 P.S. § 2687(b).

In addition to limiting who can serve as a poll watcher, most states have strict limits on what poll watchers can do. Some states, including Florida, Georgia, Nevada, and Texas, require poll watchers to wear a visible, official form of identification provided by election workers to ensure that only authorized watchers enter the voting area and remain accountable for their conduct.footnote3_gJPYcNOhlQtQ3Fla. Stat. §101.131(5); Ga. Code § 21–2–408(d); Nev. Admin. Code § 293.245(7); Tex. Elec. Code § 33.051(f).Some states, including Georgia, Florida, Nevada, and North Carolina, prohibit poll watchers from speaking to voters.footnote4_xW7Ukr5KF0mB4Ga. Code § 21–2–408(d); Fla. Stat. §101.131(1); Nev. Admin. Code § 293.245(2)(a); N.C. Gen. Stat. § 163–45(c).And in all 10 of the high-risk states in this resource, poll workers have the authority to remove from the polling place poll watchers who abuse their roles.footnote5_lhrSGbBRq9wG5Elections Serv. Div., Ariz. Secretary of State’s Off., 2019 Elections Procedures Manual 140 (2019); Fla. Stat. § 102.031(4)(c); Ga. Code § 21–2–408(d); Mich. Bureau of Elections, Election Officials’ Manual, ch. 11 at 39; Nev. Admin. Code § 293.245(3); N.H. Department of State, New Hampshire Election Procedure Manual: 2020–2021; N.C. Gen. Stat. § 163–48; Penn. Department of State, Guidance Concerning Poll Watchers and Authorized Representatives 4 (2020); Tex. Elec. Code 32.075(g)–(h); Wis. Stat. §§ 7.41(3), 7.37(2).

Intimidation of Poll Workers and Election Officials

State and federal criminal law protect individuals against harassment, assault, and battery. Some states have taken steps to criminally prosecute attacks on election workers. The Michigan attorney general, for example, has publicly stated her intent to prosecute anyone who illegally threatens election officials. Other states have taken steps to protect election workers through legislation. For example, it is a felony in Georgia, New Hampshire, and Pennsylvania to interfere with a poll worker in performing their duties.footnote6_zVWycMISil266Ga. Code § 21–2–569; N.H. Rev. Stat. § 659:41; 25 P.S. § 3527.

Challenges to Voter Eligibility at the Polls

As with all forms of voter intimidation, state and federal law prohibit voter challenges that are used to intimidate. Discriminatory challenges based on race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, or membership in a language-minority group are also illegal under federal and state law.footnote7_s9R3uUM4OJ2w718 U.S.C. § 242; 42 U.S.C. § 1983; 52 U.S.C. §§ 10301, 10303, 10503.Additionally, most states limit who is authorized to challenge another voter’s eligibility. In Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Nevada, New Hampshire, and North Carolina, for example, challengers must reside in the same precinct or county as a voter whose eligibility they wish to challenge.footnote8_lKtXOVPVbYqK8Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 16–591; Fla. Stat. §101.111 (1)(a); Ga. Code § 21–2–230(a); Nev. Rev. Stat. 293.303(1)(a); N.H. Rev. Stat. § 659:27(I); N.C. Gen. Stat. §§ 163–87.In Texas, only election officials are permitted to challenge voter eligibility at polling places.footnote9_di7LlDCmAnS89Tex. Elec. Code § 63.001(c).

Some states also have procedural safeguards in place to protect voters from challenges based on unreliable or incomplete information, such as requiring challenges to be made in writingfootnote10_uWB6Kouo66FM10Fla. Stat. § 101.111(1)(a); Ga. Code § 21–2–230(a); N.H. Rev. Stat. §§ 659:27-a(I).or under oath.footnote11_hzkowFNxaXpc11Fla. Stat. § 101.111(1)(a); Nev. Rev. Stat. 293.303(1)(a); N.H. Rev. Stat. §§ 659:27-a(I).Other states require specific standards of proof to sustain a challenge to a voter’s eligibility.footnote12_tomcp4OctHXb12Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 16–121.01(B) (“clear and convincing evidence”); Fla. Stat. § 101.048(2)(a) (“preponderance of the evidence”); Ga. Code § 21–2–230(b) (“probable cause”); Mich. Comp. Laws 168.727(1), (3) (“good reason to suspect” and with “good cause”); Nev. Rev. Stat. 293.303(1)(a) (based on “personal knowledge”); N.H. Rev. Stat. §§ 659:27(II), 659:27a(II) (“well grounded” based on “personal knowledge or other basis of probable cause”); N.C. Gen. Stat. § 163–90.1 (“knows, suspects or reasonably believes” and “substantiated by affirmative proof”); Penn. Dept. of State, Guidance Concerning Poll Watchers and Authorized Representatives 3 (2020) (“good faith”); Wis. Stat. §§ 6.92, 6.925 (“for cause”).For example, Arizona requires clear and convincing evidence, meaning that a challenge cannot be affirmed unless a majority of the board is satisfied that the challenger has proven the voter’s ineligibility with highly probable or reasonably certain evidence.footnote13_f47Ylpb5F9Uy13Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 16–121.01(B); Kent K. v. Bobby M., 110 P.3d 1013, 1019 (Ariz. 2005).Georgia requires probable cause, meaning the county board of elections must find the existence of facts and circumstances that would create a reasonable belief that an accused person committed the act alleged.footnote14_ihf46B0g2pin14Ga. Code § 21–2–230(a); Hicks v. Brantley, 29 S.E. 459, 461 (Ga. 1897).Moreover, in most circumstances, challenged voters must be allowed to cast a provisional ballot under federal and state law, which, if the voter’s eligibility is later confirmed, is counted the same as a regular ballot.footnote15_dWqnE567f72b15See, e.g., 52 U.S.C. § 21082; Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 16–592(C); Fla. Stat. § 101.111(1)(c); Ga. Code § 21–2–230(i).

Coordinated Canvassing of Voters

Election deniers are engaging in widespread canvassing efforts in many states, both by phone and in person, questioning voters’ eligibility or past voting records to root out nonexistent fraud. To be clear, canvassing efforts that result in the intimidation of a voter or target voters based on race are illegal under federal and state law. Indeed, the Department of Justice sent a letter to the Arizona senate in 2021 specifically warning that a system of door-to-door canvassing to verify voter eligibility may constitute unlawful intimidation under federal law.

Additionally, canvassers who portray themselves as official actors may be in violation of other state laws as well. 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 of North Carolina.”footnote16_pMk75jZYJBZJ16N.C. Gen. Stat. § 14–277(e).In Texas, it is illegal to impersonate a public servant with intent to induce another to rely on the person’s pretended acts.footnote17_y9nxyGBtq2Ze17Tex. Penal Code Ann. § 37.11(a)(1).Similar prohibitions exist in many states, including Florida, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.footnote18_jhBpXK8nkEdB18Fla. Stat. § 843.0855(2); Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.217c; Nev. Rev. Stat. § 199.430; 18 Pa. Comp. Stat. § 4912; Wis. Stat. § 946.69(2).

Vigilante-led canvassing may have even further-reaching effects than the intimidation of voters at their homes. Efforts designed to gather information on voters and build a record for mass voter challenges can be used as a method to disenfranchise eligible voters by seeking to remove voters from the rolls before an election. However, state and federal law protect voters from these attacks as well.

Mass voter challenges are subject to many of the same safeguards as are applicable to challenges generally, including, for example, requiring a challenger to reside in the same county and for a challenge to be based on personal knowledge.footnote19_dEsTyiOGVl2J19See, 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); Tex. Elec. Code §§ 16.091, 16.092.Other states have additional procedural safeguards regarding 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.footnote20_iJ27y3nfUMiL20N.C. Gen. Stat. § 163–85(a); Nev. Rev. Stat. § 293.547.

In addition, federal law provides procedural safeguards to prevent systematic purges of the voter rolls. For example, the National Voter Registration Act prohibits systematic removal of voters from the rolls on the grounds of change of residence within 90 days of a federal election,footnote21_pQ1BxjOqSaZK2152 U.S.C. § 20507(c)(2)(A).and in order to comply with federal due process requirements, challenged voters should receive notice and an opportunity to answer the grounds of the challenge.footnote22_fT4J30xUGqNS22The right to vote is a fundamental right, Reynolds v. Sims, 377 U.S. 533, 561–62 (1964), and “[t]he fundamental requirement of due process is the opportunity to be heard at a meaningful time and in a meaningful manner.” Mathews v. Eldridge, 424 U.S. 319, 333 (1976) (internal quotations omitted).

Firearms at Polling Locations

As recently as June, the Supreme Court has made clear that states are free to restrict the possession of guns at polling places under the Second Amendment.footnote23_bh1SX7BL33dg23N.Y. State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen, 142 S. Ct. 2111, 2133 (2022).Currently, at least 10 states expressly ban openly carrying guns at polling places, including Arizona, Florida, Georgia, and Texas.footnote24_hZZKTMq0X54Q24Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 13–3102(A)(11–12); Cal. Elec. Code. § 18544(a); Fla. Stat. § 790.06(12)(a)6); Ga. Code §§ 21–2–413(i), 16–11–127(b)(7); La. Rev. Stat. § 18:1461.7(C)(3); Mo. Rev. Stat. § 571.107(1)(2); Ohio Rev. Code § 3505.21(B); S.C. Code § 23.31.-215(M)(3); Tex. Penal Code 46.03(a)(2); Va. Code § 24.2–604(A)(iv).Other states prohibit carrying concealed weapons to the polls as well.footnote25_tow8BZNUn0Pi25Miss. Code § 45–9–101(13); Mo. Rev. Stat. § 571.107(1)(2); Neb. Rev. Stat. § 69–2441(1)(a); S.C. Code § 23.31.215(M)(3).As of 2020, over 40 percent of the voting-age population lives in a state that explicitly restricts guns at the polls. In addition, other states prohibit firearm possession at locations that are frequently used as polling places, such as in schools or government buildings. And local laws may provide additional regulations on firearm possession in some states. In any case, even in states that do not categorically prohibit firearms in all polling places, anyone who chooses to carry a firearm must still comply with federal and state law prohibiting voter intimidation. The Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence issued a detailed report in 2020 with a state-by-state analysis of the laws that prevent armed intimidation at polling places.

Aggressive Electioneering at Polling Locations

Supporters of a particular campaign or candidate may advocate for their preferred candidate in public, as permitted by law. However, that freedom is curtailed in and around polling locations to mitigate the potential for intimidation and harassment of prospective voters.

All states have electioneering laws that restrict the political activities one may engage in within polling places, often regulating what people can say, do, and wear at the polls in support of a candidate or campaign on the ballot. Many states prohibit electioneering within a buffer zone around a polling location, typically between 50 to 200 feet of the polling place entrance. For example, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Texas, and Wisconsin all restrict electioneering within 100 feet or less of the entrance to a polling place.footnote26_zvlQPNwuqi7Z26Fla. Stat. § 102.031(4)(c) (150 feet); Ga. Code § 21–2–414(a)(1) (150 feet); Mich. Comp. Laws § 168.744 (100 feet); Nev. Rev. Stat. § 293.740(1) (100 feet); Tex. Elec. Code § 61.003(a) (100 feet); Wis. Stat. § 12.03(2)(b) (100 feet).Additionally, some states, such as New Hampshire, specifically prohibit individuals from wearing campaign-related apparel within a polling place.footnote27_tXAzzPI4j8rB27N.H. Rev. Stat. § 652:16-h.

These laws help limit potential harassment and intimidation voters may experience when trying to cast their ballots from anyone trying to influence their vote.

Voter Intimidation by Poll Workers

Poll workers, regardless of their partisan affiliation, must adhere to state election law. In each of our key states, poll workers undergo standardized training from the state or local elections office and are issued standardized handbooks outlining a poll worker’s rules and responsibilities.

Additionally, poll workers in Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Wisconsin must take an oath of office to uphold state law when serving as poll workers.footnote28_wj3CDMe0bexS28Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 16–534(C); Fla. Stat. § 102.012(1)(a); Ga. Code §§ 21–2–93, 21–2–94; Mich. Comp. Laws § 168.680; N.H. Rev. Stat. §§ 658:4, 658:7; N.C. Gen. Stat. § 163–41(e); 25 Pa. Stat. §§ 2676–2680; Tex. Elec. Code § 62.003; Wis. Stat. § 7.30(5).In Georgia and Pennsylvania, poll workers may not “vexatiously” delay voting.footnote29_rgTM55ZaEMJh29Ga. Code §21–2–94; 25 Pa. Stat. § 2678.Poll workers who interfere with election processes or refuse to follow applicable law can also be removed or reassigned from their polling location.footnote30_xgknp4CrKnOC30Secretary of State, State of Ariz., Guidance on Voting Location Conduct, (last visited Oct. 14, 2022); Fla. Stat. § 102.014(3); Michigan Bureau of Elec­tions, “Author­ity of City and Town­ship Clerks Over Elec­tion Inspect­ors,” June 2022,­tion-Admin­is­trat­ors/Clerk-Author­ity-Over-Elec­tion-Inspect­ors.pdf?rev=32dc06a9b2224745a153c9e3a6d10221&hash=2D4E2F9C56CF3CF1962B­F24B934777F5; N.C. Gen. Stat. § 163–48; Tex. Elec. Code §§ 32.002(g), 32.034(f); Wis. Stat. § 7.37(2).

For more information on poll workers, the Brennan Center recently published resources detailing the legal and procedural safeguards in key states to ensure poll workers’ compliance with state and federal law.

State and Local Law Enforcement

State and local law enforcement officers may have the right or duty to be at the polls for the purpose of helping election officials ensure a safe voting environment. They can be important partners in ensuring the safety of voters and election workers at the polls. If, for example, private citizens try to interfere with the right to vote, election workers may call in law enforcement to protect the public and ensure no one is deterred from voting.

However, voters may feel intimidated by the presence of law enforcement while voting and by recent state efforts directing law enforcement resources into the investigation and potential prosecution of election-related crimes.footnote31_gy4KewCK3Bh231See e.g., GA S.B. 441; FL S.B. 524.These new directives do not mandate law enforcement presence at polling locations in those states, nor do they change the procedures by which an eligible voter may cast a ballot or have that ballot counted.

Moreover, states have placed a variety of legal restrictions on state and local law enforcement to curtail the risk of voter intimidation. In some states, including Pennsylvania, officers who show up to the polls without being called there by election officials have committed a crime.footnote32_zLGwsQdgMyoF3225 Pa. Stat. §§ 3047, 3520.In Arizona and Florida, law enforcement may not be inside a polling location unless responding to an emergency, voting, or with permission from poll workers, respectively.footnote33_glvlAUl218Pq33Secretary of State, State of Ariz., Guidance on Voting Location Conduct, (last visited Oct. 14, 2022); Fla. Stat. § 102.031(3)(a)(6).In various other states, including Florida, Nevada, North Carolina, and Wisconsin, officers at the polls must obey orders from election officials.footnote34_xojjOTkawu4X34Fla. Stat. § 102.031(2); Nev. Rev. Stat. 293C.220; N.C. Gen. Stat. § 163–48; Wis. Stat. § 7.37(2).And in North Carolina, in addition to the general federal and state restrictions on voter intimidation, state law specifically prohibits intimidation by a law enforcement officer.footnote35_pRH98IV50Dyn35N.C. Gen. Stat § 163–271.

In practice, election officials and law enforcement typically develop plans ahead of elections to ensure that voting processes will be orderly and fair, including through intrastate working groups coordinated by election officials, such as the Committee for Safe and Secure Elections, to plan for a variety of scenarios. The Georgetown Institution for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection and the Crime and Justice Institute issued a guidance document addressing how to prepare for and ensure public safety during elections.

• • •

While the specific threats of intimidation today may differ in important ways from those of past elections, laws are in place to address these shifting concerns. Intimidation or harassment of voters or election workers is illegal. In addition, there is a range of state laws and local policies that deter misconduct by private or official actors at the polls and beyond. These laws and policies act as safeguards for voters and election workers against intimidation.

End Notes