The ACLU prepared this Know Your Rights resource for election season in response to heightened concern regarding voter intimidation at polling places. Contact the Election Protection Hotline (866-OUR-VOTE), the Department of Justice Voting Rights Hotline (800-253-3931), or an attorney if you believe that your rights have been violated.
What is voter intimidation?
Federal law, and many states’ laws, prohibit voter intimidation. Federal law makes clear that "no person … shall intimidate, threaten, coerce … any other person for the purpose of interfering with the right of [that] person to vote or to vote as he may choose."
If someone is interfering or attempting to interfere with your right to vote, or with anyone else’s right to vote, that may be voter intimidation and a violation of federal law.
Voter intimidation is not common. But here are some examples:
- Aggressively questioning voters about their citizenship, criminal record, or other qualifications to vote , in a manner intended to interfere with the voters’ rights;
- Falsely presenting oneself as an elections official;
- Spreading false information about voter requirements, such as an ability to speak English, or the need to present certain types of photo identification (in states with no such requirement);
- Displaying false or misleading signs about voter fraud and the criminal penalties related thereto; and
- Other forms of harassment, particularly harassment targeted towards non-English speakers and voters of color.
Who can I report intimidation to?
You can report intimidation to:
- The Election Protection Hotline: 1-866-OUR-VOTE or 1-888-VE-Y-VOTA (en Español)
- The U.S. Department of Justice Voting Rights Hotline: 800-253-3931; TTY line 877-267-8971
- Local and state officials, including poll workers; your county clerk, elections commissioner, elections supervisor; or your state board of elections.
Who can be a poll monitor?
Laws vary from state to state. In many states, poll monitors must be trained and certified by a political party or a candidate, and must carry their certification paperwork with them.
In many states, poll monitors must also be registered voters in the state or county where they are monitoring the polls.
What can poll monitors do?
Laws vary from state to state. Generally, certified poll monitors are allowed inside the polling place, but states may place limits on the number of poll monitors inside of the polling place at any given time. For example, many states permit only one or two poll monitors per candidate, and one or two per party, inside of the polling place at any given time. In many states, certified poll monitors may inspect the pollbooks, but only when there are no voters present. In many states, certified poll monitors can challenge the qualifications of voters.
Unofficial or self-designated election observers, who are not poll workers, are not permitted inside the polling place.
What can poll monitors NOT do?
Generally, although poll monitors are allowed to be inside the polling place, they are not usually allowed in the “enclosed space” that includes the voting machines, the voting booth, or the area immediately around the poll workers’ tables.
In many states, poll monitors may observe the voting process within a reasonable distance of the pollworkers’ table, but may not interact directly with voters.
In many states, poll monitors may not inspect the poll books when voters are present.
What do I do if someone challenges my qualifications to vote?
Laws vary from state to state. In many states, if your qualifications to vote are challenged, you can give a sworn statement to the pollworker that you satisfy the qualifications to vote in your state, and then proceed to cast a regular ballot.
What do I do if I’m not on the list of registered voters?
Always ask the pollworker to double check to whether you are not on the regular list of registered voters. If you are not, then ask if there is a supplemental list of voters (sometimes, voters who register closer to Election Day are processed after the pollbooks are printed, and then subsequently placed on a supplemental list of registered voters). You may also request that they check a statewide system, if one is available, to see if you are registered to vote at a different polling place.
If they still cannot find you, ask for a provisional ballot. All voters are entitled to a provisional ballot, even if you are not in the pollbook. After Election Days, election officials must investigate whether you are qualified to vote and registered; and if so, they must count your provisional ballot.
What are the rules on language assistance for voters?
Under federal law, all limited English proficiency voters throughout the U.S. may obtain assistance in voting from a person of their choice, as long as this person is not the voter’s employer, or an agent of the employer or of the voter’s union.
In some places (those covered by Section 203 of the Voting Rights Act), trained bilingual pollworkers must be available to provide assistance in the relevant minority language, and ballots, written forms and information relating to the voting process must be available in the covered minority language.
What are the rules on assistance for voters with disabilities?
Under federal law, all polling places for federal elections must be accessible to disabled and elderly voters, or must provide alternate means for casting a ballot on the day of the election. The precise accommodations may vary depending on your state; more than 20 states, for example, allow for curbside voting.
All polling places for a federal election must have at least one voting system in each polling place that makes voting accessible in a private and independent manner to voters with disabilities. Officials conducting elections must also provide communication with voters with disabilities that is as effective as that provided to others.
Voters with disabilities may also receive assistance with the voting process by a person of the voter’s choice so long as that person is not an agent of the voter’s employer or union. Voters with disabilities cannot be turned away from the polls because a poll worker thinks they do not have the capacity to vote. If someone is registered to vote, they should be allowed to vote.
Are people allowed to campaign in or around the polling place?
Laws vary from state to state, but campaigning inside of a polling place is not allowed.
Outside of a polling place, campaigning is permitted --a certain distance from the polls. Again, laws vary from state to state – some state prohibit campaigning within 200 feet of the entrance a polling place (Alaska); others permit campaigning up to 30 feet from the entrance (Alabama).
What role can the police play on Election Day?
State laws vary, but in some states, police, or those specifically appointed by election officers who have the powers of law enforcement officers, are allowed inside the polling place. If you are feeling intimidated or harassed, you can report such incidents to the police. Note that police are also subject to the same laws against voter intimidation that apply to everyone else.
Can the media be inside the polling place?
Members of the news media are allowed in the polling place for a “reasonable and limited period of time.” After a reasonable time, election officials can ask the media to leave.