What should you do if you see voter intimidation? Step one: Report it to a poll worker. (Graphic by COURIER; image by AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
What should you do if you see voter intimidation? Step one: Report it to a poll worker. (Graphic by COURIER; image by AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Voter intimidation is illegal in every state across the country. Here’s how you can spot it and do something about it.

Voter intimidation is not new, but with President Trump’s call for his supporters to “go into the polls and watch very carefully” during the first presidential debate, civil rights and voting rights advocates have urged people to remain vigilant about voter intimidation. 

While poll watchers—people whose purpose is to ensure that their party has a fair chance of winning an election—are legal, any form of voter intimidation is not. To become an actual poll watcher, a person must receive approval from state officials to monitor a particular polling place on behalf of a candidate. 

No state allows for candidates to direct large groups of supporters to monitor polling locations. And issuing such a call—without state approval—could lead to situations more akin to voter intimidation than election monitoring. 

But voter intimidation can take numerous forms and there are plenty of legitimate questions about what, exactly, it is. Read on for examples of voter intimidation and what to do if you witness or are the victim of voter intimidation. 

What Is Voter Intimidation?

There are several types of voter intimidation, which we’ve detailed below, though all have the goal of either preventing a person from voting or having an effect on how they vote. 

Is Voter Intimidation Illegal?

Yes, it is illegal and against federal law to intimidate, threaten, coerce, or attempt to intimidate, threaten, or coerce any other person for the purpose of interfering with their right to vote or to vote as they may choose. Violators are subject to a fine, imprisonment, or both.

What Are Some Examples of Voter Intimidation?

Examples of voter intimidation include aggressively questioning voters about their eligibility to vote due to perceived citizenship or criminal record; falsely representing oneself as an election official; spreading false information about voter requirements (such as language or testing requirements); looking over people’s shoulders while they’re voting; and using threatening language in or near a polling place.

Who Is Typically Targeted by Voter Intimidation Efforts?

The ACLU and the Brennan Center for Justice both note that voter intimidation is often directed at non-English speakers and voters of color. To reiterate: These efforts to disenfranchise voters are illegal—if you are a registered voter, you have the right to vote. See below to find out what to do if you are a victim of voter intimidation.

What Should I Do If I See Voter Intimidation? How Should I Report Voter Intimidation?

If you see or are subject to voter intimidation, you should alert a poll worker immediately and call the Election Protection Hotline at 866-OUR-VOTE (866-687-8683) or 1-888-VE-Y-VOTA (for Spanish) to get help. If you are threatened with violence, call 911. Also be sure to report anything suspicious or intimidating to your local election office.

Is There a Voter Intimidation Hotline? 

The voter intimidation hotline is officially called the Election Protection Hotline, mentioned above. Again, the number is 866-OUR-VOTE (866-687-8683) or 1-888-VE-Y-VOTA (for Spanish). You should immediately report any voter intimidation to a poll worker, the Election Protection Hotline, and your state’s local election office.