Source, Slate: What constitutes illegal voter intimidation.
An important and interesting article by two lawyers, Dahlia Lithwick and Raymond Vasvari.
I’m particularly interested because in November 2004 I was a volunteer voter protector in Miami, Florida. We were supported and instructed by our hosts, a terrific and inspiring Cuban-American group called (I hope I remember the name correctly) Mi Familia.
(Unfortunately, I and my two poll partners were stationed in Little Havana where grandmas clutching their little grandchildrens’ hands walked right by us as the adorable tots, said, “Bush! Bush!” Hey, we were not there to make sure everyone voted for Kerry. We were restricted to standing outside the polls and being available to anyone who had trouble voting for his/her choice. In the case of trouble–and one young woman told us the computer she was using that did not produce a paper confirmation switched her Kerry vote for Bush right in front of her eyes–we used our cell phone to call election lawyers.)
Given the threats Trump has been making–encouraging his followers to show up at the polls and do whatever they think they’re going to be doing to “protect” this election–I found this piece giving the legal boundaries and aspects of “voter protection” often surprising and occasionally unsettling. Especially when the writers lay out the possibilities of gun nuts, a/k/a “open carry”…what to call them other than nuts? Well, no, nuts they are and nuts I will label them…showing up with their open guns to protect them there polls from…dead people voting. That seems to be one of their focuses, all those dead people voting for Democrats. (It would be culturally savvy of me right here to comment that these people are watching far too many zombie TV shows, but I’ve never seen one so my comment would be irresponsibly pretentious. So I won’t comment.)
As you probably know, these polls watchers of our nightmares will be watching for, as one delightful Ohio guy, Steve Webb, put it, to the Boston Globe:
Trump said to watch your precincts. I’m going to go, for sure … I’ll look for … well, it’s called racial profiling. Mexicans. Syrians. People who can’t speak American.” And what will Webb do if he finds any? “I’m going to go right up behind them. I’ll do everything legally. I want to see if they are accountable. I’m not going to do anything illegal. I’m going to make them a little bit nervous.”
Reading what Webb has said makes me nervous, and more than just a little bit.
Good news: voter intimidation is a federal crime.
So what is legal? Certainly every state allows for volunteer poll watchers, and has a legal right to do so. Almost all poll watchers are volunteers designated by specific candidates, parties, or election officials to monitor procedures and events at voting precincts. They are trained and briefed on the law. But laws vary by state and, according to this report in ProPublica, in 46 states the laws permit private citizens to challenge a voter’s registration on or before Election Day. In Wisconsin, the report adds, “any voter can challenge someone’s ballot based on the suspicion that they are not qualified. The same goes in Virginia, Oregon and South Carolina.”
And that brings us, inexorably, to questions about jurisdictions with open carry laws. Does bringing a gun to a polling place in and of itself constitute voter intimidation? What if a poll watcher decides to bring a gun she is otherwise authorized to carry while she is challenging voters? And what if the pistol packer is not actively challenging voters but claims she is merely engaging in peaceful First Amendment speech?
But there is better news in this erudite article. Do not take my word for it: read the entire article. It’s blessedly well written.