In this blog post, Andrew Goodman Foundation Fellow Caroline Leonard shares important information about voter intimidation and your right to vote on Election Day.
Voter Intimidation and Your Right to Vote
Voter intimidation is illegal in all 50 states. This means that you can not be coerced, threatened, or otherwise swayed to vote a specific way at the polling site. Additionally, many states do not allow campaigning for specific candidates within a certain distance of polling locations. The following information applies directly to Mississippi elections, but information about voter intimidation and armed militias for different states can be found at: Georgetown Law: Protection Against Voter Intimidation and Georgetown Law: State Fact Sheets. If you want more information, look for the website for your local or state election office.
What voter intimidation can look like:
Voter intimidation is using threats and other intimidation tactics to alter how people will vote or to dissuade or prevent them from voting. Voter intimidation included spreading false information about voting requirements, using verbal threats, inciting or threatening to incite violence, recording information about voters and following them in the polling location, or blocking people from entering the polling location. Additionally, any sort of unauthorized militia is illegal. If you are confronted by an organized group holding weapons, threatening violence, or attempting to act as a militia, contact the authorities.
Furthermore, campaigning, displaying the slogans or likenesses of candidates, or otherwise trying to solicit votes is illegal within 150 feet of a polling location unless it is on private property. Poll watchers may be appointed by individual candidates or political parties to monitor polling sites, however they cannot interact with voters, handle any ballot, or assist in voting. Candidates for office, their immediate relatives, and employers also cannot assist someone directly with voting. These would also be forms of voter intimidation or coercion.
What to do if you feel unsafe:
If you experience voter intimidation there are different steps you can take. If there is immediate danger, call 911. If there is no present danger, notify a poll worker at the polling location, and if they are unable to help you can contact a poll watcher, the circuit clerk for your county, or you can contact the Secretary of State’s office if poll workers or watchers appear biased. Report what happened, when, where, and if there were other voters deterred from voting. If you encounter an armed group, try to take note of any insignias or flags they have, if they are operating in an organized or patrolling way, if they have weapons and what kind, and if they are interacting with voters. However, safety is the top priority. Do not approach the armed group to try and get more information.
There are multiple national election hotlines to call to report cases of voter intimidation, and for general help on the election day:
For English: 866-OUR-VOTE (866-687-8683)
For Spanish: 888-VE-Y-VOTA (888-839-8682)
For Arabic: 844-YALLA-US (844-925-5287)
For Mandarin, Cantonese, Korean, Vietnamese, Tagalog, Urdu, Hindi and Bengali: 888-API-VOTE (888-274-8683)
For a Video Call in American Sign Language: 301-818-VOTE (301-818-8683)
Mississippi Secretary of State’s Election Hotline: 800-829-6786
If you believe your rights have been violated, you can also contact:
The ACLU: 601-354-3408 or firstname.lastname@example.org
The US Department of Justice Voting Rights Section: 800-253-3931
Your Right to Vote:
You have a right to vote in the county you are registered in free from harassment or coercion. You are entitled to assistance in voting if needed. Additionally, there are a few alternative ballots you may encounter in addition to the standard ballot. These include:
- Affidavit Ballot: If you do not have a photo ID with you on election day, the poll worker rules your ID to not resemble you closely enough, if you are not listed in the pollbook, or if you have changed addresses (still within the same county) but did not change your listed residence before the election, you can vote via affidavit ballot. If you vote with an affidavit ballot, you will have to go to the circuit clerk’s office within 5 days of the election to show valid ID. You should be given written instruction on how to check if your ballot was counted when you vote.
- Curbside Ballot: If you are unable to enter the polling location but you are still able to drive to the location on election day, you are entitled to curbside voting. After presenting your photo ID, you will be provided with a paper ballot or a way to electronically cast your ballot from your car. For the 2020 election, you are entitled to curbside voting if you have symptoms of Covid-19.
- Emergency Ballot: If there is a power outage or if electronic voting methods are otherwise rendered unavailable, voting should continue as normal. Follow the instructions of the poll workers.
- Spoiled Ballot: If you mismark a paper ballot you are entitled to ask for a new one. Additionally, if your electronic ballot malfunctions, you can ask for assistance or a substitute ballot.
- Challenged Ballot: On election day, your ability to vote may be challenged. If your voter eligibility is challenged, you still have the right to cast a ballot. In the event of a challenged ballot, a poll worker will pull you and the challenger aside to ask questions about voter eligibility. If the poll workers unanimously decide you are eligible to vote, you can cast a regular ballot. If they unanimously rule you are ineligible to vote, you can still cast a ballot but it will be instantly rejected. If they cannot reach a decision, you will fill out a challenged ballot, and they will decide its validity later on.
For your reference:
- National Voting Hotline
- Asian and Pacific Islander American (APIA) Voting Hotline
- The American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) Voter Assistance
- Mississippi Election Covid Information
- Absentee Ballot Guide (MS)
- State by State Voting Directory
- Sign up for UM voting reminders by texting “@32h83c3” to 81010 or registering at linktr.ee/umoce.
- Sign up for Election Day campus shuttles for Lafayette County voting
- Subscribe to our OCE mailing list.