What is ‘Voter Intimidation?’

I listen to the news… as much as I can stomach, anyway. I’m a little ashamed to admit that the term ‘voter intimidation’ is one of those things I’ve let slide off my brain. I hear it, I think I know what it means, but in actuality, I don’t. I imagine an old fashioned mafia enforcer from a movie, with shoulder pads and a baseball bat, hanging around outside polling stations. So it only makes sense that at some point I should actually learn what voter intimidation is, especially with the 2018 elections coming up.

So here we go.

What is Voter Intimidation?

According to federal law, voter intimidation is the interference with the right of any individual or group of people to vote through intimidation, threat or coercion. Many states also have their own voter intimidation laws. What could this look like, you ask? Well, it turns out my mafioso image wasn’t too far off the mark. Voter intimidation could be any of these things:

  • Questioning people about child support while in line at the polls.
  • Questioning people about photo identification when it is not required for voting.
  • Questioning English speaking skills.
  • Falsely representing oneself as an election official.
  • Spreading false information about when and how to vote, including phone calls or other information saying the goal has already been met.

Is Voter Intimidation Really an Issue?

Historically yes, especially for communities of color, specifically black communities. And with the rise of digital technology — and the fact that voter intimidation laws don’t cover online tactics — it’s a larger problem than you might think.

Is Voter Intimidation the Same as Voter Fraud?

No, but here’s the interesting thing: a lot of tactics being used to investigate President Trump’s claims of voter fraud are a form of voter intimidation. To keep an eye on these developments, have Kris Kobach on your radar and be ready to support state-level efforts to combat voter intimidation.

How Do We Counter Voter Intimidation?

Well, that’s a very nuanced question with an even more complex answer. Because voter intimidation can look like so many things, the first and most important thing to do is be aware. Every election has multiple sources to report voter intimidation, including hotlines. Just last year, ProPublica created ElectionLand to counteract online voter misinformation.

More than anything though, being informed about what is required to vote, and making sure those around you are informed, will help mitigate voter intimidation. If you can volunteer to register people to vote, you can be directly responsible for making sure they know their rights. I recommend Rock the Vote for more information on registering people to vote and other volunteer supports.

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A friend’s dad once told me that voting was our most important job as citizens. He said that neglecting that job or pretending it wasn’t important was an insult to the work we’ve done and the people who live in places where voting isn’t possible. Just remember, if something isn’t a problem for you, it doesn’t mean it’s not a problem for someone else.

If we want elected officials that speak for all communities, then we must make sure that all communities are able to vote.

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