What to Do If You Are Intimidated at the Polls

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AS A PERSON who possesses the conflicting traits of being both socially anxious and short-tempered, I worry that some small slip-up will cost me my say in the immediate future of our country. I know my rights, but taking a quick refresher course in the days leading up to the election helps me to not be a ball of nerves while I’m waiting to vote.

For my peace of mind and yours, here’s what to do if you are intimidated at the polls.

First off, let’s talk a bit about poll watchers. Also known as monitors, these people are often endorsed by a political party to observe the Election Day activities at a particular precinct. In many states, they may camp out at polling locations and collect information about who has voted and which candidates have received votes, provided they do not impede the voting process in doing so.

It’s important to note that some states allow anyone to do what a poll watcher does, without seeking verification from a candidate or their party. What goes on in voting precincts is a matter of public record, and, provided that you are not taking time away from poll workers and voters, you have the right to access it.

Problems arise when poll watchers and their unendorsed ilk take things too far, engaging in the very practices they are intended to ward against. This includes requesting to see a voter’s identification, as well as harassing them about their residency, citizenship, country of origin, languages spoken, party affiliation, or criminal background.

The last decade’s worth of presidential and midterm elections have come and gone with few reported instances of voter intimidation, but it seems likely that over-zealous poll watchers may attempt to infringe upon their neighbors’ rights, come November 8.

Donald Trump’s poll-watching calls to action have many on the Left worried that his supporters may attempt to intimidate people they believe will vote for Trump’s opposition. Trump has convinced many of his followers that, should Hillary Clinton win the presidency, the election will have been rigged. (He made similar comments following President Obama’s re-election.) The GOP candidate has even gone so far as to suggest that he may only be willing to concede the race if he is declared the winner.

Gee, remember when we thought John McCain and Sarah Palin were inciting their supporters to violence?

If someone tries to intimidate you or someone around you, here’s what you need to do to make sure that federal laws protecting your rights are followed.

1. If a poll worker calls your qualifications into question, you may still be able to cast a regular ballot.

According to the ACLU, many states have laws on the books that allow voters with questioned eligibility to cast regular ballots, provided they give a sworn affidavit of their qualifications to poll workers. This is not the case in all states. If you anticipate a problem, check your local laws before heading out to vote.

2. Remember that everyone has the right to cast a ballot.

The federal government acknowledges that sometimes voter information goes missing, and so there are protections in place for people who find themselves unlisted on the rolls, come Election Day. If this happens to you, do not allow yourself to be turned away without casting a provisional ballot, and be sure to find out what steps you need to take after the election is over to ensure that your vote is counted.

3. You have the right to call the police.

If you feel you are in danger, you may call police for assistance. Law enforcement officers may enter polling places in order to vote or conduct police business, but they may not be allowed to monitor precinct activities indefinitely. Remember, “police are also subject to the same laws against voter intimidation that apply to everyone else,” but you are not required to call police if you do not feel safe doing so.

4. If you see something, say something.

Yes, I know this is an anti-terrorism slogan, but it fits voter intimidation as well. There are a number of hotlines available to take your calls on Election Day, including the Election Protection Hotline (1-866-OUR-VOTE, 1-888-VE-Y-VOTA, or 888-API-VOTE), the Advancement Project (202-728-9557), and the U.S. Department of Justice Voting Rights Hotline (800-253-3931 or TTY line 877-267-8971). You are also encouraged to report voter intimidation to poll workers, their supervisors, the county clerk and commissioner, and any other local authorities, if someone’s right to vote is being threatened by unlawful behavior.

Even if you have not witnessed voter intimidation, the hotlines listed above can confirm whether or not you have received accurate information from a poll worker or other individual.

The 2016 presidential election is a history-making event, and none of us can afford to miss out. Make sure your vote is counted.