Would these “election observers” intimidate you?

Armed, camouflage-dressed election observers, sitting quietly along road to polling place.

So you’re on your way to vote. It’s late. As you hurry toward the voting site, you suddenly become aware of people along the path dressed in full-on military gear! They are sitting quietly, watching you. Oh, they’re “election observers!” And you think they may have taken your picture!

Would you feel intimidated walking by these guys???

I admit I would. But . . .

Have they infringed on your rights by sitting there in this way?

Well, a judge in Arizona just ruled that their looks and behavior are perfectly legal.

I was surprised at that verdict. So I had to take deeper look at what really makes up voter intimidation.  This Advisory covers some of what I’ve learned. Disclaimer: I’m not a legal authority so this is an ordinary citizen’s understanding based on reasonable research from sources I think are reliable. You can see some of the sources in the P.S.  

First of all, since 2020 voter intimidation IS illegal under federal law.

When there’s a federal office on the ballot, federal rules apply.

But your state may set slightly different rules about, for example, how many feet from the voting place election observers have to remain. And, as we have seen, a judge may find, as the Arizona judge did, that observers are allowed by the first amendment to simply sit there, to watch and even to take photos. While many voters may be alarmed by the presence of the observers, the Arizona judge ruled they do not present a “legitimate threat.”

What would those election observers have to do to be committing clearly illegal intimidation?

I found several definitions. Here are examples of intimidation that different sources seem to agree on:

  • Behaving violently inside or outside the polling site
  • Verbally threatening violence
  • Confronting you face to face
  • Spreading false information about voting requirements
  • Pretending to be a voting official
  • Brandishing firearms
  • Approaching your car and writing down your license plate number
  • Blocking your access to the polling place
  • Questioning you about your right to vote
  • Following you into or from the polling place

Illegal activity seems to be defined as ACTIVE physical or verbal confrontation.

If you are aware of what’s going on around you, and experience any illegal activities when you go to vote, you need to let authorities know. As always, the better you can document what you saw or experienced, the more likely the illegal activity will be stopped.

If you are in immediate physical danger, or someone else is, call 911. Be ready to describe what is happening, where, what the criminals look like, how many potential victims there are, etc.

Be willing to report intimidation to election authorities, too, particularly if other voters were discouraged from voting. Here are some places to report:

  • Your local election official at your polling place.
  • The Election Protection Hotline: 1-866-OUR-VOTE or 1-888-VE-Y-VOTA (en Español)
  • The U.S. Department of Justice Voting Rights Hotline: 800-253-3931; TTY line 877-267-8971

To sum it up . . .

Voting and elections are what we use in this country to make decisions – at school, in our cities, states and, of course, at the level of the federal government.

Democracy requires the ability to vote. If voters are intimidated because of violence, then violence will become the way decisions get made.

Personally, I prefer elections to violence. If you do too, know your rights when it comes to voting. Don’t let those guys sitting in the shadows intimidate you!

Your Emergency Plan Guide team

P.S. Some sources for this Advisory:

P.P.S. Are you participating as a poll worker?  I am sure you have been briefed about safety. If not, or if you are curious, take a look at this 14 min. video put out by the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA). It has some good ideas about “non-confrontational techniques.”

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One Response

  1. christy adair