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Attorney General of Virginia

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Commonwealth of Virginia
Office of the Attorney General

Mark Herring
Attorney General

202 North Ninth Street
Richmond, Virginia 23219

 

For media inquiries only, contact:  
Charlotte Gomer, Press Secretary
Phone: (804)786-1022 
Mobile: (804) 512-2552
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

ATTORNEY GENERAL HERRING REITERATES PROTECTIONS AGAINST VOTER INTIMIDATION AND OUTLINES GUIDANCE FOR POLL WATCHERS

~ Herring reiterates that there are both state and federal protections in place to protect against voter intimidation and harassment and outlines specific duties of poll watchers in Virginia, after President Trump urged his supporters “to go into the polls and watch very carefully” ~

RICHMOND – Following President Trump’s dangerous rhetoric at last night’s debate when he implied the existence of widespread, unsubstantiated voter fraud and urged his supporters to “go into the polls and watch very carefully”, Attorney General Mark R. Herring is reiterating that there are protections in both state and federal law against voter intimidation, as well as highlighting the actual duties of poll watchers in Virginia.

 

“The President is blatantly urging his supporters to congregate at polling places, go inside, and ostensibly harass and intimidate voters. There are both state and federal protections in place to protect voters from being harassed or intimidated while trying to exercise their right to vote,” said Attorney General Herring. “While there are authorized ‘poll watchers’ who monitor polls on Election Day, their duties are clearly laid out, and they do not include what President Trump has suggested. Voter harassment and intimidation will not be tolerated in Virginia.”

 

Poll watchers in Virginia are authorized individuals from specific parties or campaigns who are allowed inside the polling place on Election Day only, in order to monitor the conduct of the election. According to poll watcher guidance, poll watchers must present an authorization form, signed by the party chair or candidate, to the Chief Officer of Election. Additionally, according to the guidance, poll watchers:

  • Are not permitted to campaign inside the polling place
  • Are not to wear political clothing, buttons, signs, or in any way display preference to any party or candidate
  • Cannot loiter or congregate, give, offer, or show any ballot, ticket, or other campaign material to any person, stop or delay a qualified voter, or interfere with the orderly conduct of the election
  • Are prohibited from providing assistance to voters who need help in casting their ballots.

 

In the advisory opinion Attorney General Herring issued last week, he said “[t]he legitimacy of our government—and its success in fulfilling the promises of our Constitution—rely on the notion of uncoerced choice. Virginia and federal law protect the fundamental right to vote freely.”

 

Attorney General Herring outlined applicable provisions in the Code of Virginia “[that] expressly prohibit[] voter intimidation” including:

  • Section 24.2-607(A) makes it a Class 1 misdemeanor “’for any person to hinder, intimidate, or interfere with any qualified voter so as to prevent the voter from casting a secret ballot.’”
  • Section 24.2-1005 makes it a Class 1 misdemeanor to use “’threats, bribery, or other means in violation of the election laws’ to ‘attempt[] to influence any person in giving his vote or ballot or . . . deter him from voting.’”
  • Section 24.2-1015, makes it a Class 5 felony to “’conspire to injure, oppress, threaten, intimidate, prevent, or hinder any citizen of this Commonwealth in the free exercise or enjoyment of any right or privilege secured to him by the provisions of [the election laws].’”

 

The opinion also highlighted provisions in the Virginia state code that “prohibit[] certain conduct at polling places that might interfere with the right to vote free from influence,” including:

  • Section 24.2-607(B) that says “’[n]o person shall conduct himself in a noisy or riotous manner at or about the polls so as to disturb the election.’”
  • “While polls are open, it is unlawful to ‘loiter or congregate,’ ‘give, tender, or exhibit any . . . campaign material,’ or ‘solicit or in any manner attempt to influence any person in casting his vote’ within 40 feet of ‘any entrance of any polling place.’”
  • “It is also unlawful to ‘use[]’ a ‘loudspeaker…within 300 feet of a polling place on an election day.’”

 

Additionally, Attorney General Herring noted in the opinion that “Virginia and federal law provide that voters shall not be harassed for exercising their rights”, highlighting that “[b]oth state and local law protect citizens from violent threats, and in particular from being threatened with firearms” and that “[i]t is a criminal offense for private individuals to usurp the role of actual law enforcement, and it is accordingly unlawful to appear at the polls attempting to exercise roles that rightfully belong to law enforcement.” Attorney General Herring says that “[t]hese types of protection have an important history in our law. They have helped vindicate racial equality in voting, ensure the constitutional guarantee of equal protection of the laws, and invoke the basic respect that is due every voter at the polls.”

 

Other key passages from Attorney General Herring’s opinion on voter intimidation and harassment:

 

In our democratic system of governance, the right to vote is “a fundamental political right.” Voting both ensures “a representative form of government” and also “preserv[es] . . . other basic civil and political rights.” “[T]he right to exercise the franchise in a free and unimpaired manner” is therefore a “bedrock” principle in any “free and democratic society.” Intimidation of citizens who are seeking to vote is both illegal and antithetical to one of the basic promises that binds us together: that of democratic self-governance. [Page 1]

 

Federal criminal law similarly provides that any person who “intimidates, threatens, [or] coerces” another person “for the purpose of interfering with the right of such other person to vote or to vote as he may choose” in a federal election—or “attempts” to do the same—may be fined and/or imprisoned for up to one year. [Page 2]

 

Should they so choose, officers of election—with the consent of the locality’s chief law-enforcement officer—are empowered to “designate a law-enforcement officer” to “preserve order inside and outside at the polling place.” [Page 2]

 

Voters similarly should not fear for their safety when voting, whether they are within the forty-foot zone of a polling place or in socially-distanced lines beyond that zone. [Page 2]

 

Virginia law also prohibits carrying or possessing firearms or weapons at specific locations that may be used as polling places, such as schools and courthouses. [Page 3]

 

Virginia law makes it a Class 1 misdemeanor to “falsely assume[] or exercise[] the functions, powers, duties, and privileges incident to the office of sheriff, police officer, marshal, or other peace officer, or any local, city, county, state, or federal law-enforcement officer.” This criminal prohibition can apply to “a group of private militia members coming as a unit, heavily armed with assault-style weapons, dressed in fatigues and other military accessories, and acting in a coordinated fashion” where the “militia members patrol[] a line of citizens” and “project[] authority to manage the crowd.” [Page 3]

 

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