Decision 2020

Right to Peace at the Polls: What Is Voter Intimidation and How to Report It

Pennsylvania Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar reminded people that “voter intimidation is illegal under state and federal law"

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Despite some of the rhetoric from President Donald Trump, elections officials on the ground say people should feel safe going to the polls on Nov. 3, and they’re providing resources to safeguard the election.

Ahead of the election, officials in Pennsylvania reminded people that voter intimidation is illegal, and poll watchers need to be certified to conduct their work. This comes as the president continues unfounded claims of widespread voter fraud and after he told his supporters to watch people at polling places.

“If you are planning in Philadelphia to try to steal our votes, I got something for you: I got a jail cell, I have charging papers, and when you get to the end of the process, I have a Philadelphia jury that you can tell why you thought it was OK to steal their votes," Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner said Monday.

A similar sentiment was echoed by city leaders, as well as by Pennsylvania Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar, who reminded people that “voter intimidation is illegal under state and federal law.”

What is voter intimidation?

In Pennsylvania, intimidation covers a slew of actions taken by someone trying to deprive others of their right to vote. The list is long, but according to the Department of State, some intimidation tactics could include:

  • Physical violence or the threat of violence
  • Shouting at someone
  • Blocking the entrance or exit to a polling place
  • Aggressive or threatening brandishing of weapons
  • Questioning someone about citizenship, criminal record or political choices
  • Using “insulting, offensive or threatening language” or chanting taunts
  • Taking photos or videos of someone with intent to intimate them

In addition, while people can wear clothing in support of their preferred candidate when they go to the polls, they can’t electioneer. Electioneering is basically urging other people to vote for a specific candidate, either through words or through things like flyers. Electioneering materials must be at least 10 feet away from the entrance to a polling place.

What are your rights as you head to the polls in Pennsylvania for Election Day? NBC10's Randy Gyllenhaal has what you need to know as voting is happening amid coronavirus.

How to report voter intimidation:

The first step should be reporting intimidation tactics to their county board of elections and district attorney, which are required to investigate. People can also contact the Pennsylvania Department of state tor report problems at 1-877-VOTESPA (868-3772).

Philadelphia Elections Office: (215) 686-3469. The Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office has also set up an election task force consisting of prosecutors and county detectives, who are part of the Philadelphia Police Department. Krasner urged people to call the District Attorney’s Office’s Election Task Force hotline at 215-686-9641, as well as the national voter hotline at 1-866-OUR-VOTE, to report any voter suppression efforts.

Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw said scheduling changes have been made to ensure adequate staffing in all parts of the city. She added that each police district will have a team of roving officers with body cameras specifically assigned to respond to calls for assistance at polling locations. When responding, those officers will be accompanied by a supervisor and an assistant district attorney, Outlaw said.

Chester County Elections Office: (610) 344-6410. District Attorney Deb Ryan also told the Daily Local News that six prosecutors will be on call to handle polling place problems and that law enforcement agencies have coordinated how to respond to voting issues.

Montgomery County Elections office: (610) 278-3280. People can also report problems with poll watchers by dialing 610-292-2020.

Delaware County Elections Office: 610-891-4673. People who have issues on Election Day can also call the county hotline by dialing 610-891-VOTE (8683). Like other counties, Delco will also have attorneys on standby to help people who are experiencing problems. Anyone who sees concerning behavior or voter intimidation can call the Delaware County District Attorney’s office at 610-891-4797.

Bucks County Elections Office: 215-348-6154

Federal resources. People can contact the U.S. Department of Justice to report issues at 800-253-3931. Voters with disabilities who are being denied their rights can reach out to the department’s Americans With Disabilities Act information line at 800-514-0301 or 800-514-0383, or submit a complaint online.

Other things to watch for on Election Day:

Long lines: Millions of votes have been cast through the mail, but plenty of people still plan to vote in person on Nov. 3. In addition, the ongoing coronavirus pandemic means that officials are having to take extra precautions, like keeping people spaced six feet apart. For these reasons, some areas may see long lines, and officials are urging patience.

“If you should encounter frustrating or difficult situations on Election Day, let your inner strength guide you. Stay calm, stay respectful, stay above the fray,” Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney said.

Coronavirus precautions: Everyone going to the polls should wear a mask. While some counties will provide personal protection equipment, Dr. Rachel Levine, the state health secretary, suggested people should still put together a coronavirus kit that includes a face mask, hand sanitizer and their own blue or black pen.

She also encouraged people to download the state coronavirus tracking app, which alerts people if someone nearby has tested positive for the virus.

Law enforcement restrictions: Law enforcement officers, including National Guardsmen currently stationed in Philadelphia, are required to stay at least 100 feet away from a polling place. The only time they can get closer is if they’re specifically called to “preserve the peace.”

The 2020 presidential election will be one of the most consequential in our lifetime, and voting is already underway. You can make your voice heard by using NBC10's voter's guide here.

Need quick answers about voting sent right to your phone? Text EQUALINFO to 73224 to ask any question about voting access, deadlines, locations and more.

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