Herring outlines protections against voter intimidation

vote 2020 election

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Attorney General Mark Herring has issued an advisory opinion outlining protections in both state and federal law against voter intimidation.

Herring issued the opinion in response to “reports of activity near polling places that led some voters to fear for their safety while waiting to cast their vote, or led them to believe that they would be harmed for supporting a particular candidate.”

“Voting is a fundamental right and the bedrock of our democracy. No Virginian should ever feel intimidated or afraid while exercising their duty as an American and casting their vote,” Herring said. “My hope is that the behavior we saw last week will not happen again, and I remain committed to ensuring that every Virginian is able to safely and comfortably cast their ballot without fearing for their safety or wellbeing.”

The opinion outlines 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 highlights 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.’”

The opinion notes 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.”

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.”


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