Vox Populi

A Public Sphere for Poetry, Nature, and Politics

Michael Simms: Voter Intimidation — How it works

Donald Trump has claimed that a win by Hillary Clinton would be proof of a rigged election, and he’s calling on his supporters to fight voter fraud with voter intimidation. In a move that is eerily similar to the formation of the 1920s Nazi Sturmabteilung, Trump calls on both citizens and law enforcement to challenge Clinton supporters at the polls. “The only way we can lose in my opinion — I really mean this — in Pennsylvania, is if cheating goes on,” Trump said. “We have to call up law enforcement. And we have to have the sheriffs and the police chiefs and everybody watching.”

Many of Trump’s supporters may not realize that trying to intimidate voters, even with the intention of preventing election fraud, is a federal crime. Here’s the statute:

18 U.S. Code § 594 – Intimidation of voters

“Whoever intimidates, threatens, coerces, or attempts to intimidate, threaten, or coerce, any other person for the purpose of interfering with the right of such other person to vote or to vote as he may choose, or of causing such other person to vote for, or not to vote for, any candidate for the office of President, Vice President, Presidential elector, Member of the Senate, Member of the House of Representatives, Delegate from the District of Columbia, or Resident Commissioner, at any election held solely or in part for the purpose of electing such candidate, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than one year, or both.”

Unfortunately, America has an ugly history of voter suppression and intimidation. In the Jim Crow South, African-American voters were sometimes beaten or even lynched for exercising their right to vote; and state-sanctioned discrimination took the form of literacy tests and poll taxes.  More recently, Republican legislatures throughout the nation, supposedly combatting “election fraud,” have put in place policies intended to suppress the vote, such as voter identification laws, the purging of registered voter lists, and the strategic closing of polling stations in urban neighborhoods. There are also illegal attempts by political parties and self-appointed militias — such as what Trump is encouraging — to intimidate voters. Other tactics widely practiced by Republican activists have included the dissemination of false election information sent out through flyers, robocalls, the internet, and social media. Low-income and minority voters remain frequent targets. Here are a few of the more notorious examples of voter intimidation that have been documented:

  • Voters being threatened with arrest at their polling station if they have unpaid child support or unpaid parking tickets.
  • Misleading robocalls to African-Americans in Maryland stating that there was no need to vote because “our goals have been met”.
  • Flyers in Ohio and Virginia telling voters that Republicans vote on the actual election day while Democrats vote the day after.
  • Challenges to African-American voters in Philadelphia by men carrying clipboards who drove a fleet of sedans with signs that looked like law enforcement insignia.

An additional strategy — and certainly one that Trump supporters will use — is the “voter challenge.” Many states allow anyone to challenge the eligibility of a voter on Election Day before a voter completes and casts a ballot. Depending on state law, these challengers might be appointed by political parties or other organizations, or they may be acting independently. Voter challenges cause Election day confusion and can intimidate qualified voters from voting.  Moreover, in the past, mass challenges have been based solely upon the race of voters. An Ohio Republican Party plan in 2004, for example, involved challengers confronting 97% of new African-American voters in one location but only 14% of new voters in a majority white precinct.

Also, the problem these laws supposedly address – voter fraud – is illusory. As the Brennan Center for Justice points out:

“We must be careful not to undermine free and fair access to the ballot in the name of preventing voter fraud. The Brennan Center’s ongoing examination of voter fraud claims reveal that voter fraud is very rare, voter impersonation is nearly non-existent, and much of the problems associated with alleged fraud in elections relates to unintentional mistakes by voters or election administrators.”

Voters concerned that they are being targeted by deceptive election practices should alert local authorities immediately because it is likely part of a larger pattern. These illegal practices must be stopped.


Copyright 2016 Michael Simms

This article draws from a number of sources, including 866ourvote.org and lawnewz.com. 

For a detailed analysis of the tactics that have been used in recent years to suppress voting by African-Americans, seThe Long Shadow of Jim Crow: Voter Suppression in America, a  report by People for the American Way Foundation and the NAACP.

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Donald Trump has claimed that a win by Hillary Clinton would be proof of a rigged election.

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