In recent years, Election Day challenges to voter eligibility have resulted in a number of controversies in polling places across the country. Though the underlying rationale of challenger statutes is to protect the integrity of elections by preventing voter fraud, challengers have the potential to deter qualified voters by causing substantial delay and confusion in polling places.
Where challenges are used improperly, they can have the effect of intimidating voters and disrupting polling place procedures, which has more than a negative effect on the challenged voter. Aggressive challenger activity inevitably leads to distracted pollworkers. With other compelling Election Day issues to attend to (e.g. malfunctioning machines, voters missing from the voter rolls, and voter intimidation), a series of frivolous challenges can easily be the catalyst tone for other Election Day pitfalls. Partisan challengers that cast a wide net in minority areas only add to Election Day confusion. This formula for Election Day chaos - long lines, uncertainty, and wrongful denial of voting privileges - can quickly escalate in polling places where election officials have failed to adequately prepare pollworkers.
In-person voter fraud is virtually exceedingly rare, and so challengers are more likely to pose a significant threat to participation of qualified voters. It is imperative that policymakers are aware of this problem so that efforts can be made to protect voters. The implementation of clear-cut guidelines can minimize the negative effects of aggressive challenger activity.
States must take measures to curb illegal intimidation and harassment of voters. Aggressive challenger activity is highly suspect because evidence of in-person election fraud is exceedingly slim. The fact that areas with large minority populations have been consistently targeted for aggressive challenges indicates that unlawful voter suppression tactics are a continuing concern in our country. Enacting policies that both protect voters will help reinstate confidence in the integrity of our electoral system.
Read Project Vote's Policy Brief on Election Challengers here.