Project Vote Calls on Governors to Protect Voters and Allay Fears of Violence and Intimidation

By Project Vote October 31, 2016

WASHINGTON, DC — With polls showing that American voters are increasingly afraid that they may face violence and intimidation at the polls, voting rights group Project Vote has asked the governors of several states to take steps to reassure their citizens that they can expect a safe voting environment on Election Day.

Project Vote sent letters to the governors of nine states—Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Michigan, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, and Wisconsin—requesting that they speak out against voter intimidation and develop plans to deal with illegal poll monitoring and other intimidation tactics.

“The irresponsible rhetoric of the Trump campaign has created an atmosphere of danger and uncertainty around this election,” said Michael Slater, president of Project Vote. “Mr. Trump has gone to a lot of effort to convince his supporters that they need to be on the lookout for widespread voter fraud, which is of course not true. And now, as a result, voters are justifiably concerned that they may face frivolous challenges, illegal intimidation, or even violence at the polls. We are very concerned that these fears may create problems at the polls and suppress voter turnout.”

The letters to the governors reference a recent poll, reported in the Washington Post, that showed that half of likely voters were at least somewhat fearful that there will be violence on or after Election Day. Nearly one in five respondents said they were “very concerned.” The letters also reference recent comments made by a Trump supporter in Ohio, who told the Boston Globe that he intends to conduct “racial profiling” at the polls: “Mexicans. Syrians. People who can’t speak American. I’m going to go right up behind them. I’ll do everything legally. I want to see if they are accountable. I’m not going to do anything illegal. I’m going to make them a little bit nervous.”

“In the light of these fears, we are asking governors to ensure a safe voting environment, and to reassure the American people that it is safe to vote,” said Mr. Slater. “We are asking state governments to let eligible voters know, ‘We’ve got your back.”

As noted in the letters, federal law prohibits intimidating or threatening any citizen who is lawfully entitled to vote. In the letters, Project Vote also summarizes the legal statutes in each state that regulate poll monitoring and establish standards for voter challenges. The letters ask the governors to work other state officials to develop protocols for responding to possible problems, and to speak out against any effort to interfere with an eligible voter’s right to cast a ballot.

According to Mr. Slater, there are simple steps states can take to ensure a safe voting environment. Pennsylvania’s Department of State, for example, recently issued guidance to election officials on voter intimidation and discriminatory conduct. The document explains federal and state laws protecting voters, lays out a non-exhaustive list of examples of illegal and unacceptable conduct, and instructs anyone witnessing such behavior to report it to the County Board of Elections and the County District Attorney.

“The peaceful succession of power has been a hallmark of American democracy from the beginning, and no one wants to see that change,” said Mr. Slater. “The American people need to know they can cast a ballot unmolested, and they need to know that the government will protect and ensure this right when they go to the polls.”