Know your voting rights on Election Day

Don’t let anyone keep you from exercising your franchise

nsmithcollogoBy Nathaniel Smith, Columnist, The Times

Democracy depends on public confidence in the results of elections.  In 2000, even though the VP Al Gore accepted the US Supreme Court’s 5 to 4 order to discontinue the recount of Florida votes, many of his followers ever after referred to George W. Bush as the president elected by five Republican justices.

I recall Garrison Keillor joking on Prairie Home Companion during the 2004 campaign: “Is this a great country or what, when even the president of the United States can hope some day to be elected president of the United States?”

Are we headed for worse this year, when one of the two finalists for the job has been suggesting for months that the election is rigged and that he will not accept the election results unless he wins? Or is there a point at which his margin of loss is so high that his supporters will just have to swallow it and move on?

All we can do in Chester County and Pennsylvania is to be sure our election results are clear and incontrovertibleŠ and to hope that everyone in the country does the same.

Chester County voters are fortunate to vote on optical scan machines, which at the end of the day generate total votes for each candidate and also retain the paper ballots for recounting if needed. Even Vladimir Putin can’t hack this system, as each voting machine is self-contained and not connected to the Internet.

As Times editor Mike McGann pointed out in “Things heating up in final days of election season,” Oct 29th, 2016, all registered voters have the right to vote without intimidation or discrimination and a system is in place to deal expeditiously with complaints.

In October the Pennsylvania Department of State issued “Guidance on Voter Intimidation and Discriminatory Conduct,” which deserves to be widely distributed and posted outside polling places.  Our Judges of Elections are ready to recognize and prevent abuses; but let’s make it easier for them by publicizing the rules.

This is a serious matter, not one for election day pranks and irregularities: “Election officials and private citizens are prohibited from conspiring with others to deprive a voter of her right to vote” and the penalty is up to 10 years in prison. The penalty is “only” up to $5,000 fine and up to 2 years in prison for voter intimidation itself without the conspiracy.

Here is the heart of the matter:


o Aggressive behavior inside or outside the polling place.

o Blocking the entrance to the polling place.

o Challenges to voters based on the voter’s lack of eligibility to register to vote.

o Direct confrontation or questioning of voters, or asking voters for documentation when none is required.

o Disrupting voting lines inside or outside of the polling place.

o Disseminating false or misleading election information.

o Election workers treating voters differently in any way based on race or other protected characteristics.

o Ostentatious showing of weapons.

o Photographing or videotaping voters to intimidate them.

o Poll watchers confronting, hovering or directly speaking to voters.

o Posting signs inside the polling place of penalties for “voter fraud” voting or support for a candidate.

o Routine and frivolous challenges to voters by election workers and private citizens that are made without a stated good faith basis.

o Using raised voices, insulting offensive or threatening language, or making taunting chants inside the polling place.

o Vandalism of polling places.

o Verbal or physical confrontation of voters by persons dressed in official-looking uniforms.

o Violence or using the threat of violence to interfere with a person’s right to vote.

Some of those offenses pertain to outside the polling place and some to inside.  Let’s just focus on the pollwatchers, who obtain certificates that allow them to observe the voting process on behalf of their party or candidates. Their chief function is to note down who votes so that toward the end of the day their organization can chase after supporters who have not yet voted.

Pollwatchers can also challenge voters’ right to vote, for only two valid reasons: identity and residency. Despite all the national talk about “voter impersonation,” I have not heard of any local voter allegedly claiming to be someone else. 

Challenges that someone does not live where they claim are rare. These cases are usually resolved by voters who have moved being allowed to vote “one last time” or, in the case of absentee landlords or other business owners, in the precinct where they actually live.

As stated in the list above, an allegation that a voter should not be registered to vote is not relevant on election day.

Challenges also must be made on “a stated good faith basis.” It will quickly become evident if a pollwatcher is challenging voters on the basis of factors like race, gender, or party affiliation.  Why would anyone want to do that? To intimidate voters of “the other” party, to slow down voting lines, and ultimately to slant the legitimate process of the election in a given precinct or municipality.

I suggest that all concerned voters and pollwatchers print out the state’s list above for reference at the polls. Let’s do all we can for election results that can’t be challenged or cast into doubt!

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