EDITORIAL: Beware of voter intimidation

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Categories: Editorial, Opinion

A week from today, many New Yorkers will start voting in person.

And there’s a chance, given the rhetoric of the president, that federal officers or the president’s supporters will try to show up at the polls in the name of protecting the integrity of the election.

But voter fraud at the polls is virtually non-existent. Everyone knows that, including the current administration.

So we can only surmise that the presence of these self-appointed “poll-watchers” is really to intimidate voters or scare them away from the polls altogether.

What immigrant, minority or person with a criminal record is going to risk arrest, harassment or deportation just for the opportunity to show up at the polls in person? That potential voter may decide it’s wiser and safer not to vote at all, thereby depriving that person of a fundamental right and depriving a candidate of that person’s vote.

Voters don’t have to expose themselves to such intimidation. U.S. Code 18 Section 594 specifically prohibits action that “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 chose.”

Intimidation tactics include questioning a voter’s citizenship, criminal record or other qualifications to vote; presenting oneself as an election official; providing false information about voter requirements (such as the ability to speak English); and otherwise harrassing voters, particularly non-English-speaking voters and voters of color.

Voter intimidation is punishable by a fine or up to a year in jail.

But what if you’re concerned about the integrity of the election process and the security of your vote?

State Election Law allows for political parties and independent groups to have a limited number of certified inspectors on site to make sure machines are working properly and that only eligible voters are permitted to vote.

They are not allowed to electioneer in any manner, question any voter in any manner, assist in the conduct of the election, handle or remove election materials on the Board of Inspectors’ table or impede the election process in any way.

They’re they’re to make sure the election is conducted fairly, but they can’t impede voters or the process directly.

If you feel you’re being intimidated or see someone else being harassed, report it to your Board of Elections or local election inspector. Or call the Election Protection Hotline at 1-866-OUR-VOTE or the U.S. Department of Justice’s Voting Rights Hotline at 1-800-253-3931.

You have a right to vote without being harassed or intimidated. Don’t let anyone make you think otherwise.

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