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Fighting Against Voter Intimidation

Voter intimidation, which is illegal under federal and state law, poses a clear and present danger to democracy. When some voters are afraid to cast their ballots, an election cannot be considered free or fair.

Every voter has the right to vote free from fear. That means that they must be able to vote free from threats, coercion, or intimidation, or attempted threats, coercion, or intimidation. It doesn’t matter what form that intimidation takes, it doesn’t matter whether it’s based on race, it doesn’t matter who is doing the intimidation, and it doesn’t matter whether the intimidator meant to intimidate anyone. Voter intimidation is still illegal.

We’re working to prevent voter intimidation in its many forms, including intimidation of voters and voting-rights organizations, false accusations of voter fraud, and aggressive poll-watching. We’re preparing state officials and voting rights groups across the country to be ready for and effectively respond to voter intimidation and we’re actively looking out for violations of the law.

The United States has a long history of voter intimidation, from the Ku Klux Klan violently attacking Black people during Reconstruction, to local sheriffs arresting participants in voter registration drives during Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, to modern examples of campaigns engaging in aggressive poll-watching and falsely suggesting that eligible voters may be committing a crime by voting. As a result, protecting the right for all eligible citizens to vote free from fear requires steady vigilance, as the techniques used to intimidate or otherwise suppress the participation of voters have evolved over time.

Voter intimidation today can take multiple forms. It can be making false accusations of election crimes against eligible voters or otherwise defaming them. It can be threatening voters with economic harm. It can be threatening voters with violence. It can be aggressive poll-watching techniques. It can be engaging in law enforcement actions that threaten voters and make them feel unsafe. Indeed, it can even be government officials turning a blind eye to intimidation.

While we’re working hard to guard against these worst-case scenarios, voters should have confidence in the election, and should not be afraid to cast their ballot for the candidate of their choice. Thousands of local, honest, hard-working folks are running this election, as they have every year. Further, lawyers and advocates—including those at Protect Democracy—all over the country will be watching carefully to make sure that all Americans can vote free of fear in 2020 and beyond.

5 Forms of voter intimidation you should know: False voter fraud accusations. Fear of economic harm. Violence of threat of violence. Aggressive poll watching. Frightening law enforcement actions.

Protect Democracy has brought multiple cases to prevent voter intimidation. These cases have established an important precedent regarding the meaning of the Voting Rights Act and the Ku Klux Klan Act as well as helped to prevent future incidents of voter intimidation. More information on each case can be found on their respective case pages, below are their summaries.

League of United Latin American Citizens v. Public Interest Legal Foundation

Protect Democracy, along with partner organizations and law firms, represented Virginians falsely accused of election crimes by J. Christian Adams and the Public Interest Legal Foundation (PILF). Protect Democracy’s clients reached a settlement that put an end to PILF’s intimidating acts in Virginia.

New York Immigration Coalition v. Rensselaer County, New York

Protect Democracy, along with partner organizations and law firms, filed a lawsuit on behalf of civil and voting rights organizations to block the Board of Elections of Rensselaer County, New York from illegally sharing portions of the County’s voter rolls with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. After the lawsuit was filed, the County disavowed the plan to transfer portions of their voter rolls to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Swenson v. Bostelmann

Protect Democracy, along with partner organizations and law firms, represent a coalition of Wisconsin voters and organizations that work to mobilize Wisconsin voters in a lawsuit against state election officials for violating federal laws that protect the right to vote. The case is presently pending on appeal.

Cockrum v. Donald J. Trump for President, Inc.

Protect Democracy represented three Americans in lawsuits alleging that the Trump Campaign unlawfully participated in the dissemination of their hacked private, personal information. The lawsuit was dismissed by the Eastern District of Virginia in 2018.

 

Below are the major filings from Protect Democracy’s voter intimidation cases:

Prior complaints alleging violations of Section 11(b) of the Voting Rights Act, 52 U.S.C. § 10307(b):

  • Complaint, League of United Latin American Citizens – Richmond Region Council 4164 v. Public Interest Legal Foundation (E.D. Va. 2018).
  • Complaint, New York Immigration Coalition v. Rensselaer County Board of Elections (N.D.N.Y. 2019).
  • Complaint, Swenson v. Bostelmann (W.D. Wis. 2020).

Prior complaints alleging violations of Section 2 of the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871, 42 U.S.C. § 1985(3):

  • Complaint, League of United Latin American Citizens – Richmond Region Council 4164 v. Public Interest Legal Foundation (E.D. Va. 2018).
  • Complaint, Cockrum v. Donald J. Trump for President (E.D. Va. 2018).
  • Complaint, Cockrum v. Donald J. Trump for President (D.D.C. 2017).

Prior oppositions to motions to dismiss claims alleging violations of Section 11(b) of the Voting Rights Act, 52 U.S.C. § 10307(b):

Prior oppositions to motions to dismiss claims under Section 2 of the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871, 42 U.S.C. § 1985(3):

Prior motions for preliminary injunctions to halt ongoing violations of Section 11(b) of the Voting Rights Act, 52 U.S.C. § 10307(b):

Prior motions for summary judgment related to claims under Section 11(b) of the Voting Rights Act, 52 U.S.C. § 10307(b): 

  • Motion for Summary Judgment, League of United Latin American Citizens – Richmond Region Council 4164 v. Public Interest Legal Foundation (E.D. Va. 2019).

Prior amicus briefs on federal voter intimidation law:

Other resources on voter intimidation

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