A free, democratic society requires each voter to have the right to cast his or her ballot free from intimidation or coercion. Voter intimidation is illegal. Federal law specifically prohibits:
›› Intimidation, threats, or coercion – or attempted intimidation, threats, or coercion – of others, “for the purpose of interfering with” someone’s right to vote, or to vote as they may choose.
›› Willfully injuring, intimidating, or interfering with any person because they are voting or have voted, or to intimidate anyone to not vote.
Also, Section 2 of the 1871 Ku Klux Klan Act makes it a federal crime for two or more people to “conspire to prevent by force, intimidation, or threat” any voter from casting a ballot for the candidate of their choice.
Nebraska, like all U.S. states, has separate prohibitions on interfering or intimidating voters.
What does voter intimidation look like?
From the Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection at Georgetown U., here are common examples of voter intimidation:
›› Violent behavior inside or outside the polling site or dropbox location;
›› Verbal threats of violence;
›› Confronting voters while wearing military-style or official-looking uniforms;
›› Spreading false information about voter fraud, voting requirements, or related criminal penalties;
›› Brandishing firearms or the intimidating display of firearms;
›› Aggressively approaching voters’ vehicles or writing down voters’ license plate numbers;
›› Disrupting voting lines or blocking the entrance to the polling place or dropbox;
›› Harassing voters, aggressively questioning them about their qualifications to vote; and
›› Following voters to, from, or within the polling place or dropbox area.
Can guns be at polling places?
Nebraska law prohibits carrying concealed firearms at any polling place. Guns may also be prohibited at specific polling locations, such as K-12 schools and other places where firearms are not permitted.
›› Even if guns are not explicitly prohibited, they may not be used to intimidate voters, poll workers, or election officials. Armed groups of individuals cannot “patrol” polling locations or otherwise engage in activities reserved for law enforcement.
What about the Second Amendment?
The U.S. Supreme Court decided in 1886 and reaffirmed in 2008 that the Second Amendment does not prevent the prohibition of private paramilitary organizations. Nebraska, like all U.S. states, also prohibits private militias from engaging in activities reserved for an official state militia. Some, including Nebraska, also prohibit paramilitary activity during or in furtherance of a civil disorder.
What about the First Amendment?
The First Amendment does not protect intimidation in the form of true threats “where the speaker means to communicate a serious expression of an intent to commit an act of unlawful violence” against another person or group.
Even when speech is not openly threatening, Nebraska has legal restrictions inside and in the immediate vicinity of the polls to protect voters against electioneering. In Nebraska, that means at least a 200-foot distance from the polling place.
How are poll watchers allowed, then?
Nebraska law regulates those who are permitted to observe the voting process within a polling place. Election officials are familiar with these laws, which prevent unauthorized observation or challenges and voter intimidation. Civic Nebraska is deploying nonpartisan poll observers across the state on Nov. 8. Our poll watchers will be wearing approved credentials and will act in a passive role at the polls.
What should I do if I see or experience voter intimidation?
›› If you fear imminent violence, call 911.
›› Notify the election official at the polling place.
›› Document what happened, where it happened, and when it happened, and whether any voters were deterred from voting.
›› Report the incident. The national Election Protection Hotline is 866-687-8683 (Spanish: 888- 839-8682; Arabic: 844-915-5187; Asian Languages: 888-274-8683; video American Sign Language video line: 301-818-8683). Or call Civic Nebraska’s Election Protection Line at 402-890-5291.