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Increasing Reports of Voter Intimidation Incidents As Election Day Nears

Civil Rights Policy Brief #196 | By: Rodney A. Maggay | October 23, 2022

Header photo taken from: Ben Torres / The Texas Tribune

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Election officials are investigating a report that 2 voters who went to drop their ballots at this Mesa, AZ drop box were followed, videotaped and had their license plate photographed by a group that accused the voters of being "mules."

Photo taken from: Alexia Faith 

Policy Summary

On October 17, 2022 in Mesa, Arizona a couple approached an outdoor voting drop box to deposit their ballots for the upcoming 2022 midterm elections. The couple was legally permitted to drop off their ballots early as Arizona’s early voting period had begun on October 12th. As the couple neared the outdoor drop box they were met by a group of people who were simply hanging around the ballot drop box. The group began to film and photograph the couple as they dropped their ballots into the box. The situation became hostile as the group accused the voter of being a “mule.”

 The term “mule” is a reference to the 2022 film “2000 Mules” which claims that groups associated with the Democratic Party are paying people to illegally collect and submit voting ballots. The couple then retreated to their car. Members of the group followed the couple, took photographs of the couple’s license plate and continued to follow the couple in a separate car as the couple drove away. The couple subsequently filed a complaint with the Arizona Secretary of State’s Office. That complaint was referred to the United States Department of Justice and the Arizona Attorney General’s Office for investigation.

Under 18 U.S.C. § 594 it is “illegal to intimidate, threaten, coerce” or “attempt 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 choose.” Under 52 U.S.C. § 20511(1) it is a crime to “intimidate, threaten or coerce any person” for “registering to vote, or voting.” In addition to these federal statutes, nearly every state has a state statute prohibiting the intimidation of voters in order to prevent the voter from casting a ballot. LEARN MORE

Policy Analysis

With mere weeks before Election Day for the 2022 midterm elections, it is not just the integrity and security of elections that has become the focus nationwide but the safety of voters themselves. 

The incident in Mesa, Arizona is not a random incident where a voter has been approached by groups of people questioning the couple’s right to vote. Also in Arizona in Maricopa and Yavapai counties there have been incidents reported where unauthorized groups have suddenly appeared to monitor ballot drop boxes in those counties. While it would be easy to simply label these incidents as unique to Arizona that has not been the case. 

State election officials in Colorado, North Carolina and Nevada have also reported incidents of voter intimidation. And in California in Shasta County, voters have reported receiving suspicious phone calls where the caller has questioned the voter about their voter registration status. The callers did not identify as an election official from the county elections office.

While the incident in Arizona is disturbing because of the close physical proximity that the group had with the voting couple, intimidation and harassment is not limited to only approaching voters at ballot drop boxes or at voting booths. According to the ACLU, intimidation of voters can occur by spreading false information about voter and language requirements and displaying false and misleading signs in order to confuse a voter. This could falsely sow doubt in a voter’s mind that could deter them from voting or registering to vote at all. Other methods or techniques are brandishing weapons and wearing military style uniforms in order to create a hostile atmosphere. 

 


Fact Sheet: Protecting against voter intimidation.

Sheet taken from: Georgetown Law – Georgetown University

(click or tap to enlargen)

Being armed or portraying a military demeanor can be a huge deterrent to a voter especially when that is combined with an aggressive questioning of a voter about their qualifications to vote or their preferred language. The incident in California where voters have received phone calls at their homes demonstrates that this intimidation of voters is not restricted to areas surrounding a polling booth or a ballot drop box. Certain groups are now calling voters at their homes which is just as illegal as physically approaching a voter out on the street.

So with days to go, what recourse do voters have if they feel they are being approached or questioned inappropriately while trying to cast their ballot? First, the Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection at Georgetown Law School has compiled a useful list of laws by states that ban armed militias and groups from state polling places. 


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.

Image taken from: Protect Democracy

The guide lists every state and compiles the laws that prohibit armed groups from approaching polling sites and how to recognize these groups based on their words, actions and dress. Local phone numbers are also listed so a voter who feels threated can call a local number and request help immediately. Additionally, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has issued a fact sheet with how to calmly respond if a voter is challenged on their qualifications and how to request a provisional ballot if there is a mixup with a voter’s registration. 

With right wing elements believing the “Big Lie” that the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump, it appears that more groups are determined to be out in force to monitor polling places for perceived fraud. But this is also a situation that could easily turn into harassment and intimidation of voters. What voters can do is make themselves aware of these harassment tactics and work with the options made available by the ACLU and other groups to report what is happening out there as Election Day nears. Any voter who is qualified to vote should not have any obstacles to cast a ballot. LEARN MORELEARN MORE

This brief was compiled by Rod Maggay. If you have comments or want to add the name of your organization to this brief, please contact rodwood@email.com.

Engagement Resources​

Click or tap on resource URL to visit links where available 

FairVote – a comprehensive report from non – profit group chronicling historical incidents of violence and intimidation used to deter voters from casting a ballot.

American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) – info sheet with listing of a voter’s voting rights as well as info on what to do when confronted with inappropriate interference when trying to vote.

Campaign Legal Center (CLC) – info page on protecting voters from voter intimidation.

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