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Can Citizens Enforce Voter Laws?

By Christopher Coble, Esq. | Last updated on

The political invective from both sides of the presidential campaign has already been heated, and we can probably expect it to reach incendiary levels in the last month leading to the election. But one of the more sinister suggestions coming from Donald Trump is that the election will somehow be rigged in Hillary Clinton's favor. On more than one occasion, he has even suggested to supporters that they become "election observers" in order to prevent voter fraud at the polls.

But are average citizens the ideal candidates to enforce voter laws? More importantly, are they even allowed? And when does election observing become voter intimidation?

Who Watches the Watchers?

One of the states in which Trump insinuated voter fraud would happen was Pennsylvania. "The only way we could lose," he said in August, "in my opinion, I really mean this, Pennsylvania -- is if cheating goes on." And his website encourages people to become election observers after donating to his campaign, asking to help him "Stop Crooked Hillary From Rigging This Election."

As it turns out, the Keystone State does have an Appointment of Watchers statute that allows each political party with a candidate in a race "to appoint three watchers at any general, municipal or special election for each election district in which the candidates of such party or political body are to be voted for." And registered watchers "shall be permitted to keep a list of voters and shall be entitled to challenge any person making application to vote and to require proof of his qualifications."

Nearly every state has some poll watcher statute, though the qualifications, number, and authority can vary from state to state.

Fraud Protection or Intimidation?

Depending on where you live, you may be asked for identification when you head to the polls. So make sure you're familiar with your state's voter ID laws and other important Election Day laws before you go to vote. If someone asks you about your qualifications to vote, make sure they are a registered or certified poll watcher -- most states require watchers to carry and present a certificate at the polling place. Don't let someone who is not certified or an official with the local board of elections tell you that you can't vote -- that's voter intimidation and illegal.

Also, no one at the polls should tell you who to vote for. There are prohibitions against campaigning at or near polling places, though they can vary by state.

If you have other questions regarding your voting rights, or if you feel that your voting rights have been violated, talk to an experienced civil rights attorney in your area.

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