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Preventing Voter Intimidation in Ohio

Dan Konik
Voters cast ballots

When Ohioans go to the polls Tuesday, they might encounter people there to monitor what is happening in polling places. Legal observers are trained and approved by elections officials. But there could be some people who show up on Election Day, saying they want to serve as observers.

Republican Presidential nominee Donald Trump has been saying he thinks the election will be – in his word – rigged. And at rallies in swing states such as Pennsylvania, he’s been urging his supporters to serve as observers at polls on Election Day.

“Go down in certain areas and watch and study and make sure other people don’t come in and vote five times.”

Mike Brickner with the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio says election observers are legal, provided they have gone through the correct process.

“A person cannot just walk out from the street and go into the polling place and be an observer. You have to be appointed by a registered political party or a group of five candidates or a ballot issue committee. And you have to go through a process where you are certified and you have to be vetted by the local boards of elections.”

And that’s where there could be some problems. A recent Boston Globe story highlighted a Fairfield resident who said he was going to look for “Mexicans, Syrians, people who can’t speak American.” The Southwest Ohio man says he wants to watch people who he feels fit those categories and make them a little bit nervous but promised not to do anything illegal. But Brickner says making voters nervous could be intimidation and he says that’s not legal.

“Polling place observers are not allowed to interact with voters. They are not allowed to campaign in the polling place. They are not allowed to harass or intimidate voters.”

But what about people who might show up outside…more than 100 feet away from the entrance? They are allowed to campaign, talk to voters, wear campaign shirts and outside many polling places, they can openly carry weapons. 

“If they are yelling things at voters, if they are holding weapons, it may be important to alert the local law enforcement about that issue so they can monitor the situation to make sure that no protected activities cross the line to harassment and intimidation.”

And Brickner says if any of that happens, voters should alert the ACLU. The organization will have teams on hand to deal with any voter intimidation issues that might come up on Election Day. The ACLU isn’t alone. Aaron Ockerman, the Executive Director of the Ohio Association of Elections Officials, says election leaders have been trained on how to handle any possible cases of intimidation and interference.

“We definitely want the voters to have a great experience. We don’t want anyone to feel intimidated, harassed or like they are unable to exercise their right to vote. So we certainly anticipate it will be a good process but we definitely have plans in place if there are anomalies in outlying situations where there needs to be an intervention.”

The communications director for Donald Trump’s Ohio campaign says it will monitor voting activities to ensure all laws are followed. But Seth Unger says Trump believes Ohio’s Secretary of State is excellent so problems they’ve heard of in other states might not happen here. And as far as lawsuits that have been filed against Trump’s campaign and Republicans in Ohio and three other key swing states over possible voter intimidation, Unger says the attorneys for the Trump campaign think those complaints are long on rhetoric and short on substance.

Contact Jo Ingles at