The State Board of Elections today released detailed guidance aimed at ensuring all voters can safely and securely cast their ballot and election officials can perform their duties free of harassment, intimidation, and interference.
State and federal laws prohibit intimidation or interference with the rights of voters to participate in an election, including hindering access to the voting place. The law also makes it a crime to interfere with election officials carrying out their duties. Penalties for violations include prison time, fines, or both.
Numbered Memo 2022-12, issued by State Board Executive Director Karen Brinson Bell on Friday, represents the most comprehensive guidance to date on maintaining order at the state’s early voting sites and Election Day precincts.
“The State Board of Elections is committed to ensuring all voters can cast their ballot safely, securely, and free from interference of any kind,” Brinson Bell said. “We also must ensure that trained election workers can carry out their duties free from harassment, intimidation, and interference.”
The following are several main points covered in the State Board’s guidance:
- The “buffer zone” of up to 50 feet outside each voting place exists so voters can freely access the voting place without being harassed or intimidated. Campaigning and electioneering activity is prohibited inside the buffer zone and inside the voting place itself.
- It is a crime to interfere with, or attempt to interfere with, any voter when inside the voting enclosure or with any voter when marking his or her ballot.
- It is a crime to interfere with election officials conducting the election.
- The chief judge at each Election Day precinct and the one-stop site manager at each early voting location are authorized by state law to maintain order and ensure voters can freely access the voting place without fear of harassment or intimidation. These elections officials should immediately contact their county board of elections – and, if necessary, law enforcement – if they are unable to maintain order at the voting place.
- This year, to aid in the enforcement of election laws and the maintenance of order at the polls, the State Board has partnered with the North Carolina Sheriffs’ Association and the North Carolina Association of Chiefs of Police to produce the "Elections Reference Guide for North Carolina Law Enforcement."
- The memo includes more than a dozen examples of prohibited behavior in and around polling places, including examples of voter intimidation and threats to election officials.
- Complaints or indications of harassment, interference, or intimidation must be addressed immediately by chief judges and one-stop site managers. The chief judge or one-stop site manager must use their sound discretion to attempt to de-escalate any disturbance and issue verbal warnings about behaviors that could lead to a person’s ejection or arrest.
- Party-appointed election observers play an important role in the elections process. They may observe the process and take notes, but may not interfere with voters or election officials. The memo includes a list of prohibited activities by observers.
Earlier in the summer, as part of its regular conference for North Carolina elections officials, the State Board hosted training for all county boards of elections on securing elections and the voting process. That training included topics such as de-escalation techniques for election workers, building relationships with local law enforcement to promote effective coordination to respond to incidents, and the laws that exist to maintain order at the polls.
“Along with the training of county officials and poll workers, we hope this guidance promotes a positive voting experience for the millions of North Carolinians expected to cast ballots in-person in this election,” Brinson Bell said. “We also hope it helps election workers, observers, and law enforcement officers maintain a safe and friendly environment.”