by: Roy J. Rodney, Jr.
Below we are reprinting our regular election article focusing on the need to keep all elections, even those with small turn out, fair and free of vote deception and intimidation. The article was originally published in advance of the November 2010 general election.
Throughout the nation, lawyers and law firms in coordination with the Advancement Project, civil rights organizations, and voter advocacy groups have coordinated their efforts to provide for a fair election free of voter deception and intimidation. On behalf of the law firm of Rodney & Etter, LLC, we are pleased to provide this information to candidates, voters, civic organizations and government officials.
In a report by the Demos (a public policy research and advocacy organization) and Common Cause entitled, “Voting in 2010: Ten Swing States”, Louisiana was identified as one of ten states where election laws, policies, and practices could impact enough voters to determine election outcomes. Obstacles to voting include requirements that: 1) Voters must register 30 days before an election – potentially leaving many voters out of the process; 2) Louisiana has experienced an 88 percent drop in voter registrations from people receiving public assistance; 3) Louisiana’s voter challenge laws are “troublingly unclear”; 4) Louisiana election officials have not made any organized outreach to immigrant and non-English speaking person – resulting in only 60 percent of eligible naturalized immigrants in Louisiana being registered to vote; and, 5) many of the 21,000 Louisiana voters whose names were purged from the Louisiana voting rolls in 2007, still have not had their right to vote in Louisiana restored.
Vote suppression, voter intimidation and misleading practices and flyers are illegal under both federal and Louisiana law. For example, baseless or indiscriminate challenges of voters, taking pictures or videotaping voters in a manner that is intimidating, and threatening voters with criminal prosecution or denial of benefits are illegal. Any and all activity that threatens, harasses or intimidates voters should be reported. See below for contact information for law enforcement agencies and civil rights groups. Key provisions regarding Louisiana election law includes the following:
- Voter Challenges: Louisiana allows Election Day challenges to a voter’s eligibility on three grounds: 1) that the voter is not the person she claims to be, or 2) that the voter has moved out of the voting district; and, 3) that the person is not qualified to vote in that election. La. R.S. 18:565. Any registered voter can challenge a person’s right to vote. Then, the decision on whether that person can vote is left entirely to the discretion of the election commissioners at that polling place with little guidance provided to the commissioners on how to decide.
Mass challenges or challenges targeted to minority precincts may violate the Constitution and Voting Rights Act. Voters may only be challenged by an elections official, a certified poll watcher, or a qualified voter who is in the polling place to vote (and only ten voters at a time are allowed inside). Should a valid challenge be made, the voter may be able to vote by completing an affidavit stating their name, date of birth and address. In federal elections, the challenged voter must be given a provisional ballot. If you are challenged on Election Day, do not walk away without voting. At the very least, vote a provisional ballot.
- Intimidation and Deceptive Practices: In Louisiana it is illegal for any person, corporation, or police officer to intimidate or coerce voters, by use of or threat of force, violence, injury, restraint, damage, harm, or loss, in order to induce a person to vote or refrain from voting for a particular candidate or issue. La. R.S. 18:642. It is also illegal to use abduction, duress, coercion, or any forcible or fraudulent means to impede or interfere with a person’s right to vote including the publishing of misleading information designed to confuse voters and preventing them from voting, such as flyers saying that the Election is on Wednesday instead of Tuesday. Also, employers in Louisiana may not place an employee’s paycheck in an envelope that displays any political motto or written statement attempting to influence the employee’s vote. It is also illegal for an employer to post in the workplace any notice containing any threat, notice, or information that implies if a certain candidate is elected or defeated there will be repercussions in the workplace that could include employees’ wages being cut and closing of the job site.
Federal law also prohibits similar behavior. Section 11(b) of the Voting Rights Act forbids any person from intimidating, threatening or coercing any person “for voting or attempting to vote.”
- Law Enforcement Officers in a Polling Place: A commissioned police officer, whether in uniform or in citizen’s clothes, may not be within 100 feet of the polling place during the election unless she/he is voting or is called upon by the election commissioners to preserve the peace. La. R.S. 18:428.
- Activities In or Near Polling Place: Under the Louisiana election code, no person in or within 300 feet of a polling place may electioneer or solicit votes for any political party, political body, or candidate, nor may any unauthorized written or printed materials be posted within the polling place.
- Poll Watchers & Challenges: To be inside or near the polling place, poll watchers must be registered and must have a certificate. La. R.S. 18:435. They cannot speak to voters, ask voters for ID, interact directly with voters or invade voters’ privacy in voting. The only thing they can communicate to an election worker is to point out an irregularity or illegality in election procedures. The election commissioners have the right to limit the number of poll watchers within a polling place.
- Persons Inside and Outside the Polling Place: No one is allowed inside a polling place unless specifically authorized by law. The law authorizes only the following to be present: election commissioners; valid poll watchers and inspectors; peace officers if summoned by the election commissioners to preserve order; persons admitted to vote; children accompanying parent; assisters/interpreters for voters; Secretary of State and staff; federal observers; election staff or sheriff delivering supplies; and, persons approved to assist with electronic voting equipment
PLEASE REPORT ILLEGAL POLL WATCHER CONDUCT, VOTER INTIMIDATION OR DECEPTIVE PRACTICES TO:
- U.S. Department of Justice Voting Rights Hotline: 800-253-3931; TTY line 877-267-8971;
- Advancement Project Voter Protection: 202-728-9557; firstname.lastname@example.org;
- Election Protection Hotlines: 866-OUR-VOTE (866-687-8683) or 888 VE Y VOTA (888 839-8682).
- Rodney & Etter, LLC: 504-483-3224.
While the firm of Rodney & Etter, LLC, maintains a varied practice, representing both plaintiffs and defendants, it has continued to take at least one pro bono case per year, which it believes is in the best interest of the public. We have exhibited for over twenty years a commitment to pro bono litigation, civil rights, and issues of public health and justice. Mr. Rodney received the Louisiana State Bar Association’s Annual Pro Bono Award and the Louis A. Martinet Legal Society’s Lawyer of the Year Award. Mr. Rodney is also the past Chairman of the Civil Trial Advocacy Section of the National Bar Association.
Tags: Louisiana Elections, Rodney & Etter, Roy Rodney,, Voting Rights