Amid growing national concern about the possibility that poll watching could infringe on people’s right to cast ballots during the November election, the vice chair of the Maryland State Board of Elections reminded state residents Thursday that voter intimidation is illegal.
In his closing remarks during the board’s last scheduled meeting before the Nov. 3 election, Patrick “P.J.” Hogan said he’s long been impressed with elections in Maryland, which he said have a tradition of being accurate, secure and executed with “a high degree of civility."
However, Hogan said he felt “compelled” to remind residents of the state’s voter intimidation statute “because it’s such a unique time” and “because of the situation we’re in.” Hogan, a former Democratic state senator, is not related to Republican Gov. Larry Hogan.
P.J. Hogan’s comments came on the heels of Republican President Donald Trump’s remarks last week during a debate, when he suggested voters should be on the lookout for fraud and urged his supporters to “go into the polls and watch very carefully.”
P.J. Hogan read Thursday from Maryland law, which bars people from influencing or attempting to influence someone’s vote through “the use of force, threat, menace, intimidation, bribery, reward, or offer of reward.”
“We have a history of good elections, civil elections, and I think that will continue, but these are unique times, and I just wanted to make sure everybody was aware of that,” he said.
The board did not discuss P.J. Hogan’s closing remarks nor any others offered by board members.
Trump’s campaign staff has circulated instructional videos in recent weeks for prospective poll watchers that describe how to monitor voting. Trump has repeatedly said the election is at risk for fraud and made moves to undermine confidence in the contest.
Nationally, voting rights advocates have grown concerned that poll-watching could transition into voter intimidation, although several local election officials in Maryland report seeing no fresh interest from potential watchers from either side of the aisle.
Baltimore City Election Director Armstead Jones said he has heard from no additional people interested in poll watching this year, but it’s still a possibility that new people will come forward, he said.
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Space will be limited inside voting centers due to social distancing measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“They can come, check numbers, leave, and come back,” he said. “They’re not going to be sitting in a corner all day, taking up space for people who want to vote.”
Anyone can enter a Maryland polling place to notify election judges they are challenging the identity of someone trying to vote whom they have reason to believe is not who they say they are.
But people who want to stay inside to observe must be certified to do so and be a registered voter. They can’t use cameras, phones, laptops or tablets, nor can they talk to any voter. Election judges can limit the number of people inside, tell watchers where to position themselves and kick out watchers who don’t follow the rules.
Elections boards, campaigns and political parties can certify poll watchers. Candidates, campaigns and parties must give a local election board a list of their watchers and their assigned locations.
To talk with a voter or wear any logos supporting a candidate or issue, advocates need to be at least 100 feet from the entrance to the voting center and from a ballot drop box, if there is one outside.