Voter Intimidation and the Law

The concept of voter intimidation and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 are in the news today. Last month, J. Christian Adams resigned from the Justice Department and is being called a “whistle-blower” for describing a disturbing insensitivity to voters’ rights during the 2008 election—in this case, white voters’ rights. Adams alleges that whites clearly were subject to intimidation, at some locations, by blacks, who wished to keep them from voting, and that these violations were dismissed at the Department. But worse, he claims, it is currently declared policy within the Department to ignore violations when whites are the victims. So Adams purports that racial discrimination motivates decisions about enforcing law within the Justice Department.

The Civil Rights Commission has begun hearing testimony from Mr. Adams, who has said that others at the Department of Justice would attest to the same claims if questioned under oath. I hope we hear more coverage of this story. Meanwhile, we should inform ourselves about the law enacted in 1965. The portion that directly addresses the issue of voter intimidation is in Section 11, part (b). But I quote all of Section 11 here for two reasons. First, it provides some context for the portion on voter intimidation. Second, it makes sense to read all four paragraphs because they each speak to critical aspects of voter rights. (You may be surprised, for example, to read about the penalties for fraudulent voting, given its prevalence during each election.)

SEC. 11. (a) No person acting under color of law shall fail or refuse to permit any person to vote who is entitled to vote under any provision of this Act or is otherwise qualified to vote, or willfully fail or refuse to tabulate, count, and report such person’s vote.

(b) No person, whether acting under color of law or otherwise, shall intimidate, threaten, or coerce, or attempt to intimidate, threaten, or coerce any person for voting or attempting to vote, or intimidate, threaten, or coerce, or attempt to intimidate, threaten, or coerce any person for urging or aiding any person to vote or attempt to vote, or intimidate, threaten, or coerce any person for exercising any powers or duties under section 3(a), 6, 8, 9, 10, or 12(e).

(c) Whoever knowingly or willfully gives false information as to his name, address, or period of residence in the voting district for the purpose of establishing his eligibility to register or vote, or conspires with another individual for the purpose of encouraging his false registration to vote or illegal voting, or pays or offers to pay or accepts payment either for registration to vote or for voting shall be fined not more than $10,000 or imprisoned not more than five years, or both: Provided, however, That this provision shall be applicable only to general, special, or primary elections held solely or in part for the purpose of selecting or electing any candidate for the office of President, Vice President, presidential elector, Member of the United States Senate, Member of the United States House of Representatives, or Delegates or Commissioners from the territories or possessions, or Resident Commissioner of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.

(d) Whoever, in any matter within the jurisdiction of an examiner or hearing officer knowingly and willfully falsifies or conceals a material fact, or makes any false, fictitious, or fraudulent statements or representations, or makes or uses any false writing or document knowing the same to contain any false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or entry, shall be fined not more than $10,000 or imprisoned not more than five years, or both.

Note: A complete transcript of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 can be found here.

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About Doug Geivett
University Professor; PhD in philosophy; author; conference speaker. Hobbies include motorcycling, travel, kayaking, sailing.

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