States should not tolerate indiscriminate challenges to voters

On this Election Day Eve, Common Cause is demanding that the chief election administrators in states with inadequate protections against voter challenges issue a specific directive to elections officials to prohibit indiscriminate challenges of voters on Election Day.

Common Cause evaluated the laws on voter challenges in 17 battleground states and concluded that eight states lacked basic, essential voter protections: Maryland, Massachusetts, Missouri, New Mexico, New York, Rhode Island, Tennessee, and Virginia.

News reports already have highlighted partisan efforts to challenge voters. A Maryland Republican Party guide advises poll watchers that “their most important duty” is to “challenge people who present themselves to vote but who are not authorized to vote.”

In New York, Republican attorneys have challenged nearly 6,000 voters’ eligibility, based on discrepancies in change of address data and information held by the Westchester County Board of Elections.

“Democracy is ill served when voters feel harassed or intimidated or are frightened from exercising their right to vote because of such tactics,” said Common Cause President Chellie Pingree. “When voter challenges are used in bad faith, they suppress the vote, sow confusion, and create a back-door voter ID requirement. We are asking the Chief Election Administrators in these eight states to make it crystal clear to election officials that wholesale challenges of targeted voters will not be tolerated.”

Common Cause officials will formally ask the elections administrators in these states to issue a specific directive aimed at limiting this abuse.

Challenges must be based on personal knowledge or reasonable belief, and challengers must sign an affidavit setting forth the grounds for the challenge and the source of the information;

Challengers shall not have direct contact with voters, or be permitted to in any way interfere with or delay voters’ exercise of their rights to vote; and

Challengers who violate these guidelines or make bad-faith challenges shall be removed from the polling place.