Law enforcement at drop boxes creates environment of harassment and intimidation, in violation of state and federal law
READING, PA—Following news that Berks County will enable voter intimidation by stationing a sheriff deputy at ballot drop boxes to question voters, fair election advocates in Berks County including Make the Road PA, the ACLU of Pennsylvania, and Berks Stands Up are calling for an end to voter suppression and intimidation ahead of the November 8 general election.
Threatening voters with prosecution, intimidating them with the presence of armed law enforcement, and spreading false information about drop boxes is a crime under state and federal law.
Berks County will also not contact voters who sent ballots with minor missing information to allow them to make corrections and allow their vote to be counted, a practice known as “ballot curing.” Without ballot curing, otherwise valid votes are thrown out for inconsequential details like a missing date.
At the Commissioners meeting, Commissioner Kevin Barnhardt said “everyone is given so many instructions at a precinct… I think those people who make a minor error on a mail-in ballot should be given the same consideration. Voting should not be an obstacle course, and we should do everything we can to make sure that every eligible voter is able to successfully cast their ballot.”
Pattern of voter intimidation, harassment, and suppression in Pennsylvania:
- Berks County continues to see a pattern of voter suppression and high barriers to vote, particularly for Spanish-speakers. Election day 2020 in Reading, was plagued with voter suppression including five hour long lines, lack of language access, and racism from poll workers against Latino voters.
- In October 2021, Berks County election officials sent false election information to 17,000 Berks County voters who received mail-in ballots, with Spanish instructions that falsely told voters the deadline to return ballots was 16 days past the true deadline.
- After the Washington Post reported that a group called Open Carry Pennsylvania might be monitoring polling places on Election Day 2020, Erie County moved to ban gatherings of two or more voters openly carrying guns near polling places, and require armed residents who aren’t voting to keep their distance.
- When Lehigh County DA announced his intentions to monitor voters attempting to lawfully exercise their right to vote in the May 2022 primary, the ACLU sent a letter noting that his public false statements about returning mail-in ballots, and the placement of armed law enforcement personnel to observe drop boxes is “an intimidation tactic designed to discourage legal forms of voting,” a crime under state and federal law.
Make the Road Pennsylvania, the largest Latinx organization in the state with more than 10,000 members, contacts thousands of voters each year to ensure Latinx, Black, and young voters can exercise their right to vote.
Make the Road Pennsylvania and other fair elections advocates released the following statements in response to the Berks Commissioners’ vote to enable intimidation of voters at drop boxes:
Said Diana Robinson, Civic Engagement Director for Make the Road Pennsylvania:
“The physical presence of law enforcement when voters are returning a mail-in ballot creates an environment of intimidation and the risk of confrontation as individuals attempt to exercise their constitutional right to vote. Video cameras or voter services staff could amply secure the drop boxes without the harassment and intimidation of law enforcement.
“To comply with state and federal law, Berks County Commissioners must remove the sheriffs from drop box locations so every voter can vote safely, securely, and free from intimidation. With a harmful pattern of voter intimidation and harassment present not only in Berks County but statewide, we need to be making it easier for folks to vote, not harder and more stressful.”
Said Marian Schneider, Senior Voting Rights Policy Counsel for the ACLU of Pennsylvania:
“When counties announce plans to patrol drop boxes with armed and uniformed law enforcement officials, those actions can have the effect of chilling the exercise of the fundamental right to vote. Direct interaction with voters including questioning them about their ballots compounds that problem.”
Said Celine Schrier, Lead Organizer at Berks Stands Up:
“Our members in Berks County are engaged voters that care about their community. We consistently vote, believe that every vote counts, and that we need to count every vote. Berks County Commissioners need to understand the history of voter intimidation and how easily the mere presence of officers could keep our neighbors from casting a ballot. Voting by mail is safe and effective, but if the commissioners do not act to protect our votes, that safety could be threatened. We will continue to fight for every voter to have unfettered access to their polling place and drop box.”
Make the Road Pennsylvania is the largest Latinx organization in the state of Pennsylvania. With 10,000 members, we are dedicated to organizing the working class in Latinx communities, building power for justice.
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