It’s election season, and friends and family have asked me a few questions about crimes associated with voting. I’m not an expert on election laws – here at the School of Government, Bob Joyce is our go-to guy on such issues – but I’ve tried to respond correctly. Read on for the questions and answers.
Is voter fraud a crime? Yes. When people talk about voter fraud, they normally mean things like:
-Registering, and perhaps voting, in more than one precinct. That’s a felony under G.S. 163-275(1), (7).
-Voting on behalf of another person. That’s a felony under G.S. 163-275(1).
-Making false statements on a registration form in order to become registered to vote. That’s a felony under G.S. 163-275(13).
Can I bring my minor child with me to vote? Yes, and it’s a good thing, too, since I’ve done this myself many times. G.S. 163-166.3(a)(6) states that “[m]inor children of the voter . . . [or] under the care of the voter” may accompany a voter.
Can I bring my gun with me to vote? It depends on where you vote. There’s nothing in Chapter 163 of the General Statutes (Elections and Election Laws) that prohibits bringing a firearm to a polling place. North Carolina is not unique in this regard. According to the Washington Post, a majority of states are in the same boat. However, polling places are often in schools, where G.S. 14-269.2 makes it a crime to possess a firearm, or in other local government buildings where local ordinances may prohibit the possession of guns. Some polling places are on private property, in which case the person or entity in charge of that property may bar firearms from the premises. Finally, any use of a firearm to menace or threaten a voter would of course be unlawful. Among other provisions that such conduct would violate, G.S. 163-274(6) and 18 U.S.C. § 594 make voter intimidation a state and a federal crime.
How close to the polls can people try to give me campaign literature? The specific distance is set by the county board of elections, but it is normally 50 feet, and “in no event shall [the board] set the limit at more than 50 feet or at less than 25 feet.” G.S. 163-166.4. There’s no specific penalty set forth in the statute for violating the “buffer zone” rule. Perhaps a violator could be charged with trespassing.
Can I take a picture of my ballot and post it on Facebook? I don’t think so. Consider the following provisions:
-G.S. 163-273(a)(1): “It shall be unlawful . . . [f]or a voter, except as otherwise provided in this Chapter, to allow his ballot to be seen by any person.”
-G.S. 163-274(b): “It shall be unlawful for any person who has access to an official voted ballot or record to knowingly disclose in violation of G.S. 163-165.1(e) how an individual has voted that ballot.”
-G.S. 163-165.1(e): “Voted ballots . . . shall be treated as confidential, and no person other than elections officials performing their duties may have access to voted ballots . . . . Voted ballots . . . shall not be disclosed to members of the public in such a way as to disclose how a particular voter voted, unless a court orders otherwise. Any person who has access to an official voted ballot . . . and knowingly discloses in violation of this section how an individual has voted that ballot is guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor.”
-G.S. 163-166.3(c): “No person shall photograph, videotape, or otherwise record the image of a voted official ballot for any purpose not otherwise permitted under law.”
It seems that many states have similar provisions, based on this AP story. The underlying purpose may be to impede vote-buying by making it impossible for a voter to satisfy a buyer that the voter has upheld his or her end of the bargain. According to the Denver Post, there has been First Amendment litigation over these provisions, with several recent court decisions ruling in favor of voters’ rights to share their ballots. But I’m not aware of any case in North Carolina challenging the above provisions.