Recently, questions have arisen about the law pertaining to assistance to voters at voting sites. The State Board of Elections will investigate credible allegations of improper assistance.
The following are guidelines regarding assistance to voters from the North Carolina State Board of Elections:
State and federal law provide disabled and illiterate voters the right to request assistance from a person of the voter’s choice, except for the voter’s employer or agent of that employer or an officer or agent of the voter’s union.
There are no legal restrictions on the number of times a person can assist different voters, if the voters qualify for assistance and proper procedures are followed.
Who May Receive Assistance
Any voter, regardless of whether they have a disability, may receive assistance from a near relative. Elections officials should avoid prying questions about the voter’s preference for assistance.
A voter whose disability prevents him or her from entering the voting booth or marking a ballot without assistance, or a voter who is illiterate, may get help from any person, except for the voter’s employer or agent of that employer or an officer or agent of the voter’s union. Not all disabilities are immediately apparent, but a voter who requires assistance entering the voting booth or marking a ballot due to a mental disability is just as entitled to assistance as a voter whose disability may be easily seen. N.C.G.S. § 163-166.8.
A voter who needs assistance must request it from the chief judge upon entering the voting place and identify the person the voter desires to provide such assistance. Certain disabilities may affect voters’ ability to vocalize their request, but federal law still provides that such a disabled voter is entitled to assistance. Elections officials will exercise their best efforts to understand and respond to individual requests for assistance, however communicated. State administrative law provides that an election official may prompt the voter if needed if it appears the voter may be requesting assistance.
In many cases, a voter in need of assistance will be accompanied into the voting place by an assistant. Alternatively, the voter may—but is not required to—request the assistance of an election official.
If the assistant helps mark the ballot, the assistant is required to mark the ballot as directed by the voter.
Assistants are prohibited from persuading or inducing any voter to cast a vote in any particular way or to vote for any particular candidate. They are also prohibited from communicating to others about how the voter voted.
Script for Requesting Assistance
The State Board of Elections provides a script for elections officials to use when a voter is accompanied by someone who appears to be an assistant.
Elections officials are prohibited from asking the voter to identify or explain the nature of the voter’s disability.
The script should be modified if the voter’s disability limits their ability to communicate. See Numbered Memo 2020-16 for the script.
Intimidation of Voters
Voters have a right to freely enter the voting enclosure without fear of intimidation or harassment. It is a federal crime to intimidate, threaten, or coerce a voter with the purpose of interfering with the right of the voter to vote. Photographing or videotaping voters for the purpose of intimidation is prohibited. Observers will be ejected from the polling place if they interfere with or communicate with voters. See Numbered Memo 2020-30 for additional information.
Authority of County Board of Elections
It is the duty of the chief judge or one-stop site manager to ensure peace and good order at the voting place, which includes the duty to remove observers who intimidate or harass voters, and persons who unlawfully attempt to assist voters. If the chief judge or one-stop site manager needs additional support, they are to contact their county board of elections.