Local Politics

Who can bring a friend or relative into the voting booth?

Posted November 2, 2020 8:52 a.m. EST
Updated November 2, 2020 4:02 p.m. EST

FILE -- A polling station in Madison, Wis., Aug. 14, 2018. Amid a chorus of warnings that the American election system is ground zero for foreign attackers, a panel of leading scholars and election experts issued a sweeping set of recommendations on Sept. 6, 2018, for how to make elections more secure. (Lauren Justice/The New York Times)

— Ahead of Election Day, the State Board of Elections is clearing up questions about who can receive assistance from a relative or friend while voting.

According to officials, the law states that all physically or mentally disabled and illiterate voters can request any person of their choice to accompany them to the polls, especially if the voter isn't able to mark his or her own ballot. Only the voter's employer or agent of that employer would not be allowed to accompany the voter.

All voters, regardless of whether they have a disability, can receive help from a near relative in the voting booth. There are no legal restrictions on the number of times a person can assist different voters.

How to request assistance

People who want to bring someone into the voting booth with them must request to do so when they arrive at their polling place. The voter is asked to state they have a disability and identify their assistant to a poll worker or, in cases where the voter can't communicate, the assistant can help.

According to the State Board of Elections, "elections officials will exercise their best efforts to understand and respond to individual requests for assistance, however communicated." Furthermore, "elections officials should avoid prying questions about the voter’s preference for assistance."

If someone needs help and does not bring assistance, election officials can fill in. Anyone who completes a ballot for a voter is required to do so according to the voter's instructions. They are prohibited from persuading or inducing any voter to cast a vote in any particular way or to vote for any particular candidate and cannot tell others about how the voter voted.

Preventing harassment

The State Board of Elections asserts, "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."

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