Voting and Elections

Guidance on Voter Intimidation and Discriminatory Conduct

Voter intimidation and discriminatory conduct is illegal under federal and New Mexico law. Any activity that threatens, harasses or intimidates voters, including any activity that is intended to, or has the effect of, interfering with any voter’s right to vote, whether it occurs outside the polling place or inside the polling place is illegal.

Who is permitted in the polling place?

The following persons are permitted in the polling place while voting is occurring:

  • Precinct board members.
  • Voters in the process of voting.
  • Persons lawfully providing assistance to voters.
  • Poll watchers.
  • County and state canvass observers.
  • Challengers.
  • State police or other peace officers, under conditions described below.

Can members of the media be present inside a polling place?

While the New Mexico Election Code does not specifically address media in the polling place, the county clerk or presiding judge may choose to allow media access if it is not interfering with the voting process or compromising the secrecy of the ballot. If media outlets have inquiries about appropriate conduct, they should check in with the county clerk and presiding judge to find out what may be appropriate at a specific location and to follow all instructions issued.

When media is present in or around a polling site, b-roll/photos/video may be permissible so long as the media members don’t obstruct voting or violate the secrecy of someone’s ballot or capture the back of screens where personal information can be seen. The presiding judge of any polling place determines if behavior is permissible.

What are the Federal Prohibitions against Voter Intimidation and Discriminatory Conduct?

  • Election officials are prohibited under federal law including the United States Constitution, the Voting Rights Act, and the Americans with Disabilities Act from discriminating against voters based on race, ethnicity, national origin, language, disability or religion, or from allowing any discriminatory conduct by private actors to affect voters.
  • Individuals who discriminate against voters can be fined up to $5,000 and face up to five years in prison.
  • Election officials and private citizens are prohibited from conspiring with others to deprive a voter of her right to vote.
  • Individuals who conspire with others to interfere with a person’s right to vote can face up to 10 years in prison.

What are New Mexico Prohibitions against Voter Intimidation and Discriminatory Conduct?

  • Discrimination: Discrimination against voters, where by private citizen or election officials, is prohibited. In particular:
    • Election officials may not treat voters differently in any way based on race or other protected characteristics, including asking voters of only certain ethnic or racial groups to show ID or to answer questions to vote.
    • Election official and private citizens may not challenge a person’s eligibility to vote based on the racial or ethnic makeup of a precinct or polling place. They also may not base challenges or mailings targeted at individuals living in precincts with large concentrations of minorities
    • Election judges may not accept a private citizen’s challenge to a voter’s eligibility if the challenge was discriminatory, or based on unreliable information.
  • Intimidation: Private Citizens, whether acting as election challengers, watchers or observers, may not directly confront voters. They also may not use raised voices or insulting, offensive or threating language.
  • Deceptive Practices: It is unlawful to disseminate misleading information about elections, including flyers or other communication that purposely misstate the time and date of an election, where it will be held, and how voting will happen.
  • Misuse of Law Enforcement: Law enforcement officials generally may not be present at the polls except to vote, assist in maintaining order, and, upon request, observe the election proceedings, and private citizens may not be at polling places dressed to appear like law enforcement officials.
  • Conspiracy to Violate Voter’s Rights: Private Citizens may not assist others in discriminatory or intimidating conduct.

What are examples of voter intimidation and discriminatory conduct?

  • Aggressive behavior inside or outside the polling place.
  • Blocking the entrance to the polling place.
  • Direct confrontation or questioning of voters, or asking voters for documentation where none is required.
  • Disrupting voting lines inside or outside of the polling place.
  • Disseminating false or misleading election information.
  • Election workers treating voters differently in any way based on race or other protected characteristics.
  • Brandishing of weapons.
  • Photographing or videotaping voters to intimidate them.
  • Poll watchers or party challengers confronting, hovering or directly speaking to voters.
  • Posting signs inside the polling place of penalties for “voter fraud” based on voting or support for a candidate.
  • Challenges to voters by election workers and party challengers that are made without a stated good faith basis.
  • Challenges by anyone other than a member of the precinct board or by a party challenger.
  • Using raised voices, insulting offensive or threatening language, or making taunting chants inside the polling place.
  • Vandalism of polling places.
  • Verbal or physical confrontation of voters by persons dressed in official-looking uniforms.
  • Violence or using the threat of violence to interfere with a person’s right to vote.

Are Police Officers and other Peace officers permitted at a polling place?

Police officers are permitted at the polling place upon request of election officials for the purpose of observing the conduct of the election. However, police officers may not interfere with voting procedures except to maintain order.

Uniformed police officers, and poll watchers wearing official-seeming clothing in polling places has been found to intimidate voters. The Department recommends that counties balance the potentially intimidating effect of uniformed individuals in the polling place with the need to preserve peace.

The following peace officers may not serve as party challengers, watchers, or observers: a sheriff, deputy sheriff, marshal, deputy marshal or state or municipal police officer.

How do I report inappropriate conduct or disruptions occurring at a polling location?

Individuals who witness voter intimidation or who are victims of voter intimidation may report the incident to the Secretary of State’s Office, their County Clerk’s Office and County District Attorney.

The New Mexico Secretary of State’s Office is charged with investigating complaints related to elections and ethics under New Mexico law. If you believe your complaint falls under the authority of our office, please submit your complaint, in writing, to our office, on the Complaint Form  Our office accepts complaints in both original and electronic form, but we do prefer e-mail. We do not process or investigate anonymous complaints.

Upcoming Statewide Elections

2024 General Election: Tuesday, November 5, 2024

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