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Election etiquette: What you need to know

Incidents connected to voter intimidation have been reported in Erie County. What is actually considered illegal behavior at polling places during elections?

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Emotions often run high during election season, from the start of the campaign season to election day. 

Early voting is underway in Erie County, and already thousands of early voters have cast their votes. Up one from last year, Erie County has 39 polling sites this year, the most early voting sites of any county in New York State.

Erie County Board of Elections Commissioner Ralph Mohr says Saturday's turnout on Day 1 was beyond what they expected.

"The first day that we've had was very good," Mohr says. "We had better-than-expected turnout with the City of Buffalo, accounting for about half the votes that were cast for early voting."

And while turnout was good, Mohr says there have already been incidents connected to voter intimidation at certain sites.

"There's various complaints that have been made already, and we've jumped on each of those. We have received calls from the Attorney General's office, asking us to be extra vigilant with regard to activities which occur at the polling place," Mohr explained.

That is why it's important to verify what is actually considered illegal behavior at polling places during elections.

One common question involves whether it's legal to take a photo or film a video.

Commissioner Mohr says when it comes to the ballot itself and voting, "You cannot photograph either your own ballot or anyone else voting."

So, to verify, yes, it's considered illegal behavior.

Another commonly asked question has to do with campaigning at polling sites and whether doing so is legal.

According to Chapter 17 of the Consolidated Laws of New York State, which covers elections, you must be at least 100 feet away from the entrance of a polling site if you are campaigning. That is "measured from the entrances, designated by the inspectors of elections, to a building where the election or registration is being held."

To this, Commissioner Mohr adds, "In addition to that, people can't be wearing paraphernalia inside the polling location. There shouldn't be any electioneering or campaigning or intimidation of voters within the voting place."

So, to verify, campaigning at polling locations is only illegal if you are less than 100 feet from the entrance of the site.

Here's another question that can be controversial: what constitutes voter intimidation?

Mohr says any activity or behavior that could encourage or hinder a voter during their voting process is considering voter intimidation. 

Election law backs that up by classifying "willfully and unlawfully obstructing, hindering, delaying, aiding, or assisting in obstructing any elector" as intimidation, and therefore that behavior is illegal at polling places. 

So, to verify, any behavior that meets this criteria at a polling place is considered illegal and breaking election law.

Mohr says, protecting voter rights is an important element in getting more people to exercise their right to vote.

Early voting ends on October 31. Voting is universal, which means voters can go to the polling place that is most convenient. 

The early voting process works just as Election Day: go in, check in at the table, make sure you are registered, get your ballot, vote, and submit your completed ballot into the tabulator. 

Election Day is November 2. 


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