Voter Advisory: Protecting D.C. Residents from Unauthorized Poll Monitoring and Voter Intimidation

OAG Will Enforce the Law Against Anyone Who Tries to Interfere with an Individual’s Right to a Free and Fair Election

WASHINGTON, D.C. Attorney General Karl A. Racine today issued an advisory on poll monitoring and voter intimidation for District residents in response to a recent interview by President Trump inaccurately suggesting that his office could send law enforcement officials to conduct poll monitoring. On August 20, 2020, President Trump was asked whether he would send “poll watchers” to monitor elections for possible voter fraud. He responded by saying, “We’re going to have everything. We’re going to have sheriffs and law enforcement and we’re going to have, hopefully, U.S. attorneys, and we’re going to have everybody, and attorney generals, but it’s very hard.” District laws have long protected D.C. residents against unauthorized poll monitoring and voter intimidation. The Office of the Attorney General (OAG) will vigorously enforce these laws to ensure a free and fair election for our residents. Federal law also prohibits voter intimidation.

“We’re seeing continued attempts by the Trump Administration to intentionally and unlawfully undermine the American people’s trust in a free and fair election process,” said AG Racine. “It is unlawful to threaten, intimidate, or coerce District residents who choose to vote by mail or in-person. Now more than ever, we urge District residents to be vigilant and report any type of unauthorized poll monitoring or voter intimidation to the Office of the Attorney General.”

To better understand authorized and unauthorized poll monitoring activities, read the FAQ’s provided below.

Can the President send individuals or groups to monitor D.C. polls without authorization?
No. D.C. Law prohibits unauthorized poll monitoring and voter intimidation. Specifically, D.C. requires those seeking to witness the administration of elections to petition the Board of Elections for authorizing credentials. If the Board of Elections issues credentials to observers, those observers are prohibited from: touching ballots or voting equipment; interfering with the progress of voting or counting; assisting a voter; talking to any voter during the process of voting; obstructing the electoral process in any way; and using any video or still cameras inside a polling place while the polls are open for voting. District law also expressly prohibits anyone from interfering with voter registration or voting itself.

Can the President send the military and/or federal law enforcement to monitor the polls?
No. An array of federal statutes bar federal employees, law enforcement, and the military from using their official power to interfere with an election. More specifically, federal law prohibits the military and armed federal law enforcement officers from being present at a poll site unless it is necessary to “repel armed enemies of the United States.” Federal law also prohibits anyone from intimidating or coercing voters in federal elections or from interfering with an election officer’s discharge of their duties. Violators can face fines and imprisonment. Federal law also prohibits federal and local administrative employees from interfering with, or affecting, a presidential or congressional election that has been financed in whole or in part by the federal government.

Can the President order local law enforcement officials to monitor the polls?
No. The President’s authority over federal law enforcement actors does not extend to their local counterparts. Despite his suggestion that he will deploy sheriffs or other local officials to monitor the polls, he has no such power. In addition, as with federal actors, local administrative employees face criminal sanctions if they interfere with a presidential or congressional election where the jurisdiction is in receipt of federal monies used in connection with administering the election. As discussed, violations under this statute are punishable by fines or imprisonment.

Are there permissible forms of election observation and monitoring in the District?
Yes. District law allows for “poll watchers” – those representing candidates or ballot measures – and “election observers” – those otherwise interested in witnessing the election process – if expressly approved in advance by the Board of Elections. Individuals approved by the Board may witness the election inside polling places, but are subject to extensive restrictions, including a prohibition on speaking to voters.

Know Your Rights
If someone interferes with your right to vote through threats, intimidation, or coercion, or you become aware of any interference with the right of D.C. residents to vote, please contact OAG at (202) 442-9828 or email us at If you need immediate assistance, dial 911 or the Metropolitan Police Department.

Voting in the District of Columbia
District residents can find information about the November election, registering to vote, and voting by mail or in person on the D.C. Board of Elections website: In the District, all active voters will be mailed a ballot. Voters can return their mail-in ballot by mail using the enclosed prepaid envelope, but it must be postmarked by Election Day and arrive no later than November 13. The signature on your mail-in ballot must match the signature on file with the Board of Elections, which is the same signature on your driver’s license. Voters can also drop off their ballot at one of dozens of drop box locations before 8:00 p.m. on Election Day or at one of the vote centers during early voting or on Election Day. Mail-in ballots will start to arrive during the first week of October, but if voters do not receive a ballot by October 21, officials recommend planning to vote in person.

If voters don’t plan to vote by mail, they can find convenient early vote and Election Day vote centers online, which will be open from 8:30 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. during early voting and from 7:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. on Election Day. Voters can vote at any of the vote centers during early voting and on Election Day. Unregistered voters can register to vote online or by mail, e-mail, or fax by October 13. Unregistered voters can also register in person during early voting or on Election Day itself. More information on registering to vote is here. OAG also recently published a D.C. Voter Checklist to encourage residents to make a plan to vote.