Fairfax County's top prosecutor has a warning -- and words of reassurance -- about voter intimidation during election season.
"It's important that people know they can go and vote without incident and it's important [that] people who would stand in the way of that would be held accountable if they try," Fairfax County Commonwealth's Attorney Steve Descano said.
He says concerns in the community are prompting him to speak out.
Hoping to get out ahead of any trouble that could come on Election Day, Descano created and posted a video to explain to residents that, under Virginia law, it's a crime to intimidate or hinder someone's right to vote.
Here are some tactics that could cross the line and result in a charge:
- Threats or acts of violence
- Acting aggressively toward voters -- for instance, yelling in a voter's face
- A display of firearms
- Blocking the entrance or exit of a polling place
- Following a voter to or from their vehicle
But electioneering, shouting support for a candidate, as long as it's outside a 40-foot line, is generally OK.
During the first weekend of early voting, a noisy "Trump train" staged outside the Fairfax County Government Center had supporters blasting horns as they rallied alongside voters waiting in line. In spite of complaints, this was not voter intimidation.
"One of the dividing lines is if it's targeted to individuals," Descano said. "When you are rallying, you are not necessarily targeting to individuals."
Descano has formed an election response team within his staff to work with county police if issues arise. The team will be on call whenever the polls are open, standing by to coordinate with police when responding to allegations of voter intimation.
Fairfax County's registrar says that although there have not been any incidents of voter intimidation during early voting, there has been attempted interference.
"We had one instance the other day where someone was working the line, saying you'd be better off leaving now and coming back election day and voting at your polling place," he said.
And a reminder for gun owners: Depending on the polling place, you may be able to carry a weapon outside the building, but guns are banned inside all polling places.
In Fairfax County, the prosecutor is urging anyone who sees voter intimidation to call the police department's non-emergency number at 703-691-2131 (TTY: 703-877-3715). Although Fairfax County is advising voters to contact police, complaints about intimidation should be directed to election officials.