Valley resident alleges voter intimidation at ballot drop box

Olivia Sandusky

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A Coachella Valley resident took to Nextdoor to post the following message:

“Voter intimidation. So I went to vote today at the Palm Springs City Hall. I met my friend Andy there and I dropped off my ballot in the official drop off box inside. As we walk out there is what looks like a decommissioned police car with a driver in a grey hoodie (to hide their face) and they pull slowly up to the voting area. The car was spray-painted black, blacked out windows with the word “Trump” written in white paint on one of the side windows and on the back window in large letters the words, “STANDING BY”, also in white paint.They drove around incredibly slow in the City Hall parking lot and menacing, probably trying to intimidate voters. Just feet away from my voting spot.”

The car being referenced can be seen photographed outside of a Stater Bros. at a different time, it was attached to a comment on the post.
U.S. Code 594 defines voter intimidation as “Whoever intimidates, threatens, coerces, or attempts to intimidate, threaten, or coerce, any other person for the purpose of interfering with the right of such other person to vote…”
In this instance, the resident notified the Palm Springs Police Department, who responded to the call of a suspicious vehicle, but were unable to locate the car.

“We can check a scenario out. So, in a scenario where somebody’s cruising through the parking lot and they might favor a political side. The fact that they were just driving through, that doesn’t necessarily mean there’s going to be a crime or they’re there to intimidate. Or, maybe it does. That’s what we’re there for,” said Lt. Hutchinson with the Palm Springs Police Department. 

In California, it is illegal to display a candidate’s name, image or logo within 100 feet of a polling place or ballot drop box location, according to elections code 319.5.

Buttons, hats, pencils, pens, shirts, signs, or stickers containing electioneering information are also prohibited.

Lt. Hutchinson says their department hasn’t received any calls of voter intimidation so far this year, just the report of a suspicious vehicle.

“We do have close patrols for all the voting locations,and they are aware of how to respond to a crime that could potentially be occurring at voting polls,” said Lt. Hutchinson. 

Around the country, concerns have also surfaced about poll watchers, which have been openly encouraged by President Trump.

“I’m urging my supporters to go to the polls and watch very carefully,” said President Trump at the first Presidential debate. 

In Riverside County, it’s legal to volunteer as a poll watcher, but the position comes with specific rules. 

“There are all sorts of safe guards built in this system. They can’t stop voters, they can’t harass voters. They can’t be behind the machine. They should approach the judge of elections,” said Al Schmidt, an election commissioner. 

Poll watchers also can’t wear campaign gear or law enforcement-like outfits, and they can’t touch voting equipment. 

For anyone who feels uncomfortable while voting, they can call the voter intimidation hotline at 1-866-OUR-VOTE to report a situation.

They can also call the non-emergency line at their local police department.

“We certainly want to make sure that there isn’t any intimidation factors going on. That people are free to vote the way they want to without having to fear repercussions from opposing groups,” said Lt. Hutchinson.

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