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Victims of voter intimidation would have rights to sue under bill passed by Pa. House panel

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Peter Hall, Pennsylvania Capital-Star
March 26, 2024

Victims of voter intimidation in Pennsylvania would have legal standing to sue people criminally convicted of interfering with polling places under a bill passed Tuesday by the state House Judiciary Committee.

Sponsored by Rep. Stephen Kinsey (D-Philadelphia), House Bill 461 would allow victims to sue for punitive damages and attorney fees. The law would apply to defendants who are convicted of violating the Pennsylvania Election Code’s provisions against voter intimidation.

The passed 14-12 in a party line vote, with Republicans in opposition, and now goes to the full House for consideration.

Kinsey said during a Judiciary Committee meeting on Tuesday that voter intimidation has been a longstanding problem, as communities of color have faced intimidation since the 19th century and remains an issue today, with extremist groups posting watchers at drop boxes in Arizona last year.

Fourteen states have passed laws to protect election officials, staff and volunteers, Kinsey noted.

“I applaud what those states have done to protect their election officials and election workers. However, I ask you to join me in strengthening our laws to protect the people who are legally qualified to vote. I’m talking about over 9 million qualified voters in the state of Pennsylvania,” Kinsey said.

Rep. Chris Rabb (D-Philadelphia) asked whether the definition of voter intimidation would include misinformation intended to keep voters away from polls.

“Working in the rough and tumble political environment of Philadelphia, I’ve seen a few things,” Rabb said. “We’ve heard things about saying Democrats vote on Tuesday, Republicans vote on Wednesday, or this is not your polling place – not being told by a polling a poll worker, an election board worker – but someone else of trust.”

Kinsey replied that disseminating false or misleading election information, including information on voting eligibility, polling place procedures, polling place hours, or voting methods is among the acts considered to be intimidation.

Rep. Rob Kauffman (R-Franklin) said he was not comfortable with the bill, citing a lack of a definition of an “aggrieved person” who would have standing to sue over voter intimidation. 

“I honestly don’t know that I’m opposed to this. I’m just not prepared to vote yes to it right now without further study,” Kauffman said.

Pennsylvania Capital-Star is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Pennsylvania Capital-Star maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Kim Lyons for questions: info@penncapital-star.com. Follow Pennsylvania Capital-Star on Facebook and Twitter.

This article is republished from Pennsylvania Capital-Star under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.