Law prof: Use of armed law enforcement in voter fraud investigations rare

By Jamie Kelly | Jun 24, 2016

YREKA – The Siskiyou County Sheriff’s and district attorney’s offices helped state investigators look into allegations of voter fraud in the days before the June 7 election, a move that is extremely rare, according to a law professor who studies voting rights.

“It's not common,” Daniel Tokaji, a professor at Ohio State University’s Moritz College of Law, told the Northern California Record. “I don't think it's unheard of, but it's not common at all. I think these investigations usually involve whether somebody is registered at an address where they're not living, or whether they're felons who are not eligible to vote under state law. The use of armed law enforcement – I can't say I've never heard of it, but I think it's fair to say that it's very rare.”

Daniel Tokaji   Ohio State University

A news release issued jointly by the sheriff’s and district attorney’s office said that the deputies were providing security for the state investigators and warned against anyone registering to vote using an address where they don’t live that deliberate voter fraud is a felony.

The investigation apparently centered on allegations about people registering to vote at addresses where they didn’t live.

The presence of deputies drew accusations of voter intimidation, with voting rights advocates saying that deputies targeted members of the area’s Hmong community. Representatives from the California attorney general’s office came to the county on election day to monitor polling places.

Tokaji said that voting rights are an issue where there is some universal agreement but also a deep divide.

“I think everyone agrees that only people who are eligible to vote under the law should be allowed to vote,” he said. “On the other hand, I think people also generally agree that everyone agrees that everyone who is eligible to vote should not only be allowed to vote but encouraged to vote.

“Where I think you see a difference of opinion is on which of these things – integrity or access – is more important and what the reality is. Do we live in a society where voter fraud is rampant, or do we live in a society where there are too many barriers and burdens on voting? It's really both a philosophical disagreement and a factual disagreement.”

Siskiyou County Sheriff Jon Lopey has denied charges that his deputies were intimidating voters. Advocates for the Hmong community have claimed that in addition to showing up at people’s houses visibly armed, the sheriff and others set up checkpoints on the road and stopped people of Hmong descent and asked if they were registered to vote. Lopey has called those allegations untrue.

Tokaji said that if those claims were true, they were troubling.

“If these allegations are true, they are extremely serious and pose a grave risk of intimidating voters,” he said. “It raises very serious concerns about voter intimidation. It's hard to imagine circumstances where that would be a proportionate response.”

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