RALEIGH — Reports of raucous campaigning around early voting sites and people purposefully misrepresenting voting rules to residents are worrying North Carolina election officials, who say such activity can't be tolerated and can be criminal.
The N.C. State Board of Elections has received many reports of "aggressive electioneering" at in-person voting sites. Candidate and party activists have been entering no-campaign zones — state law requires a 25- to 50-foot buffer at the door of a voting place — to work potential voters and using profanities and other aggressive language with the opposing side, a state board memo says.
There also have been reports of voters being told wrongly they can vote by phone or they can't vote if they have outstanding traffic tickets. Voters also have complained about letters they've received that contain their voting history and those of their neighbors.
"I have heard more complaints, more misinformation and more what I call intimidation or suppression than any time during my tenure," said state elections executive director Gary Bartlett, who's held the job for nearly 20 years. Independent or third-party groups seem responsible for most activities that prompt complaints, which have come from every area of the state, Bartlett said.
In one case, a Wake County poll worker needed medical attention when she tried to protect the buffer zone from a campaigner, according to the memo to local elections boards reminding them of their responsibility to keep voting places unobstructed and free of intimidation. Police can be called in to maintain order, Bartlett wrote.
"We must have civility in our voting and police places," he wrote. "Aggressive and unlawful electioneering shall not be tolerated."
Some voters have been told wrongly they must vote Nov. 7 — the day after Election Day — because of their party affiliation, while others have been told they must re-register every time they vote. It's a felony to widely misrepresent state law to discourage voting.
Bartlett said some people have called to complain they have felt intimidated by letters from at least two groups that contain past voting activity of the recipient and their neighbors.
One letter from the Virginia-based Americans for Limited Government provided by Bartlett thanks the recipient for voting in past presidential elections and urges them to vote this year. The letter also provides what's called a "voter history audit" of the ballot activity. Bartlett's office is monitoring the matter.
"We've got to do our diligence to figure out if it's illegal or not, but I can say it's unusual, different and near the line," Bartlett said.
A spokesman for Americans for Limited Government said Tuesday the group's only goal is to increase voter participation by using "publicly available information" to identify voters who haven't voted in key elections.
"While some may find the ability of campaigns or civic groups like ALG to access voting history worrisome, the reality is that in a representative democracy using voter lists and histories is a fundamental tool," Communications Director Richard Manning said.