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Pa. Department Of State Working To Prevent Intimidation At Polls

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- Voters have the right to fulfill their civic duty in a safe and unthreatening environment.

The Pennsylvania Department of State says it's making every effort to ensure that is the case.

"Anything that is intimidating, obstructing, where a voter is feeling their protected right to vote is being obstructed or threatened in some way, that crosses the line," said Kathy Boockvar, the Pennsylvania Secretary of State.

But in this emotionally-pitched climate, there's concern about conflict between poll watchers and voters.

In Philadelphia, voters have already complained of being videotaped by partisan campaigns when dropping off their ballots at satellite locations. And while videotaping will not be allowed inside polling places on Election Day, the potential for harassment is still there.

But intimidation may be in the eye of the beholder. On Election Day, voters who feel intimidated can report the incident to the Judge of Elections, who can dispatch an Allegheny County sheriff's deputy to investigate. But Sheriff Bill Mullen says the allegation must have merit.

"We just can't go somewhere and serve a notice that you're intimidated without some proof they were, in fact, being threatened," Mullen said.

And a voter's need to feel secure cannot conflict with other rights — such as the right to open carry firearms at the polls.

"Open carry at polls is a legit exercise of a constitutional right," said Kim Stolfer of Firearms Owners Against Crime.

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The voter cannot claim intimidation simply because someone openly carrying a firearm at the polls makes them feel uncomfortable. The state agrees, in large part, but says open carry will not be allowed at polling places inside courthouses and schools.

Even though Stolfer disagrees with those restrictions, he's advising his own membership to comply to avoid legal entanglements.

"I suggest that discretions is the better part of valor," Stolfer said.

Now, only poll watchers authorized by each county's elections bureau will be allowed at the polls. These can be from candidates, parties or other organizations. All others may be subject to arrest and prosecution.

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