Federal Election Law Crimes and Defenses
The protection of the United States election system is crucially important to ensure government officials are not using unethical or illegal methods to obtain support, such as making promises to appoint someone in a government position in exchange for their political support, activity, and financial contributions.
Put simply, it's critical to any properly functioning democracy that elections are free and fair. Thus, there is a wide range of federal laws that address the issues of voter fraud and election fraud.
Anyone who violates these laws and participates in unlawful behavior related to an election or political activity could be charged with a serious crime and prosecuted in a federal courtroom.
In the United States, the will of the people is determined at the ballot box. The elected government is meant to serve the people instead of oppressing them, as found in other non-democratic societies.
Political conflicts are meant to be settled peacefully at the ballot box in the United States to allow peaceful transitions of power for the country's greater good and its democratic process.
Federal election law exists to protect the integrity of the election process in several forms. A violation of these laws can result in federal criminal charges that carry various levels of jail and prison time as punishment.
Federal election law only applies to federal elections. Any specific local or state election that occurs outside of a federal election is not subject to federal election law and would be subject to the appropriate local or state election laws.
Our federal criminal defense lawyers will examine these laws more closely below. Many different main types of election crimes exist under federal law. They are listed and explained below.
This involves illegal conduct related to a process of an election. It can involve unlawful acts by election officials or acts done by other people that threaten the integrity and trustworthiness of the election process. There are several types of election fraud:
- issues surrounding voters getting and marking ballots,
- counting and certification of votes,
- voter registration,
- receiving ineligible votes,
- rejection of valid votes,
- tampering with ballots or election documents,
- falsification of election returns,
- falsely reporting votes,
- tamper or damage ballot boxes or voting equipment.
When misconduct occurs within the election process, it is meant to help a certain party or faction have a candidate in power that can help them or advance their political agendas.
Voter fraud normally involves unlawful voting by an individual. Someone commits voter fraud in a variety of ways, such as when they intentionally and knowingly:
- resisters to vote using a fake name or address,
- cast more than one vote in the same election,
- cast a vote in the name of an ineligible voter, such as the deceased,
- votes with a fraudulent ballot,
- votes when they are ineligible, such as an undocumented alien,
- ineligible to vote due to a felony conviction.
Readers should note that a prosecutor must be able to prove the person who committed voter fraud did so intentionally or knowingly, not by a mistake.
Unlawful Acts by Other People
Some people who are on the outside of the election process could face serious federal charges and penalties if they commit an illegal act that threatens the integrity of the election process, including the following:
- produce counterfeit ballots,
- tamper with a valid voter ballot,
- interfere with a voter's access to a polling location,
- threaten or intimidate a voter to influence their decision,
- offer someone a bribe to influence their voting decision.
The penalties for any of the above acts will depend on the specific crime, which could be charged as either a misdemeanor or felony offense. In most cases, felonies will involve corruption, bribery, or threats of harm.
Patronage deals with the winning party pushing out any public employees to put in a “spoils system” to install those based on party loyalty.
There are limits on what types of patronage are permissible under federal election law.
Federal employees that work within the executive branch are permitted to engage in open partisan political activity, while party loyalists must be careful on how and why political contributions are made.
Campaign Financing Crimes
Campaign finance crimes are outlined in the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 (FECA).
FECA covers all transactions that impact candidates for federal office, and this includes the offices of the President, Vice President, or a member of the US House of Representatives.
All issues related to how a campaign or candidate is financed, whether direct or indirect, are covered within FECA.
Civil Rights Crimes
These crimes deal with issues such as the minority's right to vote or other forms of discrimination to suppress the votes of certain groups of people. Many of these crimes are covered under the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Whenever a citizen has their ability to vote obstructed or blocked in a purposeful way to benefit a candidate or political party, then an election crime based on a civil rights violation can exist.
Most of the sanctions under these types of election crimes are criminal. There are also civil sanctions for civil rights violations that diminish voting based on race, ethnicity, or language.
What Federal Statutes Are Associated with Election Crimes?
Many federal statutes are associated with election crimes that include several categories such as patronage crimes, campaign finance crimes, and civil rights crimes. Some of the most common statutes include:
- 18 USC § 241 – conspiracy against rights and voter suppression,
- 18 USC § 242 – deprivation of rights under color of law,
- 18 USC § 592 – troops at polls,
- 18 USC § 593 – interference by armed forces,
- 18 USC § 594 – intimidation of voters,
- 18 USC § 595 – interference by administrative employees,
- 18 USC § 596 – polling armed forces,
- 18 USC § 597 – expenditures to influence voting,
- 18 USC § 598 – coercion by using relief appropriations,
- 18 USC § 599 – a promise of appointment by a candidate,
- 18 USC § 600 – a promise of employment for political activity,
- 18 USC § 601 – deprivation of employment for contribution,
- 18 USC § 602 – improper solicitation of political contributions,
- 18 USC § 603 – making improper political contributions,
- 18 USC § 604 – solicitations from people on relief,
- 18 USC § 605 – disclosing names of people on relief,
- 18 USC § 606 – intimidation to obtain political contribution,
- 18 USC § 607 – a place of solicitation,
- 18 USC § 608 – absent uniformed services voters,
- 18 USC § 609 – use of the military to influence armed forces votes,
- 18 USC § 610 – coercion of political activity,
- 18 USC § 611 – voting by undocumented aliens,
- 52 USC § 20511(2) – fraudulent registration or voting,
- 52 USC § 10307(c) – false Information, payments for registering and voting,
- 52 USC § 1030(e) – voting multiple times,
- 52 USC § 20511(1) – intimidation on voting,
- 52 USC § 30116 – limitations on contributions and expenditures,
- 52 USC § 30118 – contributions by banks or labor organizations,
- 52 USC § 30119 – contributions by government contractors,
- 52 USC § 30121 – contribution from foreign nationals,
- 52 USC § 30122 – contributions in the name of another,
- 52 USC § 30123 – limitations on the contribution of money,
- 52 USC § 30124 – misrepresentation of campaign authority,
- 52 USC § 30125 – soft money of political parties,
- The Hatch Act,
- Voting Rights Act of 1965.
This is not a complete list of election-related crimes. If you are being accused of an election crime, whether it is listed above or not, then it is important to speak to an experienced attorney right away.
Contact a Federal Criminal Lawyer for Help
If you are under investigation or have already been arrested and indicted for an election law offense, you will need to consult with an experienced legal representation who knows how the federal criminal justice system works.
At Eisner Gorin LLP, we understand the federal laws that address the integrity of our political system and know how a federal prosecutor will attempt to build a case against you.
We might be able to negotiate with the prosecutor for a favorable outcome on the case, but first, need to review all the details and discuss legal options.
We are located in Los Angeles County and serve people in California and throughout the United States.
You can reach us for an initial consultation by calling 877-781-1570, or filling out our contact form.