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Penal Provisions of the Elections Code – Voting Process

Any person who commits fraud or attempts to commit fraud is guilty of a felony, punishable by imprisonment for 16 months or two or three years

By Chris Micheli, February 10, 2022 6:55 am

There are penal, or criminal, provisions of California’s Elections Code. These laws are provided in Division 18. Chapter 6 deals with Corruption of the Voting Process. Article 1 deals with General Provisions. Section 18500 provides that any person who commits fraud or attempts to commit fraud, and any person who aids or abets fraud or attempts to aid or abet fraud, in connection with any vote cast, to be cast, or attempted to be cast, is guilty of a felony, punishable by imprisonment for 16 months or two or three years.

Section 18501 provides that any public official who knowingly violates any of the provisions of this chapter, and thereby aids in any way the illegal casting or attempting to cast a vote, or who connives to nullify any of the provisions of this chapter in order that fraud may be perpetrated, is forever disqualified from holding office in this state and upon conviction is sentenced to a state prison for 16 months or two or three years.

Section 18502 states that any person who in any manner interferes with the officers holding an election or conducting a canvass, or with the voters lawfully exercising their rights of voting at an election, as to prevent the election or canvass from being fairly held and lawfully conducted, is punishable by imprisonment for 16 months or two or three years.

Section 18503 provides that an employer who violates the law is subject to a civil fine of up to $10,000 per election. An action for a civil fine may be brought by the Secretary of State or any public prosecutor with jurisdiction. Section 18504 specifies that notice regarding the prohibitions on activity related to corruption of the voting process set forth in this chapter must be provided to the public.

Article 2 deals with the Corruption of Voters. Section 18520 prohibits a person from directly or through another person give, offer, or promise any office, place, or employment, or promise to procure or endeavor to procure any office, place, or employment to or for any voter, or to or for any other person, in order to induce that voter at any election to:

  • Refrain from voting.
  • Vote for any particular person.
  • Refrain from voting for any particular person.

A violation of any of the provisions of this section is punishable by imprisonment for 16 months or two or three years.

Section 18521 prohibits a person from directly or through any other person receive, agree, or contract for, before, during or after an election, any money, gift, loan, or other valuable consideration, office, place, or employment for himself or any other person because he or any other person did any of the following:

  • Voted, agreed to vote, refrained from voting, or agreed to refrain from voting for any particular person or measure.
  • Remained away from the polls.
  • Refrained or agreed to refrain from voting.
  • Induced any other person to remain away from the polls, refrain from voting, or vote or refrain from voting for any particular person or measure.

Any person violating this section is punishable by imprisonment for 16 months or two or three years.

Section 18522 states that neither a person nor a controlled committee can directly or through any other person or controlled committee pay, lend, or contribute, or offer or promise to pay, lend, or contribute, any money or other valuable consideration to or for any voter or to or for any other person to:

  • Vote, agreed to vote, refrained from voting, or agreed to refrain from voting for any particular person or measure.
  • Remain away from the polls.
  • Refrain or agreed to refrain from voting.
  • Induce any other person to remain away from the polls, refrain from voting, or vote or refrain from voting for any particular person or measure.

Any person violating this section is punishable by imprisonment for 16 months or two or three years.

Section 18523 prohibits a person from directly or through any other person advance or pay, or cause to be paid, any money or other valuable thing to or for the use of any other person, with the intent that it, or any part thereof, must be used in bribery at any election, or knowingly pay or cause to be paid any money or other valuable thing to any person in discharge or repayment of any money, wholly or in part, expended in bribery at any election. Any person violating this section is punishable by imprisonment for 16 months or two or three years.

Section 18524 prohibits a person from directly or through any other person advance or pay, or cause to be paid, any money or other valuable thing to or for the use of any other person, with the intent that it, or any part thereof, will be used for boarding, lodging, or maintaining a person at any place or domicile in any election precinct, ward, or district, with intent to secure the vote of that person or to induce that person to vote for any particular person or measure. Any person violating this section is punishable by imprisonment for 16 months or two or three years.

Article 2 deals with the Intimidation of Voters. Section 18540 provides that every person who makes use of or threatens to make use of any force, violence, or tactic of coercion or intimidation, to induce or compel any other person to vote or refrain from voting at any election or to vote or refrain from voting for any particular person or measure at any election, or because any person voted or refrained from voting at any election or voted or refrained from voting for any particular person or measure at any election is guilty of a felony punishable by imprisonment for 16 months or two or three years.

Section 18541 prohibits a person, with the intent of dissuading another person from voting within the 100 foot limit, from doing any of the following:

  • Solicit a vote or speak to a voter on the subject of marking the voter’s ballot.
  • Place a sign relating to voters’ qualifications or speak to a voter on the subject of the voter’s qualifications.
  • Photograph, video record, or otherwise record a voter entering or exiting a polling place.
  • Obstruct ingress, egress, or parking.

In addition, a person may not, with the intent of dissuading another person from voting, do any of the following within the immediate vicinity of a voter in line to cast a ballot or drop off a ballot:

  • Solicit a vote.
  • Speak to a voter about marking the voter’s ballot.
  • Disseminate visible or audible electioneering information.

A violation of this section is punishable by imprisonment in a county jail for not more than 12 months, or in state prison. Any person who conspires to violate this section is guilty of a felony.

Section 18542 states that every employer, whether a corporation or natural person, or any other person who employs, is guilty of a misdemeanor if, in paying his or her employees the salary or wages due them, encloses their pay in pay envelopes upon which or in which there is written or printed the name of any candidate or any political mottoes, devices, or arguments containing threats, express or implied, intended or calculated to influence the political opinions or actions of the employees.

Section 18543 provides that every person who knowingly challenges a person’s right to vote without probable cause or on fraudulent or spurious grounds, or who engages in mass, indiscriminate, and groundless challenging of voters solely for the purpose of preventing voters from voting or to delay the process of voting, or who fraudulently advises any person that he or she is not eligible to vote or is not registered to vote when in fact that person is eligible or is registered, is punishable by imprisonment in the county jail for not more than 12 months or in the state prison. Every person who conspires to violate this law is guilty of a felony.

Section 18544 states that any person in possession of a firearm or any uniformed peace officer, private guard, or security personnel or any person who is wearing a uniform of a peace officer, guard, or security personnel, who is stationed in the immediate vicinity of, or posted at, a polling place without written authorization of the appropriate city or county elections official is punishable by a fine not exceeding $10,000, by imprisonment for 16 months or two or three years, or in a county jail not exceeding one year, or by both that fine and imprisonment.

However, this section does not apply to an unarmed, uniformed guard or security personnel, a peace officer, or a private guard or security personnel.

Section 18545 provides that any person who hires or arranges for any other person in possession of a firearm or any uniformed peace officer, private guard, or security personnel or any person who is wearing a uniform of a peace officer, guard, or security personnel, to be stationed in the immediate vicinity of, or posted at, a polling place without written authorization of the appropriate elections official is punishable by a fine not exceeding $10,000, by imprisonment for 16 months or two or three years, or in a county jail not exceeding one year, or by both that fine and imprisonment.

Section 18546 defines the terms “elections official” and “immediate vicinity.” Section 18547 provides that the court may order any person convicted of violating this article to pay a restitution fine, the amount of which is determined by the court and should be commensurate with the seriousness of the offense.

Section 18548 establishes the Voter Intimidation Restitution Fund in the State Treasury. Upon appropriation by the Legislature, moneys in the fund are to be allocated to the Secretary of State to be used in voter education campaigns addressing the specific crime committed by anyone convicted of violating this article. The funds must also be used for the administrative costs associated with distribution of the fund.

Article 4 deals with Corruption of Voting. Section 18560 makes every person guilty of a crime punishable by imprisonment for 16 months or two or three years, or in a county jail not exceeding one year, who:

  • Not being entitled to vote at an election, fraudulently votes or fraudulently attempts to vote at that election.
  • Being entitled to vote at an election, votes more than once, attempts to vote more than once, or knowingly hands in two or more ballots folded together at that election.
  • Impersonates or attempts to impersonate a voter at an election.

Section 18561 makes every person punishable by imprisonment for 16 months or two or three years who procures, assists, counsels, or advises another to give or offer his vote at any election, knowing that the person is not qualified to vote, or aids or abets in the commission of specified offenses.

Section 18562 makes every member of a precinct board guilty of a misdemeanor who, prior to putting the ballot of a voter in the ballot box, commits any of the following:

  • Attempts to find out any name on the ballot.
  • Opens or suffers to be opened or examined the folded ballot of any voter which has been handed in.
  • Makes or places any mark or device on any folded ballot with a view to ascertaining the name of any person for whom the voter has voted.

Section 18562.5 makes a member of the public guilty of a misdemeanor if, while observing any of the following:

  • Attempting to ascertain the identity and ballot choices of a voter, or having observed or learned the identity of a voter, attempting to ascertain the ballot choices of that voter.
  • Opening a provisional or vote by mail ballot envelope containing a voted ballot in order to ascertain the voter’s ballot choices.
  • Making or placing a mark or device on a ballot or secrecy envelope in an attempt to ascertain the voter’s ballot choices.

Section 18563 provides that every member of a precinct board is guilty of a misdemeanor who, without the consent of a voter, discloses the name of any candidate the board member has discovered in his capacity as a member of the board to have been voted for by the voter.

Section 18564 specifies that any person is guilty of a felony, punishable by imprisonment for two, three, or four years who, before or during an election:

  • Tampers with, interferes with, or attempts to interfere with, the correct operation of, or willfully damages in order to prevent the use of, any voting machine, voting device, voting system, vote tabulating device, or ballot tally software program source codes.
  • Interferes or attempts to interfere with the secrecy of voting or ballot tally software program source codes.
  • Knowingly, and without authorization, makes or has in his or her possession a key to a voting machine that has been adopted and will be used in elections in this state.
  • Willfully substitutes or attempts to substitute forged or counterfeit ballot tally software program source codes.

Section 18564.5 states that the Secretary of State, Attorney General, and any local elections official in the county in which the act occurs, may bring a civil action against an individual, business, or other legal entity that commits specified acts before, during, or after an election. A civil action may be brought pursuant to this section for a civil penalty not to exceed $50,000 for each act and for injunctive relief, if appropriate.

Section 18565 provides that any person who aids or abets in the commission of any of the offenses described is punishable by imprisonment in the county jail for a period of six months or in the state prison for 16 months or two or three years.

Section 18566 makes every person subject to punishment by imprisonment for two, three, or four years who:

  • Forges or counterfeits returns of an election purported to have been held at a precinct where no election was in fact held.
  • Willfully substitutes forged or counterfeit returns of election in the place of true returns for a precinct where an election was actually held.

Section 18567 makes every person who willfully adds to or subtracts from the votes actually cast at an election, in any official or unofficial returns, or who alters the returns, is punishable by imprisonment for 16 months or two or three years.

Section 18568 specifies that every person is punishable by a fine not exceeding $1,000, or by imprisonment for 16 months or two or three years, or by both that fine and imprisonment, who engages in certain prohibited activities.

Section 18569 makes every person who aids or abets in the commission of any of the offenses mentioned is punishable by imprisonment in the county jail for the period of six months or in the state prison for 16 months or two or three years.

Section 18570 makes every person guilty of a misdemeanor who does any one of the following:

  • Removes or defaces any posted copy of the results of votes cast within the period of 48 hours from the official time fixed for the closing of the polls.
  • Delays delivery of or changes the copy of the result of votes cast that is to be delivered to the city or county elections official.

Section 18571 specifies that any person acting on any counting board who refuses to obey any lawful order of the county elections official or his or her deputy is guilty of a misdemeanor.

Section 18572 states that each counting board and its members are subject to the liabilities and penalties to which precinct boards or their members are subject where the votes and returns are counted at the precincts where they were polled.

Section 18573 provides that every person is guilty of a felony punishable by imprisonment for 16 months or two or three years who furnishes any voter wishing to vote, who cannot read, with a ballot, informing or giving that voter to understand that it contains a name written or printed thereon different from the name which is written or printed thereon, or defrauds any voter at any election by deceiving and causing him or her to vote for a different person for any office than he or she intended or desired to vote for.

Section 18573.5 states that it is a misdemeanor for a person who is providing care or direct supervision to an elder in a state-licensed or state-subsidized facility or program to coerce or deceive the elder into voting for or against a candidate or measure contrary to the elder’s intent or in the absence of any intent of the elder to cast a vote for or against that candidate or measure.

Section 18574 states that every person who, after being required by the precinct board at an election, refuses to be sworn or, being sworn, refuses to answer any pertinent questions propounded by the board touching the right of another to vote, is guilty of a misdemeanor.

Section 18575 states that every person is guilty of a felony, and on conviction shall be punished by imprisonment for two, three or four years, who at any election without first having been appointed and qualified, acts as an election officer, or not being an election officer, performs or discharges any of the duties of an election officer in regard to the handling, counting, or canvassing of any ballots.

Section 18576 provides that any person who willfully interferes with the prompt delivery of a completed vote by mail ballot application, retains a completed vote by mail ballot application, without the voter’s authorization, for more than three days excluding weekends and state holidays, or by the deadline for return of vote by mail ballot applications, whichever is earlier, or denies an applicant the right to return his or her own completed vote by mail ballot application to the local elections official having jurisdiction over the election, is guilty of a misdemeanor.

Section 18577 states that any person having charge of a completed vote by mail ballot who willfully interferes or causes interference with its return to the local elections official having jurisdiction over the election is guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment in the county jail not exceeding six months, by a fine not exceeding $10,000, or by both the fine and imprisonment.

Section 18578 provides that any person who applies for, or who votes or attempts to vote, a vote by mail ballot by fraudulently signing the name of a fictitious person, or of a regularly qualified voter, or of a person who is not qualified to vote, is guilty of a felony punishable by imprisonment for 16 months or two or three years, by a fine not exceeding $1,000 or by both that fine and imprisonment.

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