Tort Action for Interference with a Right to Vote or to Hold Office

Under the common law, a person commits a tort when he or she intentionally deprives another person of his or her right to vote or his or her right to hold office. A person also commits a tort when he or she seriously interferes with the other person's right to vote or to hold office. A person who commits this tort is liable to the other person for damages.

Elements of Tort

Although there are federal and state statutes that prohibit a person from interfering with a right to vote or a right to hold office, such as the Civil Rights Act of 1871, a person may also commit a common law tort when he or she interferes with the right to vote or to hold office. In order to be liable for this common law tort, the person must know that the other person had a right to vote in a public election or that the other person had a right to hold public office. The person is liable when he or she prevents the other person from exercising those rights.

A person may commit the common law tort of interfering with a right to vote or to hold office if he or she uses force or duress against another person or if he or she engages in fraud with regard to that person's right to vote or to hold office. A candidate who has been deprived of his or her right to hold office by a person is entitled to the tort action against the person. If the person bribed voters, the candidate is entitled to the tort action because he or she has been deprived of his or her right to hold office.

If a person negligently prevents another person from voting or intentionally prevents the other person from voting as a result of mistake of fact or law, he or she is not liable for interfering with the other person's right to vote. There must be an element of force or fraud. For example, a registrar of voters is not liable to another person if he or she mistakenly believes that the other person is not a resident and if he or she refuses to allow the other person to register to vote.

Necessary Proof

A person does not need to suffer monetary harm in order to recover damages for interference with his or her right to vote or to hold office. A person who has been deprived of his or her right to hold office does not need to prove that the office would have provided financial benefits. He or she only needs to prove that he or she was deprived of his or her right to hold office.

A person may be liable for the tort of interfering with a right to vote or to hold office, even if he or she did not successfully prevent another person from voting or from holding office. If the other person sustained any harm as a result of an interference with the exercise of his or her rights, he or she is entitled to damages.

The tort of interference with a right to vote or a right to hold office may extend to an interference with the performance of a civil duty, such as the right to serve on a jury or the right to assist a law enforcement officer in making an arrest.

Copyright 2012 LexisNexis, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc.