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Democratic vice presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif. waives to the crowd outside the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections during a campaign event, Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020, in Cleveland. (AP) Democratic vice presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif. waives to the crowd outside the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections during a campaign event, Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020, in Cleveland. (AP)

Democratic vice presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif. waives to the crowd outside the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections during a campaign event, Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020, in Cleveland. (AP)

Amy Sherman
By Amy Sherman October 28, 2020

No, Harris did not break Ohio law with election site visit

If Your Time is short

  • Ohio laws say no one can campaign within 100 feet from a polling place or within 10 feet of any voter in line.

  • Sen. Kamala Harris briefly spoke outside of the Cuyahoga County early voting center in Cleveland. She made no mention of candidates and gave a brief pep talk to people in line about the power of voting.

  • County elections officials said she did not violate electioneering laws.

Social media posts falsely suggest that Sen. Kamala Harris, the Democratic vice presidential nominee, broke Ohio election laws when she addressed voters outside of an early voting site in Cleveland.

"Three strikes for Kamala’s campaign events Sunday, yells at people in line to vote in Ohio, may have broken laws," stated a headline on DJHJ Media, a conservative opinion website. A link to the article was posted on Facebook Oct. 26.

The post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)

The DJHJ story included a tweet by conservative actor James Woods that showed a video clip of Harris speaking Oct. 24 outside the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections building. Woods wrote "you can literally be arrested for campaigning at a polling station." Neither the tweet nor the DJHJ article provided proof that Harris violated state laws restricting campaigning near a polling place. 

County election officials told PolitiFact that Harris followed the law.

Ohio law sets boundaries to prevent campaigning too close to voters

States often have laws prohibiting electioneering at polling sites in an effort to protect voters from feeling intimidated. These laws usually set boundaries explaining how far people campaigning must stand from voters or an election site.

Ohio laws state that near polling sites:

  • No person can engage in any kind of election campaigning within 10 feet of any voter waiting in line.

  • U.S. flags shall be placed 100 feet from a polling place to mark the zone where people can’t campaign.

  • No person can "solicit or in any manner attempt to influence any elector in casting the elector's vote."

Harris spoke to a long line of voters on the first day of early in-person voting in Cuyahoga County, according to the press pool report by Buzzfeed reporter Henry Gomez. There was a "massively long line of early voters snaked around the building on Euclid Avenue, down East 30th Street and around the block," he wrote.

Harris spoke to the crowd using a cordless microphone before walking up and down the stretch of East 30th between Euclid and Chester and waving at voters. 

In a 39-second video by Seth Richardson, a Cleveland.com politics reporter, Harris didn’t mention any candidates on the ballot but gave a pep talk about the importance of voting.

"Thank you for voting and voting early. Your vote is your voice, your voice is your vote, There is  so much at stake — don’t let anyone ever take your power. ….  You are going to make the difference," she said. 

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Harris posted an 18-second video of the event on Twitter.

After her brief comments, she danced to some music being played across the street by a DJ who called out "Senator! Senator! Senator!" according to the press pool report.

As for the 10 foot rule, eyeballing the video, Harris appears to be more than 10 feet from the voters lined up on the sidewalk. She’s separated from the line by two traffic lanes, which are typically about 10 feet wide in urban areas.

We couldn’t see the flags in the Twitter videos of Harris marking the 100 foot barrier. But Harris was speaking to voters in a line that extended beyond the election office.

WKSU, public radio in Ohio, wrote that Harris "made a brief stop across the street from the line — and outside the 100 foot neutral zone — to thank people for voting."

Tony Kaloger, Cuyahoga’s election and compliance administrator, sent us a statement about the unannounced visit by Harris to the earling voting site. 

Several local elections employees including the director "were outside during the majority of her stop and witnessed no violations of Ohio's electioneering laws," the statement said.

Harris did not come onto the property of the elections center. She was surrounded by Secret Service agents, and no voter or bystander was permitted to approach her. 

"There are several officers on-site at the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections Early Vote Center tasked mainly with managing traffic and voter flow," the statement said. "They will step in to assist our staff with the enforcement of the neutral zone (100 feet from the entrance or 10 feet from the voters in line when the line extends further than 100 feet) as necessary. No assistance was required during the Senator's visit."

The county pointed to a two-page excerpt from a 2019 directive from Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose, a Republican, that explains where people are allowed to campaign. Part of that directive says:

"Nothing in Ohio’s election laws prohibit a person or entity from campaigning, displaying campaign material, or distributing food outside of the neutral zone of a polling location (i.e., outside of the flags marking the 100 foot barrier or beyond 10 feet from any elector waiting in line to vote, if the line to vote extends beyond the flags)."

Sabrina Singh, a spokesperson for Harris, said Harris "stood behind the 100 foot boundary line beyond the neutral zone."

Our ruling

A headline in a story posted on Facebook stated that Harris "may have broken laws" when she campaigned outside a voting site in Ohio.

A county election official said that Harris did not violate laws against electioneering near a polling site. Police officers were on site during the visit by Harris and are allowed to help election officials enforce the neutral zone, but the county said that wasn’t required.

We rate this statement False.

This fact check is available at IFCN’s 2020 US Elections #Chatbot on WhatsApp. Click here, for more.

 

Our Sources

DJHJ Media, Three strikes for Kamala’s campaign events Sunday, yells at people in line to vote in Ohio, may have broken laws, Oct. 26, 2020

Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose, Election day voting directive (section 1.12), 2019

Ohio codes 3501.35 and 3501.30

National Association of Secretaries of State, State Laws Prohibiting Electioneering Activities Within a Certain Distance of the Polling Place, Oct. 2020

Cleveland.com, Kamala Harris stops at Cuyahoga County Board of Elections to thank early voters, Oct. 24, 2020

BuzzFeed, The Pandemic Election Has The Two Presidential Campaigns Living In Different Universes, Oct. 24, 2020

Press pool report by Henry Gomez of Buzzfeed, Oct. 24, 2020

EuroNews, Fact-check: Did Kamala Harris illegally campaign outside an Ohio polling station? Oct. 27, 2020

WKSU, Huge Crowds Line Up to Early Vote in Stark, Cuyahoga, Summit Counties, Oct. 25, 2020

Email interview, Sabrina Singh, a spokesperson for Sen. Kamala Harris campaign, Oct. 28, 2020

Email and telephone interview, Tony Kaloger, Cuyahoga’s election and compliance administrator, Oct. 28, 2020

Email interview, Edna Orozco, administrative officer for Cleveland Division of Police, Oct. 27, 2020

Email interview, Maggie Sheehan, spokesperson for Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose, Oct. 27, 2020

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No, Harris did not break Ohio law with election site visit

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