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Political climate causes concerns about possible voter intimidation on Election Day

'If you get to the polling locations and you feel intimidated, you definitely have rights.'

ATLANTA — Thousands of Georgians are expected to vote in-person Tuesday starting at 7 a.m. when polls open.

While there could be long lines and wait times, election experts said there should not be any intimidation. It's a felony in Georgia to intimidate a voter on Election Day - and against federal law.

However, political analysts tell 11Alive that say with how nasty this campaign cycle has become, they're worried it could spill over to the polls. 

"I'm very concerned about that. With so much energy being put in to this election and such very strong feelings, very on both sides, we are concerned that people may get out of hand at the polling places.," said Attorney and legal analyst Page Pate.

He said everyone should understand their rights when they show up on Election Day.

"Here is what the law says, you cannot intimidate anyone who is voting, on line to vote, or on their way to a polling place. You have to be respectful," he said. 

With negative ads and divisive rhetoric ramping up on both sides, Attorney Chinwe Foster said she understands why voters would feel uncomfortable - but they shouldn't feel scared. 

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"Uncomfortable is different than being intimidated. So I would say, definitely, still go vote. But if you get to the polling locations and you feel intimidated, you definitely have rights," she said. 

People campaigning for a specific candidate have to stay 150 feet back from the polling location. Only police officers are allowed to carry guns inside the precinct and anyone there in an official capacity must be registered with that county's election office. 

President Donald Trump had called for an army of people to watch the polls on Election Day.

"I think that it breeds fear and I can see why a lot of people are uncomfortable," said Foster. 

Pate said here is a process for people who want to observe the election. 

"Georgia law does allow people to serve as poll watchers, but those people have to be named by a political party, and their ID has to be provided to the elections officials ahead of the election," Pate explained. "So people can't just drive to the poll and say, I'm here to be a poll watcher, I'm going to see what's happening. That doesn't work and it's not allowed under Georgia law."

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Pate and Foster said if you feel intimidated on Election Day, report the behavior immediately to the poll supervisor or if you're scared, call 911. 

"I have a feeling there will be a lot of active law enforcement officers out in Georgia tomorrow trying to maintain order and make sure this election is done lawfully," said Pate.  

You also cannot wear any campaign material to vote in person - that includes shirts or hats with political statements, and in the time of COVID-19, even masks with explicit political content on them. 

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