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An initiative to provide nonpartisan, independent elections journalism for southwestern Pennsylvania.

Compensation for victims of voter intimidation pushed by Pa. state legislator

A Black man wearing a white shirt speaks into a microphone.
Sam Searles
FILE - State Rep. Stephen Kinsey (D-Philadelphia). Above, in 2023, he coordinated a meeting of activists, community members, city agencies and local officials.

Legislation filed by Rep. Stephen Kinsey to provide victims of voter intimidation a path to sue their harassers has now passed through the House Judiciary Committee and been sent to the House floor for a vote.

Kinsey told WHYY News he is concerned by a rise in harassment at polling places in recent years.

“We don’t want somebody’s grandma to be deterred to the extent that she’s not going to vote now because she’s been accosted by folks in her face as she’s waiting in line just to go exercise her right,” he said.

Kinsey’s bill passed along party lines, with Democrats voting affirmative and Republicans rejecting the bill.

Voter harassment is already a criminal offense under Pennsylvania law with penalties of up $5,000 in fines and five years in prison. Federal law also provides additional penalties that can be applied in the same case.

However, Kinsey said victims of harassment should also be able to file a civil complaint against the perpetrator to receive compensation for their harm. Such compensation would include legal fees and damages for the victim.

In such cases, the suspect would have to be convicted of the crime before the victim could sue.

“We want to protect folks on both sides of this scheme and recognize that if you’re convicted, then the individual can pursue punitive damages,” Kinsey said.

WHYY News reached out to members of the House Judiciary Committee who voted against the bill for comment but, at the time of publication, no one responded.

Read more from our partners, WHYY.