Policing in a Time of Elections

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Election season in the United States presents a unique public safety challenge for law enforcement: keeping voters, election officials, and the public safe while also maintaining a welcoming environment for all voters. Careful preparation, thoughtful internal and external communication, and robust relationships can help law enforcement leaders protect public safety throughout election season for all members of their communities.

To help identify common challenges and successful strategies for protecting public safety during elections, the National Policing Institute (NPI), 21st Century Policing Solutions (21CP), and States United Democracy Center (SUDC) convened more than 60 federal, state, and local law enforcement leaders from across the country. This report synthesizes the findings of these peer-to-peer discussions and brings in research and other promising practices to create actionable guidance for jurisdictions. The findings are broken into seven short modules by topic:

Section 1: Training Officers to Successfully Protect Elections
Section 2: Interagency Collaboration and Mutual Aid
Section 3: Conflict Management and De-Escalation
Section 4: Communication and Messaging
Section 5: Demonstration Management
Section 6: Tactical Considerations for Election Safety
Section 7: Officer and Staff Wellness During Election Season

Executive Summary


A high-level synopsis of all findings and recommendations.



Recommendations for implementing effective training to prepare for election season.

Mutual Aid


Considerations to optimize requesting and providing interagency assistance.



Recommendations for effective internal and public communications about protecting public safety during election season.



Adapting and applying conflict management and de-escalation skills to election-related incidents.

Collaborating with Election Administration


Building a relationship and working closely with your county's Election Administration ahead of election season is crucial.

Plan Early for Election Season


Planning early with internal staff and stakeholders is important to ensure a safe election cycle.

Demonstration Management


Protecting the public’s constitutional right to assemble while ensuring that demonstrations do not generate voter intimidation, public safety hazards, or violence during election season.

Tactical Considerations


Recommendations about tactics to incorporate into a comprehensive plan for protecting election workers, voters, and the ballots themselves.

Officer Wellness


Considerations to protect personnel and prioritize wellness during a prolonged and demanding election season.

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State-by-State Guide to Laws Pertaining to the Role of Law Enforcement in Polling Locations

Federal and state laws provide guidance on the roles that police (and other uniformed officers) can have at polling places on Election Day or during in-person early voting. These regulations are intended to prevent intimidation or interference with freedom of elections.

State laws are varied, but in general, police may be present at polling places for the purpose of law enforcement.

Federal law clearly prohibits the deployment of troops and armed agents to polls.

  • Ordering troops or armed forces to a polling place is a federal crime (18 U.S.C. § 592).
  • Officers and members of the Armed Forces are generally prohibited from interfering in elections through intimidation of voters and other related conduct (18 U.S.C. § 593, §10102).

Additional Resources

If you have questions pertaining to any of these resources, please contact info@policinginstitute.org.