More than 66 million Americans have already cast their ballots in the 2020 US presidential election as candidates step up their efforts in the final week on the campaign trail.
On Saturday, Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris made an unexpected appearance outside the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections in Cleveland, Ohio.
She was pictured thanking early voters for queuing outside the polling station, telling the crowd that “power is with the people”.
A video of the speech was uploaded to Kamala Harris’s official Twitter account later that night.
But soon after her public appearance, a number of online users claimed that Kamala Harris had been campaigning illegally.
They suggested that it was “illegal to electioneer within so many feet of the polling station” and that Kamala Harris should be “arrested for campaigning”.
These claims were shared and retweeted; one with a copy of her video has had more than 1.5 million views.
But an investigation by The Cube has found no evidence that Kamala Harris broke election campaign rules and her appearance outside the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections was legal.
What are the rules on election campaigning?
Each US state has different regulations for polling stations and campaigning during voting ballots, according to the National Association for Secretaries of State.
In Ohio, only election officials, observers, police officers and voters waiting to cast their ballots are allowed to gather within 100 feet (around 30 meters) of the polling station.
This distance is marked by “two or more small flags of the United States” on the “thoroughfares or walkways leading to the polling place”.
Ohio state rules say that no candidate can “loiter, congregate, or engage in any kind of election campaigning” within this distance.
Candidates or campaigners must also be at least “ten feet” (three metres) from any voters who are queuing beyond the small flags waiting to vote.
Moreover, candidates are not allowed to “solicit or in any manner attempt to influence any elector” casting their vote, according to the Ohio Revised Code.
Did Kamala Harris break any rules?
Verifying the online videos, The Cube confirmed that Kamala Harris was stood on East 30th Street, Cleveland when speaking to voters on Saturday.
The queue of those lining to place their early ballots had stretched down the street to the University Commons Apartments, opposite to where Kamala Harris was stood.
Although no small flags could be seen in any footage from the street, this location was at least 200 feet (around 60 metres) from the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections.
Kamala Harris clearly keeps a distance of at least 10 feet between herself and those queuing to vote.
A spokesperson for the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections (CCBOE) also confirmed to Euronews that Senator Harris did not enter the property on Saturday.
“Senator Harris did make an unannounced stop by the CCBOE,” the spokesperson said, “she walked down the street and did not come onto CCBOE property.”
“From what I could see, it looked like she maintained at least a 10-foot distance from the electors in line to vote who were already beyond the 100 foot no campaigning zone.”
The video also showed Kamala Harris at least two traffic lanes apart from the queuing voters. For further evidence, guidance by the US National Association of City Transportation Officials states that an ideal width of one lane is 10 feet.
“Greeting voters is not considered campaigning”
While it is clear that Kamala Harris obeyed Ohio state distance rules on campaigning near a polling station, online users questioned whether her actions did “solicit or in any manner attempt to influence any elector” while they were queuing to cast their vote.
The California Senator could be seen speaking to crowds using a microphone, telling voters that “your vote is your voice, your voice is your vote”.
At no point in the video or in other images on social media can Kamala Harris be heard or seen directly influencing voters.
Although clearly visible to the crowd, her speech instead focused on encouraging those close-by to vote, and thanking them.
“There is so much at stake, don’t let anyone ever take your power,” said Kamala Harris.
“The power is with the people, and you know that. That’s why you’re standing in this line today. and I just came to say thank you.”
The Cuyahoga County Board of Elections confirmed to Euronews that Kamala Harris did not solicit voters in their view.
“Greeting voters is not considered campaigning,” said a spokesperson.
While addressing voters waiting in line to vote may have gone against the intention of the laws on electioneering, Kamala Harris followed the written rules during her appearance in Cleveland on Saturday.
Euronews has also reached out to the press team for Kamala Harris and Democrat presidential candidate Joe Biden for a response to the online allegations.
According to the US Elections Project, 66.3 million American citizens had submitted their votes by Tuesday morning, an increase of 8 million more early votes than were cast in all of 2016.