State and Local Officials Seek to Reassure Voters about Potential Poll Watcher Intimidation

Poll watchers are allowed to watch election administrators as they help voters.

Poll watchers are allowed to watch election administrators as they help voters. Shutterstock

 

Connecting state and local government leaders

Following President Trump’s call to his supporters to deploy themselves as poll watchers, state and local government officials are working to ensure that voters can cast their ballots without intimidation.

State and local officials in recent days have sought to assure voters that they will not be intimidated when they arrive at their polling places to cast their votes or return absentee ballots for the November election. The reassurances come after President Trump called on his supporters to deploy themselves to the polls to monitor voting.

During the first presidential debate last week, Trump issued a call to his supporters to “go into the polls and watch very carefully” as people vote. His son, Donald Trump, Jr., echoed that message in a more official pitch for the campaign, calling on “every able-bodied man, woman to join Army for Trump's election security operation” in a video posted to social media. "We need you to help us watch them. Not just on Election Day, but also during early voting and at the counting boards. President Trump is going to win. Don't let them steal it,” Trump Jr. said.

Several election officials have raised concerns that the president’s rhetoric could encourage voter intimidation if Trump’s supporters unofficially flock to polls to monitor the election instead of relying on designated poll watchers who sign up with election officials to monitor precincts for potential fraud. 

Some Democrats have also expressed concerns about the Republican National Committee’s plan to recruit 50,000 official poll watchers, saying they fear these volunteers will try to keep people from legitimately voting. But tapes reviewed by CNN for the Trump campaign’s official poll watchers showed a more measured approach than the one offered by the president. For example, they suggest that poll watchers be courteous and follow rules, particularly if they do challenge a ballot being cast.

A spokeswoman for the Trump campaign defended their approach. “President Trump’s volunteer poll watchers will be trained to ensure all rules are applied equally, all valid ballots are counted, and all Democrat rule-breaking is called out,” spokeswoman Thea McDonald told the New York Times

This is the first presidential election where the Republican Party has not had court oversight of its election operations, which happened as a result of events in the 1980s, when Republicans recruited off-duty police officers to serve as poll watchers in Black and Latino communities. 

Most states set clear guidelines around who can serve as a poll worker, often limiting those who are eligible to serve as officially appointed party representatives and nonpartisan observers. Some states impose additional rules—in Pennsylvania, poll watchers have to be registered to vote in the county where they’re watching the polls. In Florida and Michigan, poll watchers aren’t allowed to speak to voters. Georgia and South Carolina also require poll watchers to wear a badge with their name and organization. 

In all states, poll watchers are allowed to monitor election administration and keep track of voter turnout. In some states, they’re allowed to challenge a voter’s eligibility and bring concerns to the city or county election administrators.

Local officials in Colorado, which largely conducts elections by mail, say they  aren’t concerned about an influx of unofficial poll watchers, while emphasizing they trust in the appointment and certification process for legitimate appointees. But others say they worry about vigilante poll workers who are inspired by Trump’s message to monitor voters. For example, one woman who claimed to be a poll watcher for Trump was kicked out of a Philadelphia satellite election office last week—an incident the president seemed to reference during the debate. But the woman was not certified as a poll watcher; additionally, Philadelphia does not allow poll watchers at satellite election offices because they are not official polling places.

Trump’s campaign this week filed a lawsuit against Philadelphia’s election administrators, arguing that the city’s policy barring poll watchers from satellite election offices established in response to the pandemic is a violation of Pennsylvania election law.

In response to Trump’s statements at the debate, Philadelphia officials said that encouraging people to poll watch for partisan purposes was “problematic” and established an interagency plan to protect against voter intimidation. Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner said during a press conference on Wednesday that he “intends to make sure that there is no threatening presence at these polls” and that he is “well-prepared and ready to act immediately” should voters be intimidated, misled, threatened, or harmed in the process of voting.

At the same press conference, Mary McCord, the legal director for the Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection, said that she was particularly concerned about vigilante poll watchers because of recent violence at protests in the city. “Because we’ve seen unlawful heavily armed militia organizations usurping law enforcement authority by purporting to ‘protect’ property during peaceful demonstrations, state and local officials must be vigilant in ensuring that these unlawful organizations do not intimidate voters at the polls in the name of ‘protecting’ against election fraud,” McCord said.

The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence has also issued a report calling on state and local election officials to limit firearms in and near polling places, fearing that the presence of people with guns could lead to intimidation or violence on Election Day. “The fundamental right to vote, vital to our democracy, is endangered by self-proclaimed ‘poll watchers’ with firearms,” the group wrote.

At least one state attorney general is currently reviewing how open carry gun laws can fit with the right to vote without being harassed. Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel on Tuesday called President Trump’s debate comments “dangerous and reckless” and said that she will soon issue a memo to local law enforcement agencies providing guidance on how to prevent voters from being intimidated if poll watchers show up with guns. 

“It’s this combination of your right to vote, cross-sectioned with our pretty liberal open carry laws in the state of Michigan,” Nessel said. “It is a legal right to be a poll watcher, but you cannot use those positions to try and interfere with a person’s right to vote. We have to draw the line between what a person can do operating as a legal observer versus what is being done to harass people.”

Emma Coleman is the assistant editor for Route Fifty.

NEXT STORY: Pelosi Rules Out Standalone Covid-19 Aid Bills Without Broader Deal

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.