You may have heard President Trump during his ridiculous debate performance the other night call for the White Nationalist Proud Boys “to go into the polls and watch very carefully.” In his mind, Trump’s motive may have been to cause chaos at the polls, still, having a poll watcher or poll scrutineer at your polling station is an element of every thriving Democracy and should actually be encouraged.
Much to Trump’s chagrin, poll watchers are not actually allowed to interfere with the polling process. In fact, you are not allowed to talk to voters at all. Without a national organization to regulate federal elections (The Federal Election Commission only regulates the money), the rules on poll watchers vary depending on what State you call home.
You usually have to be a registered voter to be a poll watcher and often times can only monitor at a polling station within your own county. Some states require that party officials or candidates designate who will observe the polls, others don’t.
The roll of the poll watcher varies as well. They may never be permitted to interfere with the process of voting; however, a partisan poll watcher can still make a difference. For instance, in some States they can challenge a person’s right to vote. For instance, someone who doesn’t appear on the voting rolls. Still, they have to challenge it through official poll workers and cannot stop or otherwise try to interfere with someone trying to vote.
On the other hand, even if a poll watcher challenges an individual voter – as per the previous example – states often allow that person to cast a provisional ballot to be counted later when their right to vote has been verified.
Poll watchers can even help turn out the vote by counting the voters who have cast ballots and helping their respective candidates track which supporters have yet to vote. This helps campaigns to mount last-minute Election Day “get out the vote” drives before the polls close.
If nothing else, poll watchers are there to make sure everything goes smoothly and justly. Their main objective is to make sure that every ballot for their party counts and nothing is needlessly discarded. This is why it’s good to have poll watchers from both parties present. They can’t interfere with the process itself, but they are free to report any intimidation or suspect behavior.
As I’ve said, poll watching or scrutinizing, what ever you want to call it, is something everyone in a democracy should experience. Especially in an election where both sides of the aisle are already suspicious of the other cheating, and one side in particular has been openly calling for it.
One of my fondest memories was being a poll watcher for Canada’s NDP during the Orange Crush of Quebec. That might sound like gibberish to my American Readers, but I’ll tell you, being part of the process can be a thrilling experience when your candidate (unexpectedly) wins.
So whoever you are, progressive, liberal, moderate, Biden conservative, get off your ass this election and don’t just vote, go and protect the democracy you claim to love, just don’t forget your mask!