Poll watchers, sometimes known as election observers, are the people who watch over the activities at polling locations on election days. Their job is to report any voting/registration irregularities to the proper authorities and ensure that all votes are counted correctly. Usually, polling places allow one observer per party at the polls at any given time.
Ideally, every poll location should have one Democratic poll watcher but that hasn’t always been the case. But something changed at the beginning of this year that I believe signals a critical need for poll watchers at midterms.
In January, the courts lifted a federal consent decree that had limited the ability of the Republican National Committee to participate in election day activities–a rule that had been in place for over three decades. (The RNC had been penalized because the DNC was able to show the various tactics the RNC had used to discourage African-Americans from voting.)
With this consent decree lifted, there is a strong possibility that the RNC will once again recruit many voters to become poll watchers. Will these poll watchers find numerous ways to challenge voters’ registrations or IDs? Will they resort to new ways to discourage voters in swing or minority polling locations?
To contend with those scenarios, I believe that we should get as many Democratic poll watchers into polling locations for the midterms. Here’s what you need to know.
Poll watchers are supposed to ensure the voting process is fair to all. Poll watchers represent the interest of one party at a voting place and look for any irregularities that might be harmful to that party. Poll watchers must be approved by the local elections board and be trained.
Read one activist’s experience as a first-time poll watcher at a recent special election: Interview with Cat
Every state has its own list of qualifications for poll watchers. Look for your state’s rules here: Poll Watcher Qualifications
If this is something you are able to do, please talk to your local elections board right away. Google your state and the word “elections board” to get their contact information, or go through your county’s Democratic party office to get connected.
It there ever was a year that we needed Democrats watching over the polls on an election day, it would be 2018. Let’s go protect these midterms!