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What you should know about poll watchers as you prepare to vote

Thursday, October 27, 2022 by Haya Panjwani, KUT

You may see people watching you cast your ballot this election season. Don’t worry, those people are poll watchers, and they’re supposed to be there.

Poll watchers are party-appointed individuals who are supposed to act as the eyes and ears of their party. Their job is to observe the election process, not interfere with it. If they do start interfering, that’s when you should worry.

“Ultimately, they can’t videotape you or stand over a voter while they’re casting a ballot,” said Joshua Blank with the Texas Politics Project. “They can’t interfere with the process of voting. They can simply observe irregularities and report them.”

Typically, if a poll watcher sees an error in the voting process, like someone using their phone within 100 feet of the voting machine, the watcher should inform an election worker. They should not be coming up to you and telling you to put your phone away.

During the 2020 election, one Travis County poll watcher disrupted the vote-counting process and was arrested and later charged with criminal trespassing and perjury. Blank said while those disruptions do happen, it’s likely that sort of disruption won’t happen at the polls.

The relationship between poll watchers and poll workers was modified last legislative session as a GOP-led initiative to boost “election integrity.” The new law says if someone complains about an aggressive poll watcher, only law enforcement can remove them from the polling location, not the local election workers.

“The poll watchers are still very limited in what they can do,” Blank said. “And even all that legislation that was passed, in many ways, really gave the poll watcher essentially more rights vis-à-vis their relationship to the poll worker, but not with respect to their relationship to the process.”

If a poll watcher is disrupting your voting experience, Senate Bill 1 says that you can alert a poll worker at your voting location.

This story was produced as part of the Austin Monitor’s reporting partnership with KUT.

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