The role of a poll watcher on Election Day

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Posted at 4:00 AM, Oct 30, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-30 07:33:40-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — All eyes will be on the polls Tuesday, November 3, 2020 - quite literally for poll watchers.

“[Poll watchers] will be inside polling places on Election Day to be our eyes and ears,” explained Matt Ryan, who has helped recruit and train poll watchers across Missouri for an organization supporting Democrats called “Show Me Change.”

“We have the largest group we’ve ever had before in all four corners of the state and in areas we’ve never been in before,” he said.

Both Democrat and Republican committees and non-partisan groups can have representatives apply to be watchers, which are sometimes referred to as challengers, observers and agents in Missouri and Kansas.

State laws lay out rules for poll watchers:

  • The election office in each jurisdiction approves poll watchers in advance. In most cases, the watcher has to be a registered voter.
  • No one can show up Tuesday to be a poll watcher.
  • Poll watchers are allowed inside polling locations.
  • Poll watchers will be wearing a name tag or other credential.
  • Poll watchers cannot speak directly to voters or look over their shoulder as they vote.
  • Poll watchers are there to identify issues and report them to poll supervisors or election directors to make corrections.

“A challenger would be able to say, ‘Hey, I don’t think this happened correctly.’ They’re supposed to be limited to if they think the law is being violated somehow,” said Chris Hershey, the Democrat director of the Platte County, Missouri, Election Board.

Potential violations of the law could include election judges not properly issuing provisional ballots or not addressing voter intimidation issues.

Ryan said it’s all about making sure every vote from an eligible voter counts.

“I think it brings legitimacy to the cornerstone of our democracy, which is elections,” Ryan said.

Don’t be surprised if it feels like all eyes are on your polling place this Election Day.