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Poll Watchers: Who they are and what they do

You often see a group of people at polling places who aren't election officials. Who are they?

WASHINGTON —
As you head to the polls you may have noticed poll watchers inside polling stations. It can seem odd, you go to cast your ballot and you see these nonelection officials milling around. They are not part of the election workers. So, who are they and what do they do?

QUESTION:

What is a poll worker and what are their duties?

OUR SOURCES:

ANSWER:

They are independent observers appointed by political parties or campaigns to observe the election process.

WHAT WE FOUND:

Poll watchers represent different political parties, but their job doesn’t go beyond observing. They are not just anyone. To be a poll watcher you must be an authorized person from specific parties or campaigns. They are designated as authorized personnel through a form signed by the party chair or candidate, to the Chief Officer of Election.

So what can they do? They are allowed to be inside a polling place to observe. That’s pretty much where it ends. They are supposed to make sure nothing inappropriate or illegal happens during the election.

What can’t poll watchers do is a longer list. The Virginia Department of Elections and Attorney General said they can’t hinder, stop or delay a qualified voter. The watchers cannot campaign inside a polling location. They are barred from wearing political clothing, hats or buttons.  A poll watcher can’t loiter or show campaign materials. Finally, they can’t help you cast your ballot.

When it comes to the potential for poll watchers to violate their restrictions or attempt to intimidate voters, there are very serious rules against them.

For example, voter intimidation has strict state and federal laws. They can carry everything from a misdemeanor to felony charges.

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