Politics

What are poll watchers supposed to do?

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

What is supposed to be happening when you go to the poll? Complaints about aggressive, intimidating poll watchers spiked when early voting started last week.

We caught some on camera at polling places last Monday. One poll watcher told he worked for a group called 'True the Vote' and not a political party, which would be illegal.

The complaints about poll watchers like him got so bad that the Texas Democratic Party sued the group behind dozens of poll watchers here in Houston, demanding to know who was paying their bills.

That group says it did nothing wrong.

But Democrats still have questions and it's likely headed to court where Democrats say leaders of the King Street Patriots could eventually be headed to jail.

But you might be surprised to learn what a poll watcher is supposed to be doing.

Some things might surprise voters about poll watchers, like besides giving a certificate to an election judge, no one regulates how many are allowed to be present at polling places. And county attorneys say sometimes your rights as a voter are in conflict with the rights of a poll watcher.

As the number of poll watchers have increased, so have the number of complaints.

"I think it's intimidation if there is extra ones," said voter Stephanie Martz.

So what a poll watcher is allowed and not allowed to do is being called into question. According to state statutes, poll watchers can:

  • Observe assistance given to voters by election officials
  • Inspect ballot before it is deposited in ballot box to ensure it matches the voter's wishes.
  • Take written notes while on duty

What are poll watchers not allowed to do?

  • They cannot communicate in any manner with voter
  • Cannot converse with other watchers

"That includes grimaces, hand gestures, anything," said First Assitant County Attorney Terence O'Rourke. "They simply cannot communicate."

The Harris County Attorney's Office has fielded dozens of complaints, including allegations of poll watchers interacting with voters and hovering too closely as voters mark their ballots.

The county attorneys say sometimes a voter's rights and poll watcher's right are in conflict.

"As a voter, you have the right to go in there and secretly cast you ballot, but the poll watcher has the right to observe the process itself and sometimes the rooms where the voting occurs is very small," said O'Rourke.

Another problem is an extraordinary increase in poll watchers this time around. Currently, each party has about 300 and that number is expected to increase to around 1,000 on Election Day.

But verifying an actual poll watcher can be tough. There is no local registry that keeps track. A poll watcher's documentation is authorized by party leaders, candidates and political action groups.

Allegations are at such a high level, that on Thursday the county attorney office will hold a press conference on the issue and one thing they will be calling for is that election workers put tape down on the floor at polling sites to designate where poll watchers are allowed when a ballot is being cast.

(Copyright ©2014 KTRK-TV/DT. All Rights Reserved.)

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