Texas is one of many states that allows people to monitor the polls on Election Day. Better known as poll watchers, their purpose is to uphold the voting process. However, what can they actually do? What are they prohibited from? Circa talked to poll watchers in the pivotal state of Texas to find out.
The role of the poll watcher is to be the eyes and the ears of the Republic.
The purpose of a poll watcher is to observe the conduct of the election at their assigned polling station and report any illegal activities
Anytime you have thousands of people involved, there's a chance for something to have been misunderstood, to have been misheard.
While every person working at polling stations has been trained, James Dickey, Republican Poll Watcher and Chairman of Travis County Republican Party, said there is still room for human error.
What they can and can’t do while monitoring the polls can vary greatly from state to state. The Texas Secretary of State’s Poll Watcher’s Guide outlines what's expected in the Lone Star state.
Additionally, election poll watchers keep an eye out for any illegal activity around the voting stations, like election workers allowing people without proper forms of ID to vote, electioneering or using a cell phone within 100 feet of a polling location; as well as tampering with voting equipment.
Our focus has been on training poll watchers to know and observe for the law.
Michael Ybarra, a Volunteer Voter Protection Coordinator for Battleground Texas associated with the Hillary Clinton Campaign and Texas Democratic Party, said the democratic poll watchers held webinars and in-person training based on the Poll Watcher’s guide, in addition to the election judge’s handbook.
If the poll watcher oversteps and the presiding election judge believes they’re interfering with the election, they can have them removed or even arrested.
According to Dickey, the Travis County Republican Party had just under 100 poll watchers on location today.
I disagree with the characterization that you have to be paranoid to have poll watchers ... it's absolutely fundamental to the democratic process.
Carisa Lopez, Coordinated Campaign Manager for Travis County Democratic Party, said they do not have as many because they’re “not paranoid." Ybarra disagreed. At the time of publishing, Circa did not have the number of democratic poll watchers in Travis County.
Trump claimed mass voter fraud could potentially thwart the election, calling for poll watchers to “Help Me Stop Crooked Hillary From Rigging This Election!”
There are very, very, very infinitesimally small rates of active voter fraud, of the kind that the Trump campaign is talking about.
Despite these claims, proven cases of voter fraud are rare and virtually impossible to commit with in-person voting.
Being a poll watcher is not designed to find in-person fraudulent ID. It's just meant to find that the process of verifying ID is followed.
Moreso, poll watchers aren’t able to detect it on the small chance it does happen.
Mail-in voter fraud allegations are being investigated in Tarrant County, though it’s not clear yet which party they were associated with.
The calls to stop “Crooked Hillary” have heightened democrats' concerns over intimidation and voter suppression at the polls in Texas. Lawsuits filed by Democrats in Arizona, Nevada, Michigan and Pennsylvania claim that Trump’s call to action could lead to Republicans aggressively monitoring the polls, potentially intimidating and suppressing minority voters.
This is especially a concern in Texas - a state that recently changed its voter ID law requirements, resulting in mass confusion and even misinformation at early voting booths across Texas.
In August, Texas’ voter ID law was deemed discriminatory for violating the Voting Rights Act and racially discriminating against Black and Hispanic voters. Before the law was struck down, Texas was one of nine states with a “strict photo ID” law, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Now that the law has changed, Texas’ law is now in the middle of their scale, labeled as “Photo ID requested.”
The new law expanded the permissible forms of photo ID.
It allows voters without a photo ID to file a Reasonable Impediment Declaration showing there was reasonable obstruction to getting one. With that declaration, they can use one of seven alternative IDs.
The poll watcher is not permitted to communicate in any manner with any voter concerning the ... presentation of identification.
The Secretary of State’s Poll Watcher’s Guide states that election judges, election clerks, or poll watchers are not allowed to “question the reasonableness or truthfulness of the impediment claimed by the voter.”
There can be confusion at the polls and sometimes the law isn't followed at the polls. It's important to have eye witnesses from both parties.
But even with these new regulations, misinformation was still being given at early voting locations across Texas with over 200 reports to the Election Protection hotline about inaccurate voter ID information.
On October 31, a Texas judge ordered local San Antonio election officials to stop telling voters that a photo ID is required to cast a ballot.
Some of the reports included intimidation by an armed marshal discussing political controversies with voters at a voting location in Denton county. Intimidation at the polls is a form of voter suppression.
At the end of the day, poll watchers play a valuable part of a larger democratic process that ensures everyone has their vote counted, regardless of party affiliation.