As the election grows closer, you may have heard the term poll watcher and wondered what that meant. Can anyone be a poll watcher? What is the job of a poll watcher? Where can a poll watcher be? Let’s break it all down. The criteria for being a poll watcher vary state by state. There are partisan poll watchers and non-partisan poll watchers. Partisan poll watchers seek to ensure that election administration does not disadvantage their campaigns. They are not able to intervene with the voting process. There can also be non-partisan poll watchers that focus on checking compliance with election administration regulations. Credible, nonpartisan observers are interested in promoting integrity, transparency, and efficiency in the electoral process and have no stake in the political outcome. They are there to ensure the election process is properly handled.
A partisan poll watcher, also known as a poll watcher, is defined by Kansas as a candidate, party chair, and other politically affiliated individuals appointed to observe the voting process from within the polling place and observe canvassing. Such poll agents may not handle ballots or hinder or obstruct voters. They must wear badges that contain the word “Observer” in large print, and they must carry and be prepared to present authorization or other official identification. Kansas also requires poll watchers to be registered voters unless the poll watcher is a member of the candidate’s family or if the poll watcher is 14-17 years old and meets all of the other requirements for being a registered voter except for age.
For Missouri, a poll watcher must be a registered voter in the jurisdiction. Partisan observers may be present at the polling place until all ballots are cast on the day of the election.
Let’s break that down. A poll watcher is just there to make sure the election is fair, and there is no funny business. They are NOT to interfere with voters and/or the right to vote. They are not allowed to campaign for their candidate as a poll watcher. Only authorized poll watchers may be in the polling area. In Kansas, they must wear an “Observer” badge.
Let’s touch base on voter challengers. An authorized challenger in Missouri is a person who is chosen by the chair of the county committee of each political party named on the ballot that can be at a polling place or where absentee ballots are counted and can challenge a voter’s identity or qualifications. A challenger can be present during the hours of voting. The challenger must be a registered voter in that election jurisdiction, had their names submitted to the Election Board before Election Day by their political party, and have credentials on them. They CANNOT directly challenge the voter but must bring their challenge to a poll worker if they believe the election laws have been or will be violated. Eligibility can also be questioned by authorized election personnel and any registered voter, but again it must be brought to a polling place worker and not to the voter. In Kansas, only the judge of the election may challenge a voter’s eligibility. Private Citizens are not allowed to challenge voters in Kansas.
Let’s break that down. Basically, in Kansas, only the judge of the election can challenge someone’s eligibility to vote. In Missouri, an authorized challenger, polling place worker, or registered voter are able to challenge a voter’s eligibility. However, challenges cannot be brought to the voter, which means you can’t directly ask someone about their eligibility to vote. Challenges can only be made in two cases: identity (someone thinks you aren’t who you say you are) or residency (someone thinks you do not live in the district you are voting in).
Quick note here: If for some reason your voting eligibility is questioned, or you don’t have your ID, or for some reason, your name is not on the registered list, ask for a provisional ballot. All voters may receive a provisional ballot which must be investigated, and if a voter is proven to be a registered voter, their vote will be counted. In Missouri, if your eligibility is challenged, you may be asked to sign an eligibility affidavit swearing you are a qualified voter. In Kansas, you will have to fill out another voter registration form, and your provisional ballot will be sealed and attached to the voter registration. In Kansas, if you do not have your ID on you, you have 7-10 days to show your ID to the county for your vote to be counted. In Missouri, if you do not have an ID, your provisional ballot will be counted if your signature matches your signature in the voter registry.
- Voter Challenge Statues by States
- National Conference of State Legislators (NCSL) Poll Watchers and Challengers
- NCSL Policies for Election Observers
- National Association of Secretaries of States (NASS) Individuals Authorized to Serve as Appointed/Designated Poll Watchers or Challengers and Other Authorized Polling Place Observers
- Voter Challenge Statues by State