What Are Poll Watchers? What Do They Do In Elections? - 2020-10-01
President Trump called on supporters to "watch" polling places, but in most states people can't just show up at a polling place and say they want to watch what's going on. There's a process — and rules on how to do it.
In what election experts and observers described as a disturbing moment during the first presidential debate on Tuesday night, President Donald Trump urged his supporters to "watch" polling places as he sowed doubt in the integrity of the election. Speaking about an incident in Philadelphia earlier that day, where people claiming to be poll watchers were turned away from satellite elections offices, Trump said, "They were thrown out. They weren't allowed to watch. "You know why?" he said. "Because bad things happen in Philadelphia." Poll watchers have been part of elections in the US — and around the world — for a long time, but despite Trump's request for supporters to show up at the polls, people can't just go to a polling place to check out what's going on there. There's a process — and rules on how to do it — and it varies by state.
Some states don't allow observers at the polls, while others permit poll watchers to observe nearly every stage of the election process, from the testing of voting machines to the counting of ballots. In Pennsylvania, for example, where the incident Trump referred to occurred, people can only observe voting at traditional polling locations on Election Day. Poll watchers are not permitted to observe satellite elections offices in Philadelphia, and the city has not yet certified any election observers for the general election, according to elections officials. On Thursday, the Trump campaign filed a lawsuit against the Philadelphia County Board of Elections for not allowing the uncertified poll watchers to monitor voting at the satellite offices. "We can't just have people ... going to places they think are going to be hot spots for election fraud and showing up there without any accreditation or authorization," said Nina Jankowicz, an international election observer and disinformation fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center, a nonpartisan think tank in Washington, DC. "I worry that with that open invitation for his supporters to come and 'protect' the election without all of that background information things could get very ugly very quickly." In light of the president's comments, BuzzFeed News reached out to experts to help explain the purpose poll watchers serve, who gets to be a poll watcher, and what they actually can and can't do at the polls. What are poll watchers and what do they do?