Poll Watcher Qualifications

8/6/2020

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Overview

a graphic image to illustrate "poll watchers"The table below lists state-by-state laws regarding poll watchers, also known as partisan citizen observers.

A poll watcher’s primary purpose is to ensure that their party has a fair chance of winning an election. Poll watchers closely monitor election administration and may keep track of voter turnout for their parties. They are not supposed to interfere in the electoral process apart from reporting issues to polling place authorities and party officials.

In most states, political parties, candidates and ballot issue committees can appoint poll watchers. In some states a candidate cannot appoint a poll watcher but a group of several candidates can appoint poll watchers jointly. Organizations and civic groups can also appoint poll watchers in some states. Most states don’t allow candidates to be poll watchers.

Poll watchers are usually required to be registered voters, but states differ on whether the poll watcher must be registered in the county or precinct rather than just in the state. States also differ on whether the cap on the number of poll watchers from one entity is based on the number of poll watchers per precinct or on the number of poll watchers per polling place.

State Highlights

  • Kansas 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.
  • Louisiana allows each candidate to appoint one poll watcher per precinct, but also allows them to appoint one “super watcher” who can serve as a poll watcher in any precinct in which the candidate’s name is on the ballot. North Carolina has a similar system in which county party chairs can appoint a set number of at-large observers who can act as poll watchers in any precinct in the county.
  • States including Georgia, North Dakota and South Carolina require in statute that poll watchers must wear a badge indicating their name and organization. Other states may do so through administrative rules.
  • Poll watcher laws also apply in states such as Oregon and Washington that primarily conduct their elections by mail. In those states observers watch the ballots get counted and processed by a county clerk instead of watching voters vote at the polls.
  • Tennessee enacted in 2016 a prohibition on spouses of candidates serving as poll watchers.
  • West Virginia appears to be the only state that does not allow poll watchers to observe elections.

Poll Watcher Qualifications By State
STATE   QUALIFICATIONS

Alabama

Ala. Code §17-8-7

 

Must be a registered voter (resident and qualified elector), one per party per polling place. Prohibits election officials, including returning officials, from serving as poll watchers.

Alaska

AS §15.10.170

 

Must be a U.S. citizen; one or more watchers may be present per party, ballot committee, candidate, etc. No more than one watcher on duty at a time.

Arizona

A.R.S. §16-590

 

The county party chairman may appoint one person per precinct; the parties must agree on the total number of people allowed per polling place. If they cannot agree, the rule is one person per party per polling place at a given time.

Arkansas

A.C.A. §7-5-312 and §7-5-904

 

Requires a “poll watcher authorization form” to be filed with the county clerk; “Only one authorized poll watcher per candidate, group, or party at any one given time may be officially recognized as a poll watcher at each location within a polling site where voters identify themselves to election officials” Allows candidates to be poll watchers with some form of identification. Prohibits a member of the State Board of Election Commissioners or a county board of election commissioners from serving as a poll watcher.

Colorado

C.R.S. §1-7-106 and §1-7-108

 

Must be eligible electors; prohibits candidates or family members of candidates; one per party per polling place.

 

Florida

F.S. §101.131

 

A “qualified and registered elector” in the county in which he/she will serve; one per party and one per candidate, cannot be candidate or law enforcement officer. Must wear a badge identifying them by name.

Georgia

Ga. Code Ann. §21-2-408

 

Prohibits candidates from serving as poll watchers; two per precinct in the general election and one per precinct per candidate in the primary election. Must wear a badge saying “Official Poll Watcher.”

Hawaii

HRS §11-77 and §11-72 (b)(3)

 

Each qualified political party shall be entitled to appoint no more than one watcher who may be present at any time at a voter service center. Names must be submitted twenty days prior to the election. Prohibits parents, spouses, siblings, children or the candidates themselves. Also prohibits candidates from the primary who failed to receive a nomination from being a poll watcher in the general election.

Illinois

10 ILCS 5/17-23

 

Registered to vote in the state; must be affiliated with the political party or organization that appoints him or her; the parties and candidates can each appoint two per precinct; organizations that are concerned with the election and nonpartisan civic organizations can appoint one per precinct provided they register with the elections authority 40 days before the election; there can be no more than two people from nonpartisan civic organizations at a polling place at a given time.

Indiana

Burns Ind. Code Ann. § 3-6-8-1

  Must be a registered voter of the county. The state chairman and county chairman of each political party or an independent candidate for a federal or a state office are entitled to appoint watchers at each precinct in which the political party or independent candidate is on the ballot. Each political party, independent candidate, and media may have only one watcher at each precinct at any time during Election Day.

Iowa 

I.C.A. §49.104

 

No more than three at a time per political party. No more than one at a time per nonparty political organizations, candidates nominated by petition, and any other nonpartisan candidate in a school or city election. People with an interest in a ballot issue who file in advance an intent to be an observer. No candidates; no elected officials whose names appear on the ballot; no precinct workers; to challenge a voter, must be a registered voter.

Kansas

K.S.A. 25-3005a

 

Must be either a member of a candidate’s family, a registered voter, or at least 14 years of age but satisfy all of the other requirements for being a voter other than age; candidates, precinct committee members, write-in candidates, and issue campaign committees are each limited to one representative per polling place. Must wear badge identifying person as “Observer.”

Kentucky

KRS §117.315

 

No more than two people appointed by each party per precinct to be submitted to the county clerk in advance of the election; must be a registered voter in the county.

Louisiana

LSA-R.S. 18:427; LSA-R.S. 18:435

 

Must submit names to the local officials ten days prior to the election; Must be a qualified voter in the state; must not be qualified for assistance; must not be a candidate or a law enforcement officer. One person per precinct per candidate, but each candidate may designate one person to be a “super watcher” who can be a watcher in any precinct in which the candidate is on the ballot; the list of watchers must be submitted to the county clerk ten days prior to the election.

Maine

21-AM.R.S.A. §627

 

Municipalities must allow at least one person per party to be a poll watcher.

Maryland

MD Code, Election Law, §10-311

 

A state or local board of elections, a candidate, political party, or any other group of voters supporting a candidate or issue can appoint an accredited poll challenger or watcher. Must be a registered voter. Election judges may allow non-accredited challengers or watchers to enter the polling place to challenge a person’s vote.

Massachusetts

950 C.M.R. § 54.04(22a)

 

Poll watchers are allowed at polling sites as long as they are not disorderly and do not disrupt voter access to the polls.

Michigan

M.C.L.A. 168.733; M.C.L.A. 168.730

 

Registered voter in the state; not a candidate or election inspector; challengers must carry an identification card; a political party, organization, or organized entity of interested citizens may designate no more than two people per precinct at any one time.

Minnesota

M.S.A. §204C.07

 

One challenger is permitted per each political party per precinct; ballot issue committees must get signatures from 25 voters to be able to appoint one challenger per precinct, and that person must be a registered voter. Must be residents of the state. Prohibits election judges.

Mississippi

Miss. Code Ann. §23-15-571 and §23-15-577

 

Poll watchers may be designated by political parties and candidates whose name appears on the ballot in the precinct. Each political party that has a candidate on the ballot shall have the right to be represented by two credentialed poll watchers. Challenges may also be made by candidates, qualified electors, managers, clerks, and poll workers.

Missouri

Mo. Rev. Stat. § 15-115.105.1

 

Must be a registered voter in the jurisdiction. The chair of the county committee of each political party named on the ballot shall have the right to designate a challenger for each polling place, who may be present during the hours of voting, and a challenger for each location at which absentee ballots are counted, who may be present while the ballots are being prepared for counting and counted.

Montana

MCA 13-13-120

 

One poll watcher per party per polling place; can’t be a candidate whose name is on the ballot.

 

Nevada

N.R.S. 293.274

 

Members of the general public may be poll watchers, but this does not include members of the media or people who are observing the polls solely within a professional capacity.

New Hampshire

N.H. Rev. Stat. §666:4

 

State and municipal party committees can appoint challengers.

New Jersey

N.J.S.A. 19:7-1

 

County committee chairs for political parties may appoint two challengers per election district.

New Mexico

N.M.S.A. §1-2-21-27

 

The county chair of each political party and any election-related organization may appoint watchers in writing for each polling location. Any group of three candidates for elected office may appoint watchers in a county if the candidates provide a written notice to the secretary of state. No more than one watcher at a time in a polling location. Must wear identification. Candidates, family members of candidates, and law enforcement officers may not serve. An election related organization or a group of three candidates may appoint poll watchers by providing the Secretary of State’s office with notice at least ten days prior to the election.

New York

McKinney’s Election Law §8-500

 

Must be a registered voter in the county or city holding the election; can’t be a candidate in that district; an organization, a party committee, or a group of two or more candidates can appoint poll watchers but none of them can have more than three poll watchers in one location at one time and no more than one poll watcher at a time beyond the guardrail.

North Carolina

N.C.G.S.A. §163-45

 

County party chairs can designate two observers per polling place and 10 at-large observers who are residents of the county and can observe at any polling place in the county; county party chairs can also appoint a runner to receive voting lists. Observers must be registered voters of the county in which they are appointed and must have “good moral character.” Prohibits candidates from serving as observers or runners.

North Dakota

NDCC, 16.1-05-09

 

Election observers must wear a badge with the name of the observer and the name of the organization that observer is representing.

 

Ohio

R.C. §3505.21

 

Must be a registered voter in the precinct; can’t be a candidate; can be appointed by a political party or a group of five or more candidates; one person per precinct; can’t be a uniformed peace officer, state patrolman, member of an organized militia or any other person in uniform; can’t be carrying a firearm or deadly weapon.

Oklahoma

26 Okl. St. Ann. §7-130

 

Any candidate or recognized political party is entitled to have a poll watcher; must file with the Secretary of State or County Election Board by 5 p.m. the Wednesday before the election.

Oregon

O.R.S. §254.482

 

Observers may watch the county clerk receive and count mail-in ballots if authorized by a candidate, political party, or the county clerk. Only so many watchers allowed as will not interfere with orderly procedure.

Pennsylvania
25 P.S. §2687

 

Must be a registered voter in the county; can only be a poll watcher in one district; candidates can appoint two watchers per district and political parties can appoint three watchers per district.

 

Rhode Island

Gen. Laws §17-19-22

 

Political parties may appoint “checkers” to see who has voted, “runners” to deliver lists of people who have voted, and “watchers” to challenge the eligibility of voters

South Carolina

S.C. Code §7-13-860

 

“Must be a qualified voter” in the county where he/she will serve  and certified in writing to the managers of the precinct; two per party per 1,000 registered voters per polling place; poll watchers must also wear a badge indicating the candidate or party they represent.

 

South Dakota

SDCL §12-15-2.1 and §12-18-8.1  

 

 

Prohibits precinct superintendents, precinct deputies, candidates, or election board workers from serving as poll watchers; one watcher per polling place per each party, independent candidate, slate of presidential electors and each side of a ballot issue.

 

Tennessee 

T.C.A. §2-7-104

 

Must be 17 years old by Election Day, and appointed by the party in writing; each candidate can have one and each party or citizens’ organization can have two. The state also prohibits spouses of candidates from serving.

Texas

V.T.C.A., Election Code §33.031

 

Poll watchers can be acting on behalf of a candidate, political party, or opponent or proponent of a ballot measure; must be a qualified elector from the jurisdiction; can’t be a felon, candidate, public official or related within the second degree of consanguinity to an election judge/clerk at the site; maximum of seven per early voting site and two per Election Day voting site.

Utah 

U.C.A. §20A-3-201

 

Any individual may become a watcher in an election at any time by registering as a watcher with the administering election officer. A candidate whose name will appear on the ballot, a qualified write in candidate for the election, political party, or a political issues committee may certify an individual as an official watcher. Designated by the parties or persons interested in a ballot issue by affidavit; one to watch counting ballots; one to inspect the ballot packages.

Vermont

17 V.S.A. §2564

 

Candidates, political parties, and ballot initiative committees can’t have more than two representatives outside the guardrail.

Virginia

Va. Code Ann. §24.2-604

 

Must be a registered voter; one person per party per polling place at a given time but no more than three total for any organization; independent candidates can also appoint a poll watcher. Prohibits candidates from serving as poll watchers.

Washington

RCV 29A.40.100

 

County auditors must request that observers appointed by the political parties be present during the processing of ballots; auditors can also request that observers from campaigns and organizations be present

West Virginia

W.VA. Code §3-1-37; W.VA. Code §3-1-41

 

Poll watchers are not permitted in the polling places; it is the responsibility of the election officials to challenge voters.

Wisconsin

W.S.A. 7.41

 

Any member of the public may be an observer except for a candidate on the ballot; observers must be in a designated location and they have to sign a log maintained by an official at the polling place.

Wyoming

W.S. §22-15-109

 

Must be certified by the county chairman of a political party; one per party unless election judge decides one additional watcher may be accommodated without disrupting polling process. Must be registered voter in the county and “belong” to the party they represent.

Note: States not listed may allow poll watchers, but do not provide for them in statute.

Gavin Palmer, a law student from Georgetown University and NCSL’s former legal clerk, collaborated on this research. 

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