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Tag: Poll workers

What You Need to Know About Election Observers in California

By: Josh Turiel

For over a century, election observers, also called poll watchers, have been keeping a vigilant eye on Americans as they cast their ballots. These volunteers observe election processes, particularly in-person voting and absentee ballot counting, to detect fraud and other irregularities. Although often affiliated with impartial civic-minded organizations or government election entities, the two major political parties also routinely employ election observers. Partisan observers were thrust into the spotlight when President Trump rallied his supporters, during a September 2020 nationally televised debate, to descend on polling places to monitor the election. Donald Trump, Jr. used social media to draft an “Army for Trump’s election security operation.” Meanwhile, Joe Biden has recruited over 10,000 volunteer election observers. This year’s hyper-partisanship has stoked fears that inexperienced election observers will sow conflict and chaos at the polls. 

California counties establish their own policies for election observers (those who plan to observe a polling place should seek guidance from local election officials), but state law sets firm boundaries that provide voters with safe, unencumbered access to the voting booth (federal law is not discussed in this post). Most notably, it is a felony to use violence or coercion to intimidate or compel any person to vote, to not vote, or to vote for a particular candidate or ballot measure. This prohibition extends to hiring or arranging for someone else to engage in such behavior. Violators face up to three years imprisonment. 

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A new generation of poll workers

by Brooks C. Braun

On election day, November 8th, 2011, more than 30 students from Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) worked as Officers of Election in Henrico County, VA on behalf of the Tidewater Roots Poll Project (TRPP). TRPP is a project organized by William & Mary students to inspire college students to make a commitment to civic duty and participatory democracy by becoming the next generation of Virginia poll volunteers. We sat down to talk with three of these students to hear what they had to say about their experience.

Tell us a little bit about yourselves and how you heard about TRPP.

TEREZA: My name is Tereza McInnes, I’m an international studies major at VCU and I heard about the Tidewater Roots Poll Project through a VCU e-mail. I was really interested in it because all I’ve heard is that it’s something that ‘old people do’ and I kinda wanted to see what exactly it was about. And I guess I also heard that, you know, there was money involved.

DAVID: My name is David, I’m a 28 year old full time student at VCU. I’m in my fifth year. I have a dual degree in criminal justice and psychology with a concentration in pre-physical therapy. I got an e-mail from VCU saying that they were recruiting. I get 15 to 20 e-mails a day so I just breezed through it and moved on to the next e-mail. Later, one of my other friends, Thomas Kidwell, said that he had spoken to you on campus. He mentioned the e-mail, at which point I went back to read it again. My interest was piqued so I went ahead and put my name in the pool.

GABRIELA: My name is Maria Gabriela Ochoa Perez. I’m a freshman at VCU and I’m studying communication arts. I’m 18. I was born in Venezuela and I became a citizen 2 years ago. I’m really interested in the governmental system here in America because I experienced firsthand in Venezuela what it was like under a less democratic system. I was introduced to the project by this interesting looking gentleman standing in the cold in front of the VCU commons one day. I had already tried to figuring out how to do that kind of thing; poll work. I remember having talked to my government teacher in high school about doing it. I just hadn’t yet taken the time to contact the Montgomery county registrar’s office to sign up. So I was really interested when that nice gentleman told me what TRPP was doing. I mean this is something totally different than just voting. Working at the polls puts you right in the middle of the process and enables you to learn more about it. Continue reading

SC (voter id): “We do not have a constitutional right to buy Sudafed or be a frequent flier; we do have a constitutional right to vote.”

by Sheila Dugan

On May 11, 2011, the South Carolina General Assembly passed Act R54.  The new law would require individuals to present photo identification to vote. Governor Nikki Haley signed the bill a week later. The Department of Justice has yet to pre-clear the new law, stating that it needs proof from South Carolina that Act R54 would not disenfranchise voters. Valid forms of identification include a South Carolina driver’s license, a passport, military identification, a voter registration card with a photograph, or another form of photographic identification from the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).

Chris Whitmire, Director of Public Relations and Training at the South Carolina State Election Commission (SCSEC), spoke to me about the preparations taking place if the law is pre-cleared. These preparations include training county election officials, notifying registered voters without proper identification through direct mail, and a social media campaign about the new law. The General Assembly allocated $535,000 to the SCSEC for the voter education campaign and the creation of new voter registration cards that contain a photograph of the voter.

Registered voters would be able to obtain the new voter registration cards with the same documents they now use to register to vote (these include a photo ID or documents like a utility bill or pay stub with their address printed on it.) This makes the new identification easier to obtain than other government-issued forms of identification.  Another unique feature of the new card is that it will not expire. Continue reading

Weekly Wrap Up

Emanuel got the green light for candidacy: Rahm Emanuel can run for Chicago mayor, after a unanimous decision by the Illinois Supreme Court. The Court found that he meets the residency requirements because he paid taxes and maintained a residence he planned to use as his permanent residence–even though he rented it out–in Chicago while working in the White House.

Every vote counts in Ohio: A three-judge panel of the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on January 27 that ballots improperly cast because of errors by poll workers must be counted in the judicial election in Hamilton County. Although the exact number of ballots that must now be counted is unknown, Democrats claim it could be in the hundreds. Republican John Williams currently leads by 23 votes.

Is there a fight brewing over Fair Districts in Florida?: In one of his first acts as governor, Rick Scott withdrew the request to the Justice Department to approve the redistricting amendments passed by voters in November. The amendments are also currently being challenged in court in a lawsuit filed by two U.S. Representatives from Florida.

Weekly Wrap Up

Is World Wrestling Entertainment political advertising?  According to election officials in Connecticut, it is.  They have told poll workers that they can ask voters wearing WWE gear to cover it up, fearing that it could be construed as political advertising for Republican Senate candidate Linda McMahon, who is also the former CEO of WWE.  Officials said that McMahon is so closely associated with WWE that the gear could easily be considered a violation of rule banning political campaigning within 75 feet of a polling station.  McMahon’s husband, Vince McMahon, said that this was a violation of WWE fans’ First Amendment rights and would deny them their right to vote.  Connecticut Republicans are also up in arms, with the State Party Chairman calling the action “voter intimidation.” This is not unprecedented, however; a similar rule was in place in California, forbidding voters from wearing “Terminator” gear when Arnold Schwarzenegger was on the ballot.

The 9th Circuit struck down part of Arizona’s voter registration laws on October 27, holding that the provisions of the law requiring proof of citizenship conflicted with the federal law. The federal law only requires that applicants “attest their citizenship under penalty of perjury”, while the 2004 voter-approved initiative in Arizona required applicants to register to vote to show proof of citizenship by providing one of the documents on the approved list. The citizenship requirement was “an additional state hurdle” to registration, something the federal law was trying to prevent. The 9th Circuit appeals panel–which included retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor–did not, however, overturn the requirement that voters show identification at the polls in order to vote. Continue reading

The Tea Party and Voter Fraud

In anticipation of the impending midterm elections, officials from various Tea Party affiliated groups are concerned that Republicans are losing elections because of voter fraud. Dick Armey, former Republican Congressman, recently asserted that up to 3% of the votes Democrat’s received in 2008 was illegitimate.

Ignoring for a moment that most voting experts refute these claims, the debate is interesting for several reasons. First, it shows the ever-increasing role the Tea Party plays in the Republican Party, a dynamic certain to have a huge impact in November. This broad discussion, however, has been extensively covered by the national news media, so we don’t need to get into it now.

Second, it illustrates the importance of conducting fair and open elections. If these claims have any basis in fact, the implications would be staggering.  The 2008 election cycle fundamentally altered the direction of local, state and national politics, as Democrats dominated, even in traditionally Republican districts. If for some reason that move was illegitimate, it would change our view of the direction American politics. Perhaps that is what these claims are really all about – the Tea Party questioning whether 2008 was really an indication that the country moving to the political left. Continue reading

Tidewater Roots Poll Project

Previous articles on have mentioned the “graying” of America’s poll workers.  The average age of a poll worker is 72, and  they obviously are not getting any younger.  Even more depressingly, precincts across the nation are overworked and shorthanded.  According to the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, poll worker error was responsible for over 1 million lost votes.  That’s one million voters effectively disenfranchised because of our rapidly aging poll worker population.  It is clear that America needs a new generation of voters to step up and take on this important civic responsibility.

To that end, the William & Mary Election Law Program is pleased to announce its latest initiative, the Tidewater Roots Poll Project. The goal of the Project is to recruit 240 college students from 6 schools across the Tidewater region: William & Mary, Hampton University, Regent University, Norfolk State University, Old Dominion University and Christopher Newport University.  These students will be trained as election officials and introduced to experienced poll workers to spark an appreciation for the tradition of civic involvement of the region.  The project will be documented in oral history videographies featuring the students and their interactions with experienced poll workers.

Ultimately, our mission is not just to get 240 college students to work this election day, but to inspire them to make a lifetime commitment to participatory democracy.

To learn more about the program, or if you are a student at one of those six schools who wants to get involved, visit the project’s website at


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Solving the Epidemic of Disappearing Poll Workers – Part 2: A Poll Worker Draft?

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As discussed last week, the graying of America is seen most potently behind the polls. The decreasing numbers of poll workers across the nation has been threatening the centerpiece of our democracy. The first article focused on how young people can and should fill that void. This week, we take a look into a less conventional method of filling the need: Making poll working mandatory.

Currently, there are only two counties in the entire country that uses a drafting system for poll workers. Nebraska law allows for a draft and both Douglas and Sarpy County have taken part. At least one other state has considered the idea of a poll worker draft. In 2007, Ohio’s Secretary of State, Jennifer Brunner, announced the idea, but was eventually met with considerable criticism from the legislature. The word “draft” itself has a grim, scary, and negative connection in our country. However, there are many positives that could come from instituting a poll-worker draft in a jurisdiction in need. Lets call it election duty (like jury duty) to make it more palatable.


The problem of long hours at the polls plagues every jurisdiction. It is a little discussed fact that anyone who offers to become a poll worker must work from about an hour before the poll opens to after the poll closes in the evening. Not many people would sign up for these long hours, even when payment is offered (which often comes out to very near minimum wage). However, a election duty system would help not only to alleviate the general need, but with a high participation rate, everyone who participates would have an easier job. In one district where it might take four people 14 hours of work each, 8 citizens could be pulled to work 7 hours and even get regular breaks. From another perspective, this would also make election duty less demanding. A less daunting task for those who choose to participate would help the image of election duty. Continue reading

Solving the Epidemic of Disappearing Poll Workers – Part 1: Young People

poll workersThere is a disease spreading throughout our nation’s polling locations. The graying of America is seen most potently behind the polls. Poll workers in America have an average age in the 70s, significantly older than the average age of AARP members (64). The current elderly class of civic-minded individuals who have fulfilled their civic duty responsibly for decades have been leaving out of confusion with new technology and the effects of their old age. As this void continues to grow, more and more options will need to be considered by state and local legislatures in order to ensure that elections go smoothly. This is the first post in a series about what could be done to help solve the problem of disappearing poll workers.

Young people are the future leaders of this country, but some local election laws could be more conductive to this passing of the torch as poll workers. States could learn from one another in this respect. Massachusetts passed a law in 2008 which allowed poll workers as young as 16. 29 other states allow poll workers to be under the age of 18. Arizona allows 16 and 17 year old high-school students to miss the day of school to be a poll worker (with parental permission), and even pays them for their service. There may be some concerns about the ability of minors to act as competent poll workers, but the minors are usually well supervised. The immediate reaction to this legislation in most states has been positive, including in Minnesota, where Secretary of State Mark Ritchie remarked the 16 and 17 year old poll workers “have been a burst of energy” and “a big success.” Continue reading

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