What is the role of poll watchers?

May 2024 1 min read by The CEIR Team

poll watchers

In recent years, the trustworthiness of US elections has been a matter of fierce debate. But the debate itself hinges on a false assumption: that our elections rely on blind trust.

There is no stage in our elections, from the casting of a vote to the announcement of results, at which the voting public is asked to simply “trust” in the integrity of the people involved. Any system that involves humans is fallible. 

That’s why US elections are built not on trust but on verification. And one of the critical links in that system of verification is the poll watcher.

Poll watchers play a vital role in ensuring transparency and fairness in the electoral process. They are appointed by political parties, candidates, or nonpartisan groups to observe the conduct of an election, ensuring that any irregularities at the polls—intentional or otherwise—are caught and corrected.

The main objective of partisan poll watchers is to ensure that no irregularities occur that could disadvantage their party or candidate. They might monitor the opening and closing of polls, observe the verification of voter identities (and challenge eligibility as needed), and watch the counting of ballots, reporting any suspected irregularities or suspected violations to election officials.

Nonpartisan poll watchers may be connected with civic organizations, NGOs, or international election integrity organizations. Their main goal is to promote transparency, fairness, and the integrity of the election process without regard to partisan outcomes and to ensure that voters’ rights are protected and that elections are conducted according to law.

In addition to the tasks of partisan poll watchers—monitoring the opening and closing of polls, observing the verification of voter identities, and watching the ballot count, they might document evidence of suspected voter suppression and provide feedback or recommendations after the election to help improve the process.

The combined presence of partisan and nonpartisan poll watchers eliminates the need to blindly trust the system. Claims of fraud should always be examined in light of the many verification steps in place, including poll watchers.

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