The Dangers of “Ballot Security” Operations and Voter Intimidation

​Source: Wendy R. Weiser and Adam Gitlin, Brennan Center for Justice, Fact Sheet, August 2016

From the summary:
Over the past few weeks, the issue of voting has been thrust to the center of public discussion. Multiple courts across the country ruled against discriminatory and disenfranchising new voting laws, and politicians responded by claiming our elections are “rigged.” Some have gone so far as to call for off-duty police officers to monitor polling places and for citizen volunteers to serve as “election observers” to root out supposed fraud — even though overwhelming evidence makes clear that polling place fraud is virtually nonexistent.

But deploying non-official, private actors to conduct supposed “ballot security” operations or to challenge whether a voter can cast a ballot is highly risky: it can easily lead to illegal intimidation, discrimination, or disruptions at the polls.

Drawing on extensive research and prior publications, this fact sheet outlines the threat posed by so-called ballot security and poll-watching operations, how such operations can cross the line to illegal activity, what is and is not allowed under the law, and what must be done to protect against intimidation, discrimination, confrontations, and other potentially harmful activity at the polls this November.

Election officials can — and should — take steps now to minimize the risk of problems on and before Election Day.
The Watchers Watching Elections
Source: NCSL’s The Canvass, October 2016

You go to the polls and who do you see? Your neighbors, maybe. Poll workers, of course (who may also be your neighbors). Who else?

Party designees known as “poll watchers” are likely. Members of the media too. Interested citizens and academics might be there. And, in a smattering of polling places spread throughout the nation, international observers may be there on Election Day, as well. As it turns out, who—besides voters—is allowed at the polls depends on which state you are in.

Regardless of which category these people fit in, they have at least three things in common:
• All are governed in some way by state law—which means legislators set the policy.
• None are permitted to interfere with the voting process, although some have authority to formally challenge a voter’s eligibility.
• All aim to ensure that the election is well-run, often by providing feedback to election officials. …..