No matter what anyone has said or encouraged, not just anyone can legally go to a polling place, claim to be a “poll watcher” and hang around near where other people vote – at least not in Georgia.
In Georgia, a poll watcher must be designated by one of the political parties or by an independent or nonpartisan candidate who is on the ballot.
Under a state law, OCGA 21-2-408, each political party executive committee, such as a county Democratic or Republican committee, is entitled to designate at most two poll workers for each precinct at least seven days before the election. The party chairperson or secretary must provide the individual poll watcher’s name and other information in a letter to the county or city election superintendent. An independent or nonpartisan candidate is entitled to designate one poll watcher per precinct in the same way.
Additionally, in a statewide election, each registered political party or nonpartisan candidate may designate, at least 14 days before the election, no more than 25 statewide poll watchers. But no more than two poll watchers for any one party or nonpartisan candidate can legally be present at the same polling place at the same time.
Poll watcher badge
The law requires that each poll watcher be issued an “Official Poll Watcher” badge by the election superintendent and wear it at all times while in the polling place.
“Such poll watcher shall in no way interfere with the conduct of the election, and the poll manager may make reasonable regulations to avoid such interference,” the law states. “Without in any way limiting the authority of poll managers, poll watchers are prohibited from talking to voters, checking electors lists, using photographic or other electronic monitoring or recording devices, using cellular telephones, or participating in any form of campaigning while they are behind the enclosed space.”
If a poll watcher violates these prohibitions, the poll manager is required to give a warning, but if the behavior persists, they can have the watcher removed.
The general public is also allowed to observe “in the polling place,” but only official poll watchers are allowed “in the enclosed space,” a state Elections Division training administrator emailed Bulloch County Deputy Registrar Shontay Jones. The “enclosed space,” is apparently the cordoned area around voting machines. Another state law refers to the use of a “guardrail or barrier” in that area.
A few in Bulloch
Jones said Friday she had seen an online list of designated statewide poll watchers but did not know if any would be coming to Bulloch County.
The Bulloch County Republican Party has five poll watchers designated for Tuesday, said Bulloch Republican Chair Reid Derr. That is not enough to have even one at each of the county’s 16 precincts.
“The larger precincts and in town, generally, is where these people are going to be working,” he said. “During the day, Statesboro is like a magnet, everybody comes in, and so those that are poll watching are bunched at the Statesboro precincts.”
Derr said he trusts the Bulloch County Board of Elections and Registration staff, led by Election Supervisor Patricia Lanier Jones, to conduct honest, efficient elections and expects the poll watchers to be “bored.”
The Bulloch County Democratic Party usually has six or eight poll watchers on Election Day, said Bulloch Democrats Chair Jessica Orvis. During the 16 days of in-person early voting, the local Democrats had one poll watcher on the scene at times, while the local Republicans had none.
Poll watchers can assist voters outside the “enclosed space,” such as those who need help determining if they are at the correct polling place, but the watchers do not identify themselves by party, Orvis said.