Where the Poll Watchers Go

Where the Poll Watchers Go November 6, 2012

The Huffington Post reports what anyone who has ever covered elections could already tell you, that the Republican “poll watchers” and vote challengers go almost exclusively to districts with high percentages of poor and minority voters. Because those voters will tend to vote Democratic.

A partial list of precincts targeted by a Pittsburgh Tea Party group working on behalf of the Republican Party shows that nearly 80 percent of the voters in those precincts are African-American, compared to 13 percent countywide, according to civil rights and union groups who on Monday called on the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate.

An Ohio political blog is reporting that forms submitted to election officials by Tea Party spin-off group True the Vote in Franklin County — which includes Columbus — show poll watchers heading to 28 precincts, where most voters are African-American. Overall, the county electorate is 20 percent African-American.

“We’ve been concerned from the beginning that the efforts of True the Vote and aligned groups were going to be targeted largely in communities of color,” said Eric Marshall, manager of legal mobilization for the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “We’ve seen in the past where these kinds of tactics can lead to intimidation and harassment of voters.”

A potentially even greater concern now is that the groups will use the voter challenge process “for the express purpose of creating lines and confusion,” Marshall said.

This is always the case. When the news outlet I edited, the Michigan Messenger, reported in 2008 that the Republican party in Michigan was planning to use foreclosure lists to challenge voters, they would have done so in those precincts with high foreclosure rates. That means areas where the residents are mostly poor minorities, like the city of Detroit. And the purpose of that is precisely to create chaos at the polls, to make people wait longer, to make them have to cast provisional ballots that are not counted until long after election day, and to make other people have to leave before they can vote. It’s all part of the massive effort at voter suppression that the Republican party has been doing for the last 30 years, at least.

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  • What, if anything, can be done to prevent these tactics?

  • dingojack

    Gregory since you asked.



    NB: Peter Hartcher is slightly more right-wing than Barack Obama

  • vmanis1

    I don’t understand this at all. I served as a scrutineer (Canadian for `poll watcher’) in many elections, representing the New Democratic Party. The regulations stated clearly (a) that scrutineers had to be named by the party prior to Election Day, and (b) that they could not in any way (even via inarticulate grunts) communicate with any voter. If there was any doubt about a person’s eligibility to vote (which pretty well meant that the name didn’t appear in the poll register) the scrutineer was to communicate with the poll clerk, who would refer the issue to the deputy returning officer in charge of the polling place. (Scrutineers were also responsible for monitoring the insertion of completed ballots into the ballot box, for monitoring the count, and the sealing of the ballot boxes after the count, in case of a recount.)

    These are obvious, simple regulations. With them in place, there is very little possibility of voter intimidation[*]. I can understand why a partisan election administration would choose not to establish and enforce these regulations, but I can’t understand why the people do not rise up and demand their implementation.

    [*] The only case of possible intimidation I can recall from my own experience was a scrutineer for another party; it was reported to me by another NDP scrutineer that this person was making racist and sexist remarks where voters could hear. I went over and introduced myself to him, we chatted for a minute, and I gently hinted to him that our conversation was supposed to be cheery and non-political while we were there. There were no further complaints about him.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Searching Google News for “poll watchers” brings up a lot of interesting articles.

  • nooneinparticular

    Where do democratic poll watchers go?

  • ImaginesABeach

    I think most democratic poll watchers are watching the poll watchers this year.

  • Ichthyic

    Where do democratic poll watchers go?

    same places…

    to keep an eye on the rethuglican poll watchers no doubt.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Where do democratic poll watchers go?

    Hell, eventually.

  • nooneinparticular

    Imaginesabeach and Icthyic; it seems you are both right;


    Reginald, my guess is you are correct as well.

  • tsig

    Apparently elections are too important to be left to the voters.

  • Jordan Genso

    Where do democratic poll watchers go?

    As a poll challenger currently on my lunch break, I can say that I’ve simply been stationed at a location with two precincts voting at it. I’m in a Republican county though, so there’s little chance of the Republicans trying to disrupt the voting process here, so my main goal is just to assist if there are any confusions that arise about whether or not someone can vote. I’m there mainly to make sure the poll workers are doing their jobs properly.

    What sucks though is having the title “Poll Challenger” (which is different from “Poll Watcher”, as a challenger is able to be behind the workers in the actual voting area, whereas a watcher can only be around the voters in line or outside the voting location, and they have no official capacity from my understanding), as the “challenger” part is inherently aggressive and puts the workers & voters both in an uncomfortable situation. So I try to make it very clear that I’m in no way going to cause any trouble, unless someone who has a right to vote is being prevented from doing so. Other than that, the only other thing I really look out for is “campaigning” within the voting line/area (so no political shirts are allowed to be visible, and that sort of thing).

    I do think the commenters are correct though in stating that many Democratic poll challengers are focused on preventing the Republican poll challengers from causing problems. If any of the “True the Vote” people were at a location I was stationed at, I would be sure to be right there if they tried to block someone from voting.

  • Ichthyic

    Apparently elections are too important to be left to the voters.

    the “founding fathers” most certainly thought so.

  • matthewdawson

    It’s all part of the massive effort at voter suppression that the Republican party has been doing for the last 30 years, at least.

    Definitely longer than that. William Rehnquist cut his teeth in the Republican party suppressing votes.

  • hexidecima

    yep, we have ostensible poll watchers in PA who are not so strangely avoiding white majority districts completely and making sure that they are concentrating on those that aren’t.

  • thisisaturingtest

    And, in the meantime, Fox News is having an absolute fit about New Black Panther “intimidation” in Philadelphia. One- count ’em, one- black guy opening doors for voters in a predominantly black voting precinct, and Limbaugh and Fox News are screaming “the fix is in!”

  • imrryr

    What I want to know is where do the poll watchers go once the elections are over? Do they disappear into the mountains to sleep away the years, vowing to return when the people need them most?

  • brucegee1962

    I just want to say that the Democrats should be deploying their resources better to combat this.

    I volunteered to work outside a voting location today handing out sample ballots. I’m in a swing state, and there was a guy there who had come two hours from a neighboring state to help people answer questions about whether they were eligible to vote or not.

    Except our polling place was in a basically suburban neighborhood outside a left-leaning city, so it wasn’t the sort of place that True the Vote would have been targetting. He would have been much more effective if he’d been directed to go to a minority neighborhood, I suspect.

  • What I want to know is where do the poll watchers go once the elections are over?

    Based on what I see from here in Canada they start preparing for the next election which is a mere 2 years away. Politics in the USA seems to have become an industry more than anything else. Not that we are perfect or anything.

  • jim76804

    I’m an attorney and I’ve taken a vacation day to work as a democratic party challenger. They sent me to an urban precinct that is 98% African-American because the gop poll challengers used these exact tactics here in the last election. So luckily something is being done.

  • ReneeHendricks

    It’s stuff like this that makes me glad Washington does a mail-in ballot.

  • evilDoug

    How do penalties for unlawfully preventing someone from voting or interfering with or preventing their vote from being counted compare with the penalties for “voter fraud”? It seems to me like the former ought to be an order of magnitude greater than the latter – so the poll challengers feel like they are walking to the gallows with a warden just itching to pull the lever behind them.

    I’m beginning to think the USA needs a constitutional amendment to make interfering with someones right to vote very close to being considered as serious as treason.

    vmanis1, I once had some words with a returning office at my polling place about a Conservative or CCRAP or Reform scrutineer interacting with voters. The guy told me he didn’t have problem with it, but the person sitting next to him at least considered it, and commented that it might be considered inappropriate. I wish I had forced the issue and made an official complaint, but I really didn’t know the details of the rules.

  • fastlane

    can anyone verify if this is legit (as in, is the video real.)


    (Hope this doesn’t embed.)

  • Freeman

    I live in a predominately black precinct. I didn’t spot any challengers, but it was the worst voting experience I’ve ever had.

    Up until this election, we’ve always voted at a good-sized middle-school with ample parking and reduced speed limits on the street out front. This time they moved our venue (due to “redistricting”, so says the voter card I was mailed) to a tiny church with very little parking, located on a busy thoroughfare. The only available parking was along neighborhood streets on the other side of the thoroughfare. I cringed several times watching little old ladies crossing the street to get to and from their cars as I waited in the line outside.

    Once inside, we were packed like sardines in a tiny foyer, one long line coming in right alongside a row of folding tables for people to vote at (very little to no privacy) to the back of the room, then the line turned 180 and split into three lines by first letter of last name. Once you showed ID and signed the log, you were handed a ballot and good luck finding a spot to fill it out. When done, we had to cut across all four lines of people to get to the locked bin we put our ballots into, then cut back across all four lines to get to the door to leave. At the middle school they used to limit the number of voters inside the building in order to keep congestion reasonable, but it seemed they were deliberately trying to screw things up this morning.

    It was a Mongolian clusterfuck. There was a lot of complaining, the most common — this isn’t working, what happened to voting at the school? Total time was an hour and a half starting at 6 am when the poll opened.

    BTW: I stopped by the middle school on my way to work after voting this morning, and guess what? It was not a polling place. I’m going to be looking into this, because I don’t think the districting changed so much as the quality of the venue they’re setting up for this district to vote in, since nobody is voting at the school any more. I think the state should use it’s own resources to hold elections, and I think it ought to be the law, so maybe I’ll propose we start a referendum at the next neighborhood association meeting.

  • It’s starting to look like a scene from Good Fellas. The GOP poll watchers are watching the voters. The democratic poll watchers are watching the GOP poll watchers. Fox is watching the democratic poll watchers (especially if they’re black).

  • dingojack

    MrBongo – yes, they were expected to be. Your point is…?


  • Ichthyic

    Florida is really close, Virginia is interesting too!

    is it time to gloat yet?