North Carolina tightens rules for partisan poll watchers

RALEIGH, North Carolina (AP) — After receiving more than a dozen reports of conduct violations by party-appointed poll watchers during North Carolina’s May primaries, the state Board of Elections on Tuesday tightened regulations for constituency observers to prevent partisan interference in the November general election. .

The council voted unanimously to approve temporary rules for the next election that more clearly outline the code of conduct for partisan observers, prohibiting them from standing near “tabulators, laptops, a record or other voting document” where they might see marked or confidential ballots. voter information.

The revisions strengthen scrutiny of election observers and officials, adding a list of prohibited conducts for precinct officials that prohibits them from tampering with voting materials or expressing their political views on the job.

While poll monitoring has been a part of election transparency since the 1800s, the practice has gained prominence in the 2020 election cycle due to former President Donald Trump’s unfounded claims of voter fraud. Trump’s debunked claim that the 2020 presidential election results were fraudulent has motivated thousands of his supporters to scrutinize election operations nationwide, heightening fears of voter intimidation.

A Survey of County Electoral Officers In late May, violations were found in 15 North Carolina counties, where officials observed poll watchers harass voters and attempt to enter restricted areas to view confidential voting records.

“While most were perfectly fine, several demanded to be behind the machines to watch people vote,” Davidson County Electoral Officer Andrew Richards said. “When told they couldn’t be behind the voting material, many became argumentative.”

State law allows political parties to appoint precinct-specific and general poll watchers to monitor election proceedings from designated areas inside the polling place on Election Day and during early voting. one-stop shop. These observers can report their concerns to a precinct official, but they are prohibited from interacting with voters, disseminating information, or interfering with the duties of poll workers.

North Carolina Republicans, some of whom have close ties to Trump, have argued that new restrictions on poll watchers could undermine the integrity of the election in a crucial swing state.

Conservative attorney Cleta Mitchell, who was on the phone with Trump in January when he pressured Georgia’s Republican secretary of state to ‘find’ enough votes to overturn the results of that state’s presidential election, was among those who spoke out against the rule change in the first of two July 28 public hearings.

“It’s really in an effort to curb the enthusiastic interest that many citizens of North Carolina have expressed in ensuring that elections conducted in our state are transparent and law abiding,” Mitchell said, a resident of Pinehurst.

The state board opted to pursue a temporary rule change to ensure the revisions are approved before early in-person voting begins Oct. 20, said Paul Cox, associate counsel for the board.

“The existing rules, quite frankly, are not models of clarity,” Cox said. “We want to avoid any disruptive issues in the future, especially as these incidents appear to have surfaced recently in large enough numbers to worry our county managers.”

The State Rules Review Commission will now review the changes. If approved, they will be in effect for 270 days, Cox said.

Council Chairman Damon Circosta said he would ask political parties and election workers to complete another survey in late November so the council can assess the need for permanent rule change.

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Schoenbaum is a member of the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places reporters in local newsrooms to report on underreported issues. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/H_Schoenbaum.

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