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VIP POLLWATCHER GUIDELINES (received 01/02/2001)

Since the November election, I have had many inquiries about VIP Poll Watcher 
Training programs. So I thought you might find the following of interest.

VIP did significant pilot work in the area of poll watcher training in 
Maryland in 1998-1999.  What we found was that citizen poll watchers serve an 
important role in preventing fraud, increasing voter participation, 
increasing general integrity and efficiency of election administration 
practices, and heightening public confidence in election outcomes.  

However, we are also painfully aware that there are vast variances in how 
poll watcher programs are set up.  Most election offices are very 
underfunded, and barely have the resources to administer elections, let alone 
perform the secondary tier of functions (voter education, voter registration 
cleanup, recruiting/training/retaining of election workers).  Most training 
programs for election workers do not focus on fraud prevention or 
identification. And most election workers have their hands full on election 
day just administering the election.  So ctizen poll watchers can contribute 
to the integrity of the election by the careful observation of the process 
and documentation of any irregularities.

To be truly effective, a citizen poll watcher program should meet these 

1. Be truly non-partisan, i.e., performed by partisans of all persuasions 
under the auspices of an independent, non-partisan group such as VIP.  
Because of the way state laws are written, poll watchers generally must be 
certified through political parties or campaigns. However, when VIP conducts 
a program it requests the parties to provide blank certificates and then 
notifies its poll watchers that their certificate may not necessarily 
represent their political persuasion. This is because VIP believes that it is 
better to have non-partisan eyes on the process.  Too often, partisan poll 
watchers are merely used as tools of the campaigns to "get out the vote" and 
are not trained or equipped to prevent or detect irregularities or fraud.

2. Work, to the greatest extent possible, in cooperation with election 
officials, as a "value-added" to government's role in administering 
elections.  This should include participation in all aspects of the election 
administration -- from the selection of an election system, configuration of 
the ballot, review of administrative protocols -- to help in recruiting 
election workers and judges, new voter registration (in a truly non-partisan 
way), and voter education programs (about the election system -- not the 
candidates). [Please note: VIP does not endorse the concept of partisan 
assistance with absentee ballots, as that often cloaks fraudulent activities. 
However, we do endorse the provision of bi-partisan pairs of election 
monitors for execution of absentee ballots for residents of personal care 
homes to ensure their votes are not coerced or stolen.]

3. Any poll watcher training program must begin with thorough review and 
knowledge of the election laws, equipment and administrative protocol.  
Review federal & state constitutions and laws relating to elections and voter 
rights; review training manuals for election workers; be knowledgeable about 
the flaws of the election system in use and past history of problems in 
elections in your area.

4. Perform a voter registration clean up program. This involves taking the 
voter registration list and to the extent you are able, given the limits of 
access and resources, identify and make election officials aware of invalid 
or fraudulent names residing on the rolls.  Use the list of active, inactive, 
and questionable voters at the polls.  Be sure to format it in a way that is 
easily readible and usable by your poll watchers. Be aware that in most 
jurisdictions, the poll watcher has NO authority to directly challenge 
voters, but can alert election officials to questionable voters presenting 
themselves.  Be sure that any voter names identified as invalid, fraudulent 
or questionable are properly notified to the election office so they may 
perform necessary due diligence (voter notification). This process is 
essential to prevent inadvertent voter disenfranchisement and is required by 
federal law.

5. The principle role of citizen poll watcher is to observe and document. If 
there are problems on election day, the careful notes of poll watchers can 
become an invaluable resource for election officials, campaigns and others 
attempting to correct problems or pursue prosecution of fraud. Ideally, the 
notes should be signed by the individual poll watcher and collected within a 
day or so of the election. A hotline number for reporting serious problems 
should be established by the organizing agency. Poll watchers and support 
staff should also be trained in how to properly take witness statements.

6. Training programs should be limited to 2 hours and conducted in the 2 
weeks prior to the election.  (We believe in the old addage that a brain can 
absorb no more than the seat can endure).   All poll watchers should be 
trained (even if they have received training before, although as the program 
grows you may be able to conduct a shorter "refresher" for repeat watchers.) 
Provide a manual with general rules, election statutes, equipment information 
and a copy of the election workers manual, should be provided.  A copy of the 
voter registration roll (with flags for questionable names as described 
above) should be provided for the precinct they will be worker in. 

7. Be sure poll watchers understand the rules of their participation in the 
election. Be sure they are properly certified, work in an unobstructive 
fashion. Under no circumstances should poll watchers ever be perceived as 
threatening or obstructive to voters. Cameras should never be employed inside 
polling places.

8. Be sure your poll watchers are backed up by experts: A group of people who 
are well versed in the law, equipment and history of your jurisdiction.

9. Provide continuity to your program. It should be year-round -- not 
employed only in the weeks prior to election.  Also, consider working with 
VIP to establish the Young Voter Outreach program in your area. This will not 
only help relieve the burden on your election officials, it can engage our 
youngest generations in a life-time of voter activity.

We have found that by properly training and equipping poll watchers, the 
experience can be truly positive, and will have a reverberating effect in the 
community. That one poll watcher has many friends, co-workers, neighbors, 
family -- all of whom will have greater respect for the process and the 
results of the election hearing such positive reports on the election.  

Finally please consider making a financial contribution to The Voting 
Integrity Project. Your personal or corporate contribution is tax deductible 
to the extent of federal and state laws. And by making such a contribution, 
you will help ensure that we can continue to "defend your freedom by 
protecting your vote." You can contribute any of three ways: (1) securely 
on-line at www.votingintegrity.org (2) by sending your check or money order 
to: VIP, PO Box 6470, Arlington VA 22206 or (3) If you are a federal 
employee, by designating charity # 7258 on your Combined Federal Campaign 
form. We do not sell or rent our contributor lists.

Here's hoping the New Year brings a renewed commitment to election integrity!

Best regards,

Deborah M Phillips
Chairman and President
"Defending Your Freedom By Protecting Your Vote"
(888) 578-4343
PO Box 6470
Arlington VA 22206