Election Reform Information Network
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 requirements: 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 THE VOTING INTEGRITY PROJECT "Defending Your Freedom By Protecting Your Vote" www.votingintegrity.org (888) 578-4343 PO Box 6470 Arlington VA 22206 IF YOU HAVE RECEIVED MULTIPLE COPIES OF THIS EMAIL, OR IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO BE REMOVED FROM OUR MAILING LIST, PLEASE CUT AND PASTE THIS ENTIRE MESSAGE INTO A REPLY MAIL WITH THE RE LINE "REMOVE" OR "DUPLICATE" AS APPROPRIATE. WE APOLOGIZE FOR ANY INCONVENIENCE. THANK YOU.