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Elections officials: Voters should report harassment from poll watchers to precinct judges

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Bexar County Elections Administrator Jacque Callanen said she expected poll watchers to be more active on Election Day than they were during the early voting period that ended on Friday.

She said she heard no major complaints from election workers concerning poll watchers during the early voting period. Callanen said poll watchers mostly showed up in the morning or evening at polling locations, but rarely stayed all day.

She explained that there are many rules that apply to poll watchers within the polling area or within 100 feet of a polling place, including how they may come and go.

"When a poll a watcher presents themselves to be accepted to the poll site, they sign in. And they must remain at the site for five continuous hours. If they put in their five hours, then they can leave and come back," she said.

The state's poll watcher election code is still relatively new, with election workers and poll watchers still getting accustomed to one another.

County election officials said a voter harassed by a poll watcher should report it to the on-site precinct judge. County election officials can have a poll watcher removed from a polling site by law enforcement if the poll watcher violates any penal code while observing.

A poll watcher who is interfered with can report it to their appointing authority, who in turn can seek a temporary injunction or other legal remedy.

Some election workers in Texas complained that recent elections saw some poll watchers trying to manage their duties. The election code only allows for them to observe.

Poll watchers who believe they have witnessed a violation of an election law may report it to an election authority — otherwise they are not to converse with election officials or voters.

Poll watchers cannot be prevented from standing close enough to hear or see an election worker conducting activity at a polling site, such as a member of a vote counting team going about their work.

There are a number of other rules and requirements that apply to poll watchers under the election code:

  • Poll watchers can be appointed by an official candidate, a political party, or by registered voters on behalf of a write-in candidate.
  • A maximum of two watchers may be appointed for each precinct voting place and the central counting station for the election.
  • Poll watchers must be certified by anyone who appoints them and present the certificate at the election site they are watching.
  • Poll watchers must also undergo training from the Texas Secretary of State's office. Poll watchers must be qualified voters.
  • Candidates cannot serve as poll watchers, and neither can anyone with significant ties to an election worker.
  • Elected public officials cannot serve as poll watchers and anyone convicted of an election offense is also barred.
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Brian Kirkpatrick can be reached at brian@tpr.org and on Twitter at @TPRBrian