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People Have Ideas About What 'Poll Watchers' Do. Here's What Texas Law Says They Can *Actually* Do.

A poll watcher IS allowed to watch to make sure people aren't campaigning too close to a voting site.
A poll watcher IS allowed to watch to make sure people aren't campaigning too close to a voting site.

There seems to be some confusion about poll watching this election season. There are lots of calls for people to show up and make sure no shenanigans are happening at the ballot box.

This focus on poll watchers has raised fears about potential voter intimidation.

So, before you grab your face mask and head down to your local polling place to “keep an eye on things," you should probably know what Texas law says about poll watchers. Some of it might surprise you.

You need to meet some criteria to be a poll watcher. You must:

  • be a registered voter of the territory (e.g., city, school district) covered by the election and of the county for November general elections for state and county primary elections or other countywide elections;
  • NOT be a candidate for public office in an election held on the day the watcher seeks to serve (a candidate’s spouse CAN be a poll watcher);
  • NOT hold an elective public office;
  • NOT be an employee of an election judge or clerk serving at the same polling place;
  • NOT have been finally convicted of an offense in connection with conduct directly attributable to an election;
  • NOT be related to an election judge or clerk serving at that polling place.

Let’s say you meet all those qualifications. There’s something else.

Actual poll watchers must be appointed by one of three groups, according to the Texas Secretary of State’s office:

  • a candidate,
  • a political party, or
  • proponents or opponents of a ballot measure (political action committees that have filed the appropriate paperwork)

In short, you must have been designated by someone who has an official interest in the election. You must come to the polling place with a document that includes the following information:

  • Your name, address and voter registration number;
  • the signature of the person(s) making the appointment;
  • the election and the number of the precinct where you are to serve;
  • an indication of the capacity in which the appointing authority is acting;
  • in an election on a ballot measure, an identification of the measure (if more than one is to be voted on) and a statement of which side the appointee represents;
  • an affidavit to be executed that you will not have possession of any mechanical or electronic means of recording images or sound while serving as a watcher unless you disable or deactivate the device; and
  • your signature.

Let's underline that a poll watcher may not possess a device that records sound or images while they are inside the polling place.

One other note: A maximum of two poll watchers can be on duty at a polling place at any one time.

Basically, they are there to watch. They can look for violations of state law – things like electioneering (campaigning too close to a polling place), tampering with voting equipment, bribing voters, voting illegally or “unlawful operation of a sound amplification device.”

Any violations should be reported to the election clerk or judge at that polling place. However, the watcher cannot discuss the matter beyond reporting it, unless invited by the election judge.

They can also observe vote tallying “to verify that the votes are tallied and read correctly.”

They must wear a badge identifying them as a poll watcher, issued by the election judge.

Basically anything  other than watching.

  • They cannot talk to voters.
  • They cannot communicate with voters in any way regarding the election.
  • They cannot be inside a voting booth.
  • They cannot leave without the election judge’s permission, unless the watcher has been on duty for at least five hours.
  • Like election clerks and judges, they cannot question the reasonableness of a voter’s impediment to getting a photo ID, if the voter chooses to fill out a form saying they could not get an ID.

Lastly, it’s a class C misdemeanor to loiter within 100 feet of the entrance to a polling place, so unofficial poll watchers, take note.

Got a tip? Email Matt Largey at mlargey@kut.org. Follow him on Twitter @mattlargey .

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Copyright 2020 KUT 90.5. To see more, visit .

Matt has been a reporter at KUT off and on since 2006. He came to Austin from Boston, then went back for a while--but couldn't stand to be away--so he came back to Austin. Matt grew up in Maine (but hates lobster), and while it might sound hard to believe, he thinks Maine and Texas are remarkably similar.