You’ve probably heard about Donald Trump’s urgent call for poll watchers on Election Day to help “stop voter fraud.” If so, you may be concerned about the potential impact that an influx of poll watchers may have on the elections process. The main concern of voting rights advocates like me about partisan or vigilante poll watchers is the potential for voter confusion and intimidation. Luckily, there’s something we can do.
Democracy North Carolina runs its own nonpartisan poll monitoring program and collaborates with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law to run an election protection hotline on Election Day. The purpose of our program is to deploy trained, nonpartisan volunteers that help voters navigate the voting process and understand their voting rights. We will have people on-the-ground at polling places in at least 50 counties during the General Election, and staff, attorneys and volunteers standing by to answer the toll free hotline 888-OUR-VOTE during Early Voting and on November 8.
Although Election Day voter challenges in North Carolina are rare, the voting law that the NC General Assembly passed in 2013 (HB589) made it easier to challenge a voter before or on Election Day. The law increased the number of partisan poll observers allowed inside and outside of a polling place and relaxed the standards to challenge a person’s voter registration before Election Day.
What happens when a voter is challenged depends on whether the challenge relates to the person’s voter registration or their ballot, as well as when the challenge occurs. The County Board of Elections investigates voter registration and absentee ballot challenges, while a precinct chief judge investigates challenges inside the polling place. By law, the burden of proof in a voter challenge is on the challenger. Here’s a chart describing the types of voter challenges permitted in North Carolina and the decision process for each.
Here some action steps to take if you or someone you know is challenged at the polls:
- Stay calm and take the time to understand your rights as a challenged voter; ask questions!
- Do not leave your polling place without casting a ballot. Even if a challenge against you is sustained by an elections official, you should vote using a “challenged ballot” before leaving your polling place
- Check to see if your polling location has a Democracy NC poll monitor stationed out front; look for a volunteer in a yellow t-shirt that says “Vote Protector” and ask that person for help
- If your polling place does not have a Vote Protector, call our toll free voter hotline at 888-OUR-VOTE and speak with an elections expert