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Our panel of experts will be analyzing voting controversies until the 2020 winners are clear.

How to separate poll watching from voter intimidation

Contributor Tammy Patrick, a senior advisor at the Democracy Fund, went on NPR on Thursday to explain how one of the mechanics of the election — poll watchers — do their work in most states. Her explanation stood in contrast to what President Trump seemed to be calling for in Tuesday's presidential debate. While warning about potential voter fraud, he asked his supporters to "go into the polls and watch very carefully."

Almost every state has some sort of system set up so political parties can send observers inside polling places, explained Patrick, who was previously an elections official in Maricopa County, Arizona (which includes Phoenix). But there are clear rules and limitations about what these observers can do — how close they can be to voting equipment, who they can talk to and what they can challenge. Poll watchers have to sign up ahead of time and work with election officials, she said.


Trump supporters responding to the president's call are likely to be treated as "electioneers," and that means they'll be restricted from how close they can get to a polling place. If they yell or try to intimidate voters, they'll be breaking the law, Patrick said. It's urgent that election officials have the training to de-escalate potential conflicts, how to report them and where to seek help.

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"There is a tactic here that can be used to make sure that individuals start to question whether or not it is safe to even go to the polling place," Patrick said. "Unfortunately, in this moment, we need to make sure that our elections are protected from adversaries, both foreign and domestic."

Listen to Patrick's full interview on All Things Considered last week:


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