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How Many Election Observers Should be Allowed at Polling Places? There are Three Competing Answers

I wrote on May 4 how the NC State Board of Elections (SBE) is, contrary to state law, trying to make our elections process less transparent by limiting the number of election observers:

For that reason, it is dismaying that the SBE is seeking to change the maximum number of voting place-specific observers from two every four hours to two per day…

…While the SBE claims that the proposed limit on observers is just part of a set of changes that “would provide clarity in election processes for county boards of elections, as well as political parties,” it would make our elections less transparent.

Almost certainly in response to SBE’s move, The General Assembly Committee on Election Law and Campaign Finance Reform advanced House Bill 819 (H.B 819, “Alternate Observers at Voting Places“) on May 5. While the SBE is trying to decrease the number of election observers allowed at precinct and early voting locations, H.B. 819 would increase the number of allowed observers. The bill advanced out of committee on a voice vote with only one of the roughly ten members in the meeting voting “no.”

Here is a side-by-side comparison of current law, the SBE’s proposed rule change, and H819 on the number of voting location-specific observers allowed per day during a typical ten-hour day of early voting.

  • Current law: six observers per day (two every four hours):

The chair of each political party in the county shall have the right to designate two observers to attend each voting place at each primary and election and such observers may, at the option of the designating party chair, be relieved during the day of the primary or election after serving no less than four hours

The chair of each political party in a county may designate a total of two precinct-specific observers to attend each voting place on Election Day and each one-stop site during a primary or general election in accordance with this Rule. Alternate precinct-specific observers are not permitted.

  • H.B. 819: a theoretically unlimited number of observers per day, but practically limited by the number of volunteers county parties can recruit:

Observers may be relieved during the day of the primary or election. At the option of the appointing authority, a precinctspecific observer may alternate with another precinctspecific observer… throughout the day as needed, provided that each observers name is on the list submitted by the appointing authority as required by this section.

In all cases, the number of election observes per party per voting location is limited to two at any given time.

If you are wondering how leaders at the SBE think they can get away with limiting the number of election observers in contradiction of state law, I am wondering the same thing myself.

 

Andy Jackson / Director of the Civitas Center for Public Integrity | John Locke Foundation