North Carolina tightens rules for partisan poll watchers

Aug 16, 2022, 11:36 AM | Updated: 11:58 am

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — After receiving more than a dozen reports of conduct violations by party-appointed poll watchers during the May primaries in North Carolina, the state elections board tightened regulations for precinct observers Tuesday to prevent partisan interference in the November general election.

The board unanimously voted to approve temporary rules for the upcoming election that more clearly outline the code of conduct for partisan observers, prohibiting them from standing close to a “tabulator, laptop, pollbook or other voting document” where they could view marked ballots or confidential voter information.

The revisions heighten scrutiny for observers and poll workers alike, adding a list of prohibited conduct for precinct officials that forbids them from tampering with voting equipment or expressing their political views on the job.

While poll watching has been an element of electoral transparency since the 1800s, the practice grew in prominence in the 2020 election cycle due to former President Donald Trump’s unfounded allegations of voter fraud. Trump’s debunked claim that the 2020 presidential election results were fraudulent has motivated thousands of his supporters to scrutinize elections operations nationwide, intensifying concerns of voter intimidation.

A survey of county elections directors in late May found violations in 15 North Carolina counties, where officials observed poll watchers harassing voters and attempting to enter restricted areas to view confidential voting records.

“While most were perfectly fine, several demanded to be behind the machines to watch people vote,” Davidson County Elections Director Andrew Richards said. “When told they could not be behind the voting equipment, several became argumentative.”

State law allows political parties to appoint precinct-specific and at-large poll watchers to monitor election proceedings from designated areas inside the voting facility on Election Day and during one-stop early voting. These observers can report concerns to a precinct manager but are prohibited from interacting with voters, disseminating information or interfering with the duties of poll workers.

North Carolina Republicans, including some with close ties to Trump, have argued further restrictions for poll watchers could undermine the integrity of elections in a crucial swing state.

Conservative attorney Cleta Mitchell, who was on a phone call with Trump in January when he pressured Georgia’s Republican secretary of state to “find” enough votes to overturn that state’s presidential election results, was among those who advocated against the rule change during the first of two public hearings July 28.

“This is really for the purpose of curbing the enthusiastic interest that many citizens of North Carolina have expressed in making sure that the elections conducted in our state are transparent and that they are following the law,” said Mitchell, a Pinehurst resident.

The state board opted to pursue a temporary rule change to ensure the revisions are approved before in-person early voting begins Oct. 20, said Paul Cox, associate legal counsel to the board.

“The existing rules just, quite frankly, are not models of clarity,” Cox said. “We want to avoid any disruptive issues going forward, especially given how these incidents seem to have recently surfaced in significant enough numbers to cause our county directors concern.”

The state’s Rules Review Commission will now review the changes. If approved, they will be in effect for 270 days, Cox said.

Board Chair Damon Circosta said he will ask political parties and election workers to complete another survey in late November so the board can evaluate the need for a permanent rule change.


Schoenbaum is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/H_Schoenbaum.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Republican presidential candidates, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, left, talking with forme...

Associated Press

The GOP debate field was asked about Trump. But most of the stage’s attacks focused on Nikki Haley

The four Republican presidential candidates debating Wednesday night mostly targeted each other instead of Donald Trump.

4 hours ago

Law enforcement officers head into the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, campus after reports of an ...

Associated Press

Police say 3 dead, fourth wounded and shooter also dead in University of Nevada, Las Vegas attack

Police said a suspect was found dead Wednesday as officers responded to an active shooter and reports of multiple victims at UNLV.

6 hours ago

President Joe Biden's son, Hunter Biden, leaves after a court appearance, July 26, 2023, in Wilming...

Associated Press

Republicans threaten contempt proceedings if Hunter Biden refuses to appear for deposition

House Republicans are threatening to hold Hunter Biden in contempt if he does not show up this month for a closed-door deposition.

8 hours ago

Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., listens to a question during a news conference, March 30, 2022, in W...

Associated Press

Tuberville is ending blockade of most military nominees, clearing way for hundreds to be approved

Sen. Tommy Tuberville announced Tuesday that he's ending his blockade of hundreds of military promotions, following heavy criticism.

1 day ago

An employee works inside the Hanwha Qcells Solar plant on Oct. 16, 2023, in Dalton, Ga. On Tuesday,...

Associated Press

US job openings fall to lowest level since March 2021 as labor market cools

U.S. employers posted 8.7 million job openings in October, the fewest since March 2021, in a sign that hiring is cooling.

1 day ago

Megyn Kelly poses at The Hollywood Reporter's 25th annual Women in Entertainment Breakfast, Dec. 7,...

Associated Press

The fourth GOP debate will be a key moment for the young NewsNation cable network

By airing the fourth Republican presidential debate, NewsNation network will almost certainly reach the largest audience in its history.

1 day ago

Sponsored Articles

Follow @KTAR923...

The best ways to honor our heroes on Veterans Day and give back to the community

Veterans Day is fast approaching and there's no better way to support our veterans than to donate to the Military Assistance Mission.


Midwestern University

Midwestern University: innovating Arizona health care education

Midwestern University’s Glendale Campus near Loop 101 and 59th Avenue is an established leader in health care education and one of Arizona’s largest and most valuable health care resources.



Key dates for Arizona sports fans to look forward to this fall

Fall brings new beginnings in different ways for Arizona’s professional sports teams like the Cardinals and Coyotes.

North Carolina tightens rules for partisan poll watchers