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Poll watchers: A look at the Election Day position

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) – As voters cast their ballots, they might notice poll watchers.

News 8 dug into the rules for poll watchers in Indiana and found that people cannot simply show up and watch the polls.

The Indiana Secretary of State’s Office said poll watchers must be appointed to the position by a political party chairman and have credentials.

As people head out to vote, long lines aren’t their only concern.

“Voter intimidation,” said Sarah Morse. She is talking about poll watchers, but not in the traditional sense.

“I don’t think there is anything wrong with poll watching when it is done taking the right steps,” said Morse. “But to encourage people to just show up at the polls and see if they can investigate and see if something shady is going on it just doesn’t seem like a good idea.”

She said that is what President Trump was trying to do at the first debate on Sept. 29 when he said “I am urging my supporters to go into the polls and watch very carefully. Because that is what has to happen. I am urging them to do it.”

Mark Fraley is the associate director of the Political and Civil Engagement Program (PACE) at Indiana University, Bloomington. He said poll watchers are an important American staple, but voters should be educated about their role. 

“There is a difference between a designated poll watcher and somebody who is going to the polls on their own,” said Fraley.

While Fraley is in a non-partisan position now, he used to be the chairman of the Monroe County Democratic Party and helped designate poll watchers.

“A poll watcher, this is something you are appointed or designated to, by that political party,” said Fraley.

According to the Indiana Secretary of State’s Office, poll watchers must be a registered voter in the county where they are keeping an eye on the polls. They are appointed by political party state and county chairmen, who must sign off on their credentials. Only two watchers per party are allowed at the polls in each precinct.

“They will be identified as a poll watcher based on a little sticker that they are given that shows their credential and has the signature of that party chair,” said Fraley.

The party watchers also have clearly defined responsibilities when enforcing election rules and rules they must follow.

“The poll watchers should not be interacting with the voters, by any means whatsoever,” said Fraley.

Fraley said poll watchers should also be in plain, non-partisan clothing. No campaigning is allowed within 50 feet of any polling place.

“It doesn’t worry me,” said Angela Rogers before she voted early in Marion County.

Rogers is hopeful people leave the poll watching to the professionals.

“As long as the poll watchers are verified, legitimate, safe and legal, I have no problem with it. And don’t inspire intimidation, I am okay with that,” said Rogers.

Political experts said if people do want to help and they aren’t a designated poll watcher, they should reach out to their county political party leaders.