NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN)– The Davidson County election commissioner says voters may see more poll watchers at their precinct next week than they’ve seen in recent years.
Nationally, there have been reports of voter intimidation caused by people saying they are trying to monitor the elections process to make sure they are fair. However, County Election Commissioner Jeff Roberts says while there have been no cases of poll watchers intimidating voters that he has heard of in his county, there has been an increased interest in poll watching.
“Since the 2020 election, you hear more talk about it, it’s in the national news,” Roberts said.
“Prior to 2020, your average voter wouldn’t know what a poll watcher was if you asked.”
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A poll watcher is just as the name suggests, a volunteer who signs up to watch the election process. In Nashville, a Tennessee resident 17 years old or older can sign up to be a poll watcher.
“They can be inside the precinct, they can’t interfere with voting at all,” Roberts explained. “They can only communicate with the officer of elections, they can’t talk to voters, they can’t talk to the poll workers.”
Poll watchers can be appointed by a political party, candidate or citizens’ organization, but like voters, they can’t have any campaign-related clothes, signs or pamphlets with them within 100 feet of the polling location.
This election cycle, of the more than 250 poll watchers who have submitted their information to the Davidson County Elections Commission, about 230 were associated with the Davidson County Republican Party.
“That was flipped in 2018 when the Democratic Party had significantly more poll watchers,” Roberts said.
Marian Ott has been a poll watcher with the League of Women Voters for more than a dozen years and said she continues to do it because of the people and not any one party.
“My motivation for poll watching is just voter advocacy,” she said. “To make sure the laws are being applied evenly to everyone, to gain on the ground experience of what actually does happen at the polls, to make sure the machines are working.”
She says she usually tries and make sure that poll workers are following proper ID and disability access protocols and laws. But she said lately she has added a new motivation to keep volunteering.
“There have been so many questions of whether our elections are fair and conducted appropriately, I like to have the experience to say, well I have watched at quite a number of polls and what I’ve seen is…” she said while gesturing with her hands a blank space to be filled in later.
And Roberts says in his experience, the issues a poll watcher may bring up have nothing to do with fraud or intimidation but rather to serve as an extra set of eyes.
“They have expressed questions like are there too many people in the line? Are the machines too close together? We’ve had no what I would call ‘real issues’ beyond logistics,” he said.