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Voter intimidation is a federal crime
Poll watchers need to follow rules
Veronica Coons editorial April 2020
Veronica Coons

Tuesday night, the country was invited to tune in and watch the first of three scheduled debates between President Donald Trump and the Democratic candidate, Vice President Joe Biden.  For those who watched to the bitter end, there weren’t many surprises. We have nothing new to add to the numerous descriptives, other than “ditto,” “ditto,” and “ditto.” 

As far as issues go, the president repeated baseless lack of confidence in the outcome of the upcoming election. They provided an opening to plant the seeds of fear in voters’ minds, in hopes of encouraging them to think twice about casting their vote this go ‘round. 

Urging of his supporters “to go into the polls and watch very carefully” has resulted in many expressions of concern among the various media about how uninformed loyal supporters might react to this call to action. They have also left many voters scratching their heads about poll watching in general. 

Poll watchers have been around for hundreds of years, first of all. They aren’t intended to play “got ya.” They simply observe and report to their candidate or issue group about the polling process at the particular location they are assigned to. 

Each state determines how it will carry out elections, and each state has its own rules concerning poll watching. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, the state of Kansas allows only Partisan Citizen Observers to be present as poll watchers. They must be registered voters unless the poll watcher is a member of the candidate’s family, or if the poll watcher is 14-17 years old and meets all of the other requirements for being a registered voter except for age.

Each candidate, precinct committee member, write-in candidate or issue campaign committee is limited to just one poll watcher per polling place. They must register weeks in advance and they must wear a badge identifying as “observer.” Poll watchers are different from poll workers who assist or supervise voters by checking them in, providing ballots, and providing voting instruction. 

Some states allow poll challengers, but Kansas is one of four states that prohibits private citizens from challenging voters. Also, Kansas voters are allowed to ask poll watchers who they are and who they represent. 

Voter intimidation is a federal crime punishable by fine and/or up to one year in prison. Poll watchers are not allowed to interrupt, question or challenge voters, nor can they photograph or film them for any reason. Election officials are barred from disclosing a ballot’s contents.

This all goes to show voting is safe in Kansas. Nothing need stop any registered voter from heading to their polling location on election day, or to cast their vote early in person at the Barton County Courthouse beginning on Wednesday, Oct. 14. 

Speaking of photo taking, according to a 2016 Associated Press report, the Kansas Secretary of State determined after fielding many questions in October, 2016 after early voting opened, that ballot selfies actually are legal for voters.