Who were these people watching me vote (US)?

I just got back from voting in New Hampshire (a “battleground state”). For the record, my town couldn’t have more than 2,000 voters.

The voting was done in a school gym. Check-in was on one side, voting booths in the back, and check-out on the third side. In the middle of the gym was a roped off area occupied by several folding chairs and a serious looking woman with a clipboard and a cell phone. She was wearing a red-white-and-blue sticker that said something like “Voting Rights Observer”. Other people mentioned that there had been more of them, and they had been there all day.

I asked the folks who collected the ballots who these people were, and they said “political operatives” (thanks, that helps oh-so-much) and wouldn’t say anything more.

Any dopers know anything about this? I’ve never heard of people being allowed inside the voting area.

In my Virginia precinct, each check-in table had two poll workers who were checking IDs, marking off names on the registration lists, and then handing out the little blue cards that we take to over to the person manning the machine, that shows that we’re eligible to vote. Behind each of those tables were two people, one labeled “Democratic” and the other labeled “Republican,” observing the process, and cross-checking the names against their own lists.

In this hotly-contested election, I wouldn’t be surprised to find that similar poll-watching by political types was occurring in many, many places.

If this were GD, we could debate whether this is a good idea, to ensure that election procedures are followed, or a bad idea, because it creates the potential for mischief. I could probably argue it either way.

There was a lady with a clipboard who was standing over the poll workers as they signed us in, gave us our ballots, etc. She was standing behind them. As they checked off a name, she hovered over them, got the name, consulted her clipboard, like she was double-checking or something, and it looked like she marked off our names on her papers as well.

I asked her, “What are you here for? Are you here to make sure things are done according to Hoyle?” (Trying to be as non-partisan as I could.) She laughed and said, "I’m not sure I’d say according to Hoyle . . . " Not much of an answer. I then pointed to my sister (who was next to me in line) and said, “You’d better watch her, I think she’s from Mars.” The lady and the pollworkers made some jokes about extraterrestrial voters, and that was it.

Don’t know who the lady was. I didn’t notice any identifying badge or anything on her. I am currently exiled in a semi-“battleground” state in the Midwest. (It is a “light red” State right now—polls say it’ll go for Bush by a few percentage points.)

According to this commentary in the Chicago Tribune’s editorials today, “… each party or candidate has the right to place a person in each polling station to monitor the actions of the election judges.” So I’m betting that the gal behind the ropes ( ::Wizard of Oz:: Ignore the woman behind the ropes! ::Wizard of Oz:: ) was a representative of one of the parties or candidates.

It’s also possible they were keeping a list of people they felt were committed to voting for their candidate or party. Later in the day, they would give the names of people on their list who had not voted to someone, who would then call and try to get that person to vote.

Besides the party and candidate observers, others may observe. Here is one non-partisan group that has volunteers sign up to participate. Or their home page is here, with some background as to their background and purpose.

The volunteers can fill forms for statistical tallies on

  • Report your Election Experience
  • Record your precinct’s final tally
  • Observe your polling place
  • Watch precincts in key states
  • Get ongoing reports of the observations
  • Involve your organization
  • Be a legal professional

It appears to be professional.

As to non-partisan, if, as some believe, this Administration might wish to prevent certain classes from voting, then this effort could work as anti-Administration.
However, if this Administration is ethical and believes in the American democracy, then there is no problem for them.

Then, as some others believe, there may be volunteers who are unethical and wish to trouble the American democracy.
One hopes that this project has some procedures to control this. I haven’t seen this site advertised broadly, so it may be that the usual idiots haven’t been clued in that they have an opportunity to make false charges and cause grief. If it is professional, there will be other screening methods also.

Thanks for the replies.

It seems that in the morning, the observers were probably the dem/rep thing, since some neighbors have said they were taking down the names. According to these neighbors, they actually had to spell out their whole names and address for the check-in workers.

I think the person I saw in the afternoon was probably from the group MaryEFoo mentioned. She was just kind of looking around and calling in on her phone, not taking names or anything. There also was some kind of poll table set up at the exit which sounds like the other half of that group, but I stayed far away from that. The check-in was back to normal in the afternoon – the woman asked me for my last name, but then said, “Lily? At 14 Valley Drive?” and didn’t ask for any id.

I guess the follow-up question (if I may ask it) is: Did I, the voter, have a right to know who the people were who were watching me? It sounds like both yosemite and I were given the brush-off when we tried to find out.

Anyone see any international observers?

If a person was looking over my shoulder seeing my vote, can’t I say to them “this is private, and you need to move and quit watching me”? Would that bring the CIA down on me or something?

That is an absolutely appropriate remark, and these people should not be watching you cast your vote. They are there for one reason, to ensure the processes at the polling place comply with the letter of the law. Mostly that means making sure that thise who appear to vote are properly registered, and get turned away if they cannot legitimately vote, and that the ballot box (there are fewer of them every election) itself isn’t tampered with.

In NY poll-watchers have to register with the Board, and they’re not allowed to poke their heads into the black-curtained booth while the voter is voting. They have a code of conduct that prohibits them wearing partisan buttons or saying anything to the voter.

The underlying principle, though, is that the election is being held in a public place and the more observers see it, the more democracy.