The State Board of Elections unanimously approved tighter rules on partisan poll observer conduct Tuesday in an attempt curb some of the problems faced during this year’s primary.
In a survey of county elections officials after the primaries, 15 said they encountered problems with partisan observers. County officials mostly named Republicans when they identified observers’ political party.
Political parties may appoint elections observers to watch interactions between poll workers and voters, but observers aren’t allowed to talk to or question them. They are supposed to take their concerns to the chief judge.
Paul Cox, one of the board’s lawyers, told board members Tuesday that some observers disrupted voting by talking to voters about politics, trying to go to booths with voters, asking to photograph voter forms with confidential information, trying to prevent ballots from going into the tabulator, and following poll workers to their cars and filming them. One observer got into a confrontation with a voter.
The disruptions are not routine in every county, Cox said, and “most party-appointed observers are conducting themselves with dignity and according to law.” But issues have “recently surfaced in significant enough numbers to cause concern for our county directors.”
The board’s vote sends the changes to the Rules Review Commission for adoption as temporary rules that could be in place in time for the November election.
The changes make clear that observers cannot be so close to a laptop, tabulator or pollbook that they can see confidential voting information, and that they are to remain in a designated area so long as the place set aside for them allows them to see everything except for people marking their ballots.
The board voted to forward the re-written guidelines to the Rules Review Commission after adopting amendments to the proposal that Republican Stacy “Four” Eggers suggested.
Eggers noted the work of staff and the input from county elections directors.
“We had a lot of input and a lot of consideration of this,” he said. “I appreciate all of those working together towards the common goal.”
The proposed revisions come as conservative groups step up workshops for elections observers in response to false assertions of voter fraud.
Most of the people who spoke at two public hearings on the proposed changes were conservatives or registered Republicans involved in observer training who said rewritten rules were unnecessary, Policy Watch reported.
Cleta Mitchell, a lawyer who helped Donald Trump try to overturn the 2020 election is training poll observers in North Carolina and nationwide. Mitchell advises aggressive monitoring, including surveillance, the New York Times reported.
The board received more than 1,000 comments on the proposed rules. More than 250 of the 691 comments submitted through the web portal appeared to be a template and consisted of the same eight sentences opposing the changes.
Allison Powers, head of the Union County GOP, said in one of her written comments that is too late to change the rules. They have already trained 160 observers, she wrote.
Elizabeth Hubbard, head of the Randolph County Democrats, writing in support of revised rules she had heard from poll workers in her county that observers “impeded, questioned, or attempted to intimidate voters.”
The board approved another proposed rule change that says precinct officials – the people who work at the polls – cannot hold elected office, hold a position in a precinct political party or political organization, or be a campaign manager or treasurer.
The revised rule for precinct officials says they cannot tamper with voting equipment, intimidate voters, permit unauthorized access to voting equipment, or give out confidential information about voters or election security features.
North Carolina Republicans have tried to gain access to voting machines. Notably, members of the far-right NC House Freedom Caucus wanted last year to inspect Durham County’s voting machines.