Sep 13, 2022 - News

How to become a Texas poll watcher

Illustration of a magnifying glass over a “I voted” sticker
Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

I just became a certified poll watcher.

For the record: Given my job as a journalist, I have no intention of serving as one.

But I wanted to know what it takes to become certified by the Texas Secretary of State, the state's chief elections officer, so I took the online course.

State of play: The term "poll watcher" has become synonymous with harasser of poll workers and voters.

  • As part of the "Stop the Steal" movement, former President Trump supporters across the country have pledged to keep a closer eye on ballot boxes.

How it works: Candidates, political parties and political action committees can appoint poll watchers after they get certification from the state.

  • Texas GOP spokesman James Wesolek tells Axios the party has trained 5,000 poll workers or poll watchers this election cycle. (He was unable to break down what portion of those were poll watchers.)
  • Axios failed to obtain similar data from the state Democratic party before deadline.

Between the lines: Per Texas state law, poll watchers must be allowed "to observe and report on irregularities in the conduct of any election, but may not interfere in the orderly conduct of an election."

Plus: Poll watchers must take the following pledge — "I swear (or affirm) that I will not disrupt the voting process or harass voters in the discharge of my duties."

Yes, but: Only 41% of Americans feel safe at polling places, with Black and Hispanic voters experiencing a lower sense of security compared to white people, per a recent poll commissioned by the nonprofit Global Project Against Hate and Extremism.

Flashback: Last year, Texas lawmakers, emboldened by Trump, made it a misdemeanor — comparable to burglary of a vehicle, according to the AP — for an election official to reject an appointed poll watcher.

  • Under the same law, anyone who knowingly obstructs a poll watcher's view also commits a legal offense.
  • Watchers may have "free movement" around the voting facilities and may "sit or stand near enough to hear or see the activity" — though Texas law still bars poll watchers from watching someone actually cast a ballot.

Plus: The law empowers poll watchers to sue and seek court orders against election officials who get in their way.

What they're saying: The new law will "make it harder for fraudulent votes to be cast," Gov. Greg Abbott said last year.

The other side: The law is "designed to limit Tejanos' ability to exercise their full citizenship," Maria Teresa Kumar, CEO of Voto Latino, said as the advocacy group sued to block the law.

What I learned: It's easy to become a poll watcher.

  • The Secretary of State requires applicants to answer quizzes while moving through the course material — but they can take them as many times as needed to pass and review the material simultaneously.

The bottom line: As poll watchers try to suss out any real or make-believe malfeasance, watch for increased tensions in what may have once been your quiet, sacrosanct polling place.

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