What does it really take to make a difference?
Serving as a juror is a known duty that we perform to keep a civil society. What happened to our duty to watch over our elections? After all, free and fair elections are to ensure that We the People are truly being represented and governed by people who we believe have, and will follow, the same values and policies we hold.
Many people assume one must have great knowledge of laws and procedural issues to participate as a poll watcher. Is this true? No, thank goodness, it’s not. A person doesn’t have to study a lot or dedicate tons of time to make a difference. Most people who have volunteered have found it to be a very interesting process and gives them satisfaction that they have actively taken part in watching over our elections.
This article is an effort to demystify how our duty of being a poll watcher came to be such an unused role in U.S. elections, what a poll watcher does/does not do, what knowledge is needed, and how to get involved with this crucial role in U.S. elections. Information about election judges is also included here.
A dampener on poll watching in our elections came about when an early 1980s agreement, signed by the RNC in response to being accused of voter suppression, came into being. This decree remained in effect until 2017 when it was allowed to come to an end. Accountability and strict adherence to rules may have slid due to this long-running impediment.
I am proud to point out that Peoria County had approximately 65 poll watchers for the 40-day Nov. 8, 2022, General Election cycle, which included early voting all the way through the two-week post-election ballot cycle that ended with the November 23rd certification of votes. We learned a lot, witnessed things that need to be changed, challenged signatures that didn’t match, and met many great people who discovered how very interesting poll watching really is. We initiated changes and brought accountability to the forefront of our local election process.
Being at the Election Office the night of Nov. 8 was exhilarating and satisfying. Watching police officers clear the parking lot for the coming two lanes of election judges bringing in the equipment and ballots and then watching the process of equipment seals and security numbers being verified, paper ballots being scanned for seals that were not secured, the atmosphere of guarding our country’s most important duty as citizens…was an interesting and unique experience! This is not boring; it’s exhilarating!
WHAT IS INVOLVED IN BECOMING A POLL WATCHER?
- Credentialing of poll watchers is done through the local political parties and candidates. A credential is a document that is signed by an authorized party, the State Board of Elections and the poll watcher. It is to be turned in to an election judge when the poll watcher arrives at a voting site. Only one document is needed per day, per site. A separate credential is required to go to a different site or to go to the same site on a different day. These credentials are sent to the poll watcher to print, sign, and keep until needed to give to an election judge. They are usually sent by email after a poll watcher training is completed and after a date, time, and place are selected for an upcoming election. Credentials may be hand-delivered if needed.
- A poll watcher may come and go on the same day at the same voting site, without needing to provide a new credential each time. Unlike an election judge, a poll watcher may determine their own daily availability – a couple of hours or the entire day. Communication and scheduling will be coordinated by a committee member of the Peoria County Republican Poll Watcher Recruitment/Training Team.
Poll watcher training can be acquired at different levels: by watching a recorded video, attending an online conference meeting or can include delving into election code statutes. A poll watcher’s mere presence and positive attitude is a deterrent to misbehavior and loose application of rules. Our motto: “We are Graciously Aggressive and Tactfully Persistent!”
- Training – For Peoria County we ask volunteer poll watchers to view a basic video and then attend at least one in-person meeting to become comfortable, meet others, ask questions, and go through additional training using “Guardian of the Vote,” the Illinois Conservative Union’s training guide. These meetings also include local election judges (as we did for the Nov. 8, 2022 election). The in-person meeting dates for the upcoming April 4th Peoria County Municipal Election are Monday, March 20th at 6:00 pm and Saturday, April 1st at 10:00 am. Please see contact information given at the end of this article to participate and be included in these meetings.
- What does a poll watcher need to know? There are very basic things you can do as a poll watcher, such as making sure you get the election judges’ names and party, listening to be sure a judge is not stating a voter’s address (but rather asking the voter for it) and correcting the judge if this is not being done correctly. Also, a poll watcher would position themselves (firmly but politely, if needed) to be able to view and compare the voter’s signatures AND challenge a voter’s signature if the signatures do not look the same. Always address the election judge; never speak directly to the voter. Real-time resources will be available while actively poll watching. Resources for statutes are provided for reference or to learn about what is and is not permissible for many crucial elements of the voting process. These may be browsed through for knowledge ahead of time and/or to have on hand as reference while actively poll watching. They may be printed or viewed on a phone. You do not have to memorize them!
- What does a poll watcher not do? A poll watcher is NOT to speak directly to the voter or handle any election materials. They may not speak of or wear anything political. An election judge may ask a disruptive poll watcher to leave. A poll watcher does not get paid.
Candidates CAN BE and are encouraged to be poll watchers!
- Election judges are required to work all day (5am-7pm+) and receive pay (up to $165/day). The Election Office governs election judge applicants and requires a brief training which deals with the basics, including setting up and closing, working with the equipment, etc.
- Election judges have the role of assessing whether someone appropriately votes and should acquire additional knowledge needed to properly approve voter qualifications, such as what is acceptable as proof of address, when is this needed, proper verification of the voter’s signature, and when is it appropriate for a provisional ballot to be used, along with how to work the equipment.
Peoria County Republicans will once again offer ADDITIONAL training to learn more about such specifics as what is acceptable as proof of address, what are the eight instances a voter would use a provisional ballot and other more in-depth tips not offered in the Election Office trainings.
- Election judges are to apply online or in person at the Peoria County Election Office. However, we want to know if you apply and if you receive a response from the Election Office or not. Please send an email to [email protected] or call Mark Lang at 309-472-0043. You will be contacted.
- Election judges should have voted in a past primary election so that party can be verified.
- There is a statute regarding placement of election judges. The party with the majority of the state is allowed some preferential allowances. The judges do not have to be of equal party number, although we are able to have as many election judges who are interested and qualified to be participating. We did learn that election judges are NOT required by law for early voting.
Eligibility: To be eligible to serve as an election judge, you must be:
– a U.S. citizen
– a resident of the County of Peoria
– a registered voter
– able to speak, read and write English
– of good understanding and capable of performing duties
Candidates running for office and elected political party committeemen are prohibited from serving as election judges.
Next Election – Consolidated General Election: First Tuesday in April (April 4, 2023)
Early voting at the Election Office began Thursday, Feb. 23. Off-site early voting begins March 27. The two-week post-election VBM and provisional adjudicating process also requires poll watchers and election judges.
Election judges and poll watchers for the April 4, 2023, Municipal Election are asked to attend at least one of two in-person meetings to be held Monday, March 20 at 6:00 pm and Saturday, April 1 at 10:00 am at Peoria Republican Headquarters, 8835 N. Knoxville Ave., Peoria, IL (North Point Shopping Center).
You may also call or text me, Theresa Johanson, at 309-256-7333. No question is too small.
If these roles are just not what you are comfortable with, you might be interested in working from home to help clean up a piece of each precinct’s voter rolls (this could be another article itself). This effort focuses on preventing live ballots from being sent to voters who have died or moved. If this is you, please email me, Theresa Johanson, at [email protected] or call me at 309-256-7333.