By: Josh Turiel
For over a century, election observers, also called poll watchers, have been keeping a vigilant eye on Americans as they cast their ballots. These volunteers observe election processes, particularly in-person voting and absentee ballot counting, to detect fraud and other irregularities. Although often affiliated with impartial civic-minded organizations or government election entities, the two major political parties also routinely employ election observers. Partisan observers were thrust into the spotlight when President Trump rallied his supporters, during a September 2020 nationally televised debate, to descend on polling places to monitor the election. Donald Trump, Jr. used social media to draft an “Army for Trump’s election security operation.” Meanwhile, Joe Biden has recruited over 10,000 volunteer election observers. This year’s hyper-partisanship has stoked fears that inexperienced election observers will sow conflict and chaos at the polls.
California counties establish their own policies for election observers (those who plan to observe a polling place should seek guidance from local election officials), but state law sets firm boundaries that provide voters with safe, unencumbered access to the voting booth (federal law is not discussed in this post). Most notably, it is a felony to use violence or coercion to intimidate or compel any person to vote, to not vote, or to vote for a particular candidate or ballot measure. This prohibition extends to hiring or arranging for someone else to engage in such behavior. Violators face up to three years imprisonment.