Who Watches the Poll Watchers?

57dc262fb9a02-imageThe Republican candidate has been trumpeting the notion that if he loses, it’s because the election has been “rigged”. In TrumpWorld, elections can only be rigged one way: against Hair Führer*. The Daily Show sent one of its correspondents out to interview Trump supporters on the issue of election rigging. When asked if they’d believe that the election was rigged if Trump loses, they all said “yes”. If asked if they’d believe it was rigged if Mrs Clinton loses, they all said “no”.

This has filtered down into the ranks of the Trumpeteers: On Tuesday, Raw Story featured a post by Erin Corbett headlined WATCH: Woman at Pence rally calls for ‘revolution’ if Hillary is elected by Erin Corbett. Some of you may already be familiar with the news, involving a “voter named Rhonda”, who described herself as “on social media all day, everyday nonstop since last June”.

Ah, yes social media, that great font of absolute truth.

Here is what Rhonda told Pence:

“One of the biggest things I can tell you that a lot of us are scared of is this voter fraud. There’s a lot of us saying that when we go to vote, we’re gonna wear red. Our lives depend on this election, our kids futures depend on this election. And I will tell you, just for me, I don’t want this to happen but I will tell you for me, personally, if Hillary Clinton gets in, I myself, I’m ready for a revolution.”

Pence’s response was appropriately milquetoast:

“No, no don’t say that.”

That’s a very Republican response. Their standard procedure has been, “Don’t say it, code it – don’t say it, think it.” They use “urban population” and “welfare cheats”to mean “black” and “voter fraud prevention” to mean “vote suppression”. Here we have a Trump supporter calling for a revolution if things don’t go her way, meaning a Trump loss.

This rigged election narrative has Trump calling for “poll watchers” to make sure the election isn’t “controlled”by the “wrong people” (more code, folks). This has been mentioned most frequently with regard to voting in Pennsylvania, where large non-white populations in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and its surrounding communities spell bad news for team Trump. The question is, how can this happen?

I’ve been an election inspector (that’s Wisconsinite for poll worker, but I’ll use the terminology I work with) for ten years, and am going into my third presidential election in that capacity. I have also acted as a chief inspector (that’s a site boss), and in that time have had experience with helping elections run smoothly. I can only speak from experience with voting regulations in Wisconsin, but most states run things in a similar fashion. With a little help from your internet, you can find your local equivalents.

Election observers, as poll watchers are officially known in most states, are subject to certain restrictions and regulations. They must register as observers with the chief inspector. They must wear some kind of tag or badge identifying them as observers;. these credentials may also list their names and party affiliation. They must register They must remain in a designated area except when observing certain details of the election process (and then, at the discretion of the election staff). They must remain a certain distance from any voter (usually six feet) at all times. They cannot interact directly with voters: cannot speak to them, and if a voter approaches them with a question (perhaps mistaking them for an inspector), they are required to refer the voter to an actual inspector (this, in fact is the only thing that observers are,/I> allowed to tell voters – that they’re not allowed to talk to them.

The kind of people who are likely to turn out as Trumpish “poll watchers” are likely to be unregistered, unidentified, and very likely to attempt to illegally interfere with other voters. In most states, interfering with or intimidating voters is a crime. Anyone caught or reported doing so will be asked by an inspector to leave. If this doesn’t work, the police may be called to intervene, a situation that may lead to charges.

Election Observers may challenge an individual voter’s eligibility, but may only do so by using an inspector, usually the chief inspector, and an interlocutor. Private citizens may also do this, again, through the intercession of election staff. Nobody, whether an official registered observer, fake poll watcher or concerned citizen, may challenge a voter directly. To do so is considered interference or intimidation.

In Wisconsin, 2012 was a busy polling year with six (count ‘em) elections. There was a February primary, an April election (which was the Wisconsin presidential primary), the Walker recall primary in June, the Walker recall general election in August, a fall primary in September, and the presidential general election in November.

The Republicans were giving no quarter in Wisconsin of 2012. The state party and, after the convention, the Romney campaign, recruited and “trained” hordes of election observers. This was their right, but, as examination of the training materials used showed, these observers were trained with misinformation, disinformation and outright lies concerning Wisconsin election procedures. For one thing, they were told that Voter ID would be in effect (it wasn’t). They were given false information as to what could be used as proof of residence for same day registration. They were misinformed as to the procedures for challenging a voter.

The heavy turnout combined with poorly or falsely trained observers made the recall and general elections made the War of the Ring seem like a walk in the park. Some of the observers were old hands who knew the rules, but there were many more who weren’t and didn’t. For the final recall election, my polling place actually had more observers than inspectors for a while. They strayed from their designated areas, violated voters’ safe space, tried to talk to voters, and tried to make notes on personal information given by voters to inspectors. It got so bad that the proper observers asked to have the offenders removed. Others were asked to leave by staff. None of the newbies had the stamina to last through the entire fourteen-hour election day.

That’s where there is great potential for disaster in 2016. I foresee people showing up at polls with no training, no credentials, no knowledge of the rules, all looking for people trying to defraud Hair Führer of his rightful victory. The potential for rampant intimidation, obstruction and confusion is high. They support a candidate who thinks there are twelve articles to the US Constitution (there are seven) and who has shown no respect for the rule or process of law. Trump and the Trumpeteers have shown that not only are they not above endorsing or using intimidation and violence to further their cause, but also that many are eager to do so. People like Rhonda, the revolutionary we met at the top of the post .

If you have any specific questions about rules for voters, observers and their roles, please post them in the comments and I will do my best to respond. Again, I can only speak authoritatively about voting in Wisconsin, but any information I can give may help you find the equivalent for your location. Always check with your local election officials before acting on my – or anyone else’s – advice.

Next: How to stand up for and protect your rights at the polls.

*Thanks to Tengrain, who blogs at Mock, Paper Scissors for coining the nickname “Hair Führer”.

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Posted by on October 16, 2016. Filed under COMMENTARY/OPINION. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.
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4 Responses to Who Watches the Poll Watchers?

  1. E.A. Blair

    October 16, 2016 at 8:33 am

    Subscribing to comments.

    • Rachael

      October 17, 2016 at 4:57 pm

      Hair Fuhrer is stirring up his minions. November 8th could be hell.

  2. Timmy Mahoney

    October 16, 2016 at 9:18 am

    Trump is going to do whatever he can to mess up this election. He is already marshaling his forces, convincing them the polls are rigged and they should do whatever they can (or want) about it.

  3. Mark R. Willis

    October 17, 2016 at 4:56 pm

    Very good article. It’s going to be quite the election day.