Observer Bill of Rights

Problem: We have received numerous reports of Election Observers being abused by Chief Judges at the precincts and would like the Legislature to correct this problem (IAW HB 589, Section 11.2) during the 2014 “short” session.

HB 589 SECTION 11.2. “The Joint Legislative Elections Oversight Committee shall study a bill of rights for election observers to guarantee their right to help assist proper voting while ensuring proper protection for voters and recommend to the General Assembly any legislation it deems advisable. It may make an interim report prior to the date that the General Assembly reconvenes the 2013 Regular Session in 2014 and shall make a final report before the convening of the 2015 Regular Session of the General Assembly.”

Under § 163-45. (c) An observer shall do no electioneering at the voting place, and shall in no manner impede the voting process or interfere or communicate with or observe any voter in casting a ballot, but, subject to these restrictions, the chief judge and judges of elections shall permit the observer to make such observation and take such notes as the observer may desire.”

Among the reports we have received…

John Pizzo, a retired business executive, was first ordered to stand in a corner at the Wake County BOE headquarters during Early Voting. When he complained to his party, the Deputy Director of the BOE allowed him to stand with his back against a certain wall and was told if he moved away from that wall, he would be ejected from the polling location.

Sandy Brown was observing at the Lynn Road (Raleigh) Early Voting location and was ejected after the polls had closed and all voters were gone, but before the ballot box was sealed. What was her crime? She was caught discussing shoes with another election worker. The red-faced Chief Judge used that technicality, making it obvious that Sandy could not remain to make sure the ballots were all safely sealed in the container.

Other examples, from Durham County, include one observer was not allowed to observe curbside voting; another observed what appeared to be senile people who were having their ballots voted for them; and yet another observed as the Chief judge allowed non workers to hang out and talk to voters; yet if he had said a word, he would have been ejected!

Talking Points:

No matter which party controls the elections, Observers should never be abused and bullied.

The Legislature has the authority to hold a public hearing on Observer abuses and to enact an Observer Bill of Rights before the 2014 elections if they so choose.

We support the following explicit rights for Observers:

  1. Election Observers shall have the explicit right to begin observation duties from before the polling location is opened and through the occasion of all ballot containers being officially sealed by the Chief Judge.
  2. Election Observers shall have the explicit right to hear the name of the voter when he/she first announces it at the initial check-in table.
  3. Election Observers shall have the right to ask a voter to repeat his/her name if the Observer is unable to hear it when the name was initially announced.
  4. The election Observer shall have the explicit right to observe curbside voting and to hear the name of the voter as it is announced.
  5. The Observer shall have the explicit right to traverse freely between the curbside voting area and the voting enclosure throughout the process.
  6. The Observer shall have the explicit right to observe curbside voting at such a distance to enable the observer hearing any instruction or verbal communication between the election assistant and the curbside voter..
  7. Election observers shall have the explicit right to keep all ballot boxes within the Observer’s view until after all ballot boxes are sealed at the end of any day of early voting or on Election Day.
  8. Chief Judges may only expel an Observer for cause and in writing. The written notice of expulsion shall be signed by the Chief Judge and at least one other Judge assigned to that Precinct before it is served to the Observer.

Conclusion:  Our entire form of government depends on the consent of the governed. Public confidence in the electoral process is badly shaken every time there are news accounts of ballots are suddenly counted after being “found” in the trunk of someone’s car and such “found” ballots are used to overturn the outcome of an election (e.g., 2004 Washington Governor’s race; 2008 Minnesota Senate race; 2013 Virginia Attorney General race) .

Because state law bars any photography inside the voting enclosure, our only safeguard for open and honest elections is the eyewitness accounts given by Election Observers, Suppression of Election Observers undermines public confidence in the electoral process and should never be tolerated.

The universal solvent to regaining public trust in government is transparency. Granting specific rights to Election Observers is a viable course of action that will serve to enhance public confidence in this system.