News Column

Virginia Registrar Warns Poll Watchers

Nov. 6, 2012

Cherise M. Newsome, The Virginian-Pilot

General Registrar William "Al" Spradlin is warning poll watchers not to overstep their bounds.

Spradlin said he has received a couple of complaints today about poll watchers peering too closely over poll workers' shoulders. They have also been using cell phones inside voting precincts, which he said is against election rules. He said one poll watcher walked out of a local precinct after being warned of the rules, but that no one had officially been expelled.

Poll watchers -- also known as poll observers -- must have letters of authorization from their political party or candidate. They are allowed to stand within three to four feet of the electronic poll book to hear voters state their names as they check in, Spradlin said. But they are not allowed to view precinct computer screens because they include names and addresses which the poll workers use to verify voter information, not to share with the general public, he said.

Poll watchers often listen for voter names and check them off their own lists, he said. The information is usually shared with party representatives who call remaining voters and encourage them to vote before the polls close.

"They get carried away in that role," Spradlin said. "They're not there for any other reason but to observe what's going on in the precinct."

If anyone has a complaint about a poll watcher, Spradlin said they should inform the chief election officer at their precinct. They can also phone their city's voter registration office. In Chesapeake, call 757-277-9797.

Source: (c)2012 The Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk, Va.) Distributed by MCT Information Services

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