Presidential elections bring out the scrutineers

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By Olivia Rubick
MI First Election

East Lansing — Every presidential election has new voters and they also have questions.

One question is “what is a poll watcher?” There is more to the designated poll watcher than one would think.

A poll watcher, also known as a challenger or scrutineer, is someone who observes the voting process for corruption. The number of poll watchers permitted per precinct varies by election, candidate and party.

“I think that a poll watcher is necessary for elections since you always hear about so much controversy that takes place revolving around the elections.  If it weren’t for the poll watchers I’m sure the number of those controversies would increase,” guessed first-time voter Megan Westman.  “I know that if I was in the position to be elected for something I would definitely want someone there supervising the voters and make sure that everything was handled properly.”

A poll watcher is appointed to observe the conduct of an election on behalf of a candidate, a political party or committee. That means they come with a point of view or position and can be on opposite sides. Poll watchers must be registered voters of the county if it is a countywide election and of a political subdivision in which the election is held.  The bigger the election, the more scrutineers there will be and the more serious the job.

Because scrutineers are not independent and are there to challenge voters, not support them, they are controversial.

Theresa Tran, executive director of the Asian Pacific Islander American Vote in Michigan, said “poll watchers get angry with voters whose first language is not English. There is an intimidation factor that can influence the voters to either change their vote or actually throw their hands up in the air and leave,” said Tran. New voters “just don’t know how these things are supposed to go and what’s going to happen when they get there. Then, when they feel intimidated by the poll watchers who aren’t helping them … they feel they have done something wrong.”

Being a poll watcher is mostly a volunteer job.  It does vary for different roles and whether it is a state or local election.

“I think it would be difficult to be a poll watcher, not allowing their own personal beliefs and opinions getting in the way of those of the American people, whether they agree or disagree with the way the voting is going.  Especially being a volunteer, where there is always going to be opportunities for inconsistent numbers, it is certainly not a rewarding position,” said first-time voter Matt Pasqualini.

Poll watchers, many of whom are lawyers, may have more power than one would think with some of the controversy stirring up around them. The poll watchers are there when ballot counting takes place and scrutinize the process to for violations of election rules and regulation.

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