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Election observers are often allowed at polling places, but are always prohibited from intimidating voters.

The Facts

Almost all states have statutes governing the presence of partisan and nonpartisan election observers. Partisan poll watchers are typically appointed by political parties and/or candidates and are responsible for ensuring their party is not being improperly disadvantaged. Nonpartisan election observers focus on ensuring the integrity of the electoral process regardless of the political outcome. Some states also allow the general public to observe polling places within a designated area.

Eligible poll observers must follow established rules and are prohibited from interfering in the electoral process. They can watch the electoral process, gather information, and report problems to election administrators or party officials if they arise. Voter harassment or intimidation, by observers or anyone else, is illegal. Many jurisdictions or polling places prohibit guns at polling places, and they can never be used to intimidate voters. 

Some states allow officially appointed partisan “challengers,” who may question  individual voters’ eligibility to vote. But  even if an individual’s eligibility is challenged, they may still cast a regular or provisional ballot before leaving the polling site.

Voters who believe they are facing voter intimidation, harassment, or suppression should contact their local election official or call one of the following national Election Protection Hotlines:

  • English: 866-OUR-VOTE
  • Spanish/English: 888-VE-Y-VOTA
  • Arabic/English: 844-YALLA-US
  • Asian Languages/English: 888-API-VOTE

Throughout the day we are monitoring reports of poll watchers. A poll watcher in South Philadelphia was granted entry to a polling place after initial confusion led to him temporarily being turned away. An election judge quickly remedy the situation in accordance with Pennsylvania law.  

Last updated Tuesday, November 3, 2020 1:31 PM EST

Trusted Sources

Who Can Observe U.S. Elections? →

More Information

What are the rules around poll watching?

State Fact Sheets