In spite of urging by President Trump, unofficial 'poll watchers' won't be allowed in Ohio

Posted at 12:53 PM, Oct 06, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-06 13:48:12-04

CLEVELAND — While at least one candidate for president is calling on his supporters to watch polls around the country, in Ohio and Cuyahoga County, people are not allowed to hang out at early voting and polling locations unless they have official business.

During the presidential debate in Cleveland last week, when asked whether he would urge his supporters to stay calm during a possible extended period of civil unrest while election results are being certified, President Trump responded: “I am urging my supporters to go into the polls and watch very carefully because that's what has to happen. I am urging them to do it.”

Trump encourages supporters to go watch the polls

Days later, on Oct. 5, Trump tweeted “Volunteer to be a Trump Election Poll Watcher. Sign up today!” with a link to the website, which includes links to register for various roles in Trump’s reelection campaign, including digital activist, door knocker, and “Trump Team Leader,” among others. Noticeably absent from that list is “Poll Watcher.”

In Ohio, as in other states, unofficial “poll watchers” from any political campaign are not allowed at polling locations or early voting sites, and anyone without official business will not be allowed to hang out there, according to Mike West, the community outreach manager for the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections. He spoke with us live on Facebook during a Q&A with viewers.

Watch the segment where he discusses poll watchers and potential voter intimidation at the polls below:

Cuyahoga County election board official talks about poll watchers, voter intimidation

“Now, the president did reference, you know, having people, ‘watch the voting process,’" West said. “But if you're not here to vote and you don't have other business with the board, you can't just hang out and glare at people or try to look over their shoulder and see what they're doing. And that's the same way in the polling locations. If you go to a polling location, you're either a voter that's supposed to vote there, you're a poll worker, or you're a board of election staff member. And that's it.”

There are official poll observers from the Democratic, Republican and sometimes Green parties that are allowed to be present at polling locations and watch the process, but these individuals must go through an official process, fill out paperwork and have a sponsor. These observers also have a set of rules they must abide by while at the polling location, West said.

“They can't wear a uniform,” West said. “They can't wear — they can't have a gun. So even if you're a certified observer, there's a lot of rules that you have to follow. They can't talk to voters. They can't, you know, hassle anyone. And we've never had problems with our official observers because they go by the rules and they want to behave themselves in case they ever want to be official observer again.”

West said that everything is done “in the light of day” with politically balanced teams. His election board also utilizes a system of poll rovers who will visit different polling locations throughout Election Day.

“And if somebody is a troublemaker, the rover will generally come and see what's going on,” West said. “And if necessary, of course, we can always call the authorities if that's appropriate. So you should feel very safe to go in and voting."

West said that there were rumors and "loose talk" of troublemakers at the polls four years ago, but it never materialized.

This year, West, said, "We hope everybody will behave themselves. But, you know, uniformed people are not allowed, people in camouflage, you get the idea. We won't allow voter intimidation."

There are paid positions available to those interested in assisting on Election Day in various official capacities for the board of elections, including voting location managers, sanitation officials, and poll rovers. See a full list of open positions in Cuyahoga County and apply here.