The role of poll watchers in Indiana

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INDIANAPOLIS — Aside from long lines, you may also notice poll watchers at Indiana voting centers.

“So, be very vigilant and watch,” said President Donald Trump on Monday. “Be poll watchers. Watch.”

It’s unclear how President Trump was defining poll watchers in that call to action but in Indiana, not everyone gets this title.

“Anyone in a vote center needs a credential unless they are there to vote,” said Kate Sweeney Bell, the Marion County Democratic Party Chair.

Party chairs and election boards decide who can be poll watcher. If you don’t have the designated “watcher card” then you will be required to leave the site.

“It is not so anything nefarious can happen it is to allow voters to vote and to vote in a safe and secure location,” said Sweeney Bell.

She also added parties typically choose one watcher per voting center. There may be more due to this year’s high voter turnout. Both parties are allowed to designate them and they have specific tasks.

“Poll watchers that we have are not allowed to watch people, how they vote, and who they vote for, that is not what a poll watcher does,” explained Sweeney Bell.

David Ober was a poll watcher for a republican campaign in 2014.

“My job was to inspect the poll book every once in a while and update my own system that was connected I think with the county party system with who had voted that day at that location,” said Ober.

Poll watchers are also there to make sure things run smoothly. They’re looking for things like voter intimidation and need to be pretty informed on Indiana election law.

“A lot of times we ask attorneys to do it,” said Sweeney Bell.

If you’re worried about the voting process and whether a poll watcher should be looking out for fraud, Sweeney Bell said that already exists within the system.

“There are checks and balances at vote centers, there are republicans and democrats at the check in table,” said Sweeney Bell. “Anyone working a vote center has to have training.”

If you are in line voting, you’re more than welcome to observe the process while you wait. You’re just not allowed to leave the line to explore the vote center.

“People acting on their own without that authority is going to make an already chaotic election even more chaotic,” said Ober.

Click here to learn how Indiana law defines the role of a poll watcher.

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