There is a reason the U.S. State Department and organizations like the Carter Center routinely send teams of American observers to fledgling democracies all over the world: they recognize that transparency is essential to ensuring honest elections. That requires observers to be able to watch every aspect of the voting and ballot-counting process without being intimidated or interfered with.
So why is the very concept of poll observers now being attacked by liberals and why is the U.S. Justice Department failing to ensure that poll observers in the upcoming midterm elections are protected in the same manner as voters and election officials?
Articles have been appearing for weeks unfairly and unjustly labeling Republican Party observers as a threat to democracy. As Shawn Fleetwood at The Federalist outlines in an Oct. 27 article, numerous media sources from Time Magazine to the Associated Press and Reuters have published tirades and attacks against poll observers, with one author claiming that the observers will harass voters and election officials and cause “a deepening distrust in the country’s democratic systems.”
That is an absurd and baseless claim; in fact, it is when poll observers are prevented from observing, as happened in the 2020 election in some places like Philadelphia and Detroit, that voters distrust the results. The fact that there may occasionally be isolated and rare examples of observers acting outside the law is no reason to condemn the very concept of having observers in our elections.
Every U.S. state has election laws giving candidates, political parties, and in some states, other organizations, the ability to appoint poll observers (who are also referred to as poll watchers) to monitor and observe voting inside polling places and the processing, counting, and tabulating of ballots after the polls close. Those laws strictly limit observers to only being able to observe; they cannot interfere with voters or election officials as individuals are voting and the election is being administered.
For example, Georgia law (Georgia Code §21-2-408) provides that observers “shall in no way interfere with the conduct of the election” and “are prohibited from talking to voters.” Polling place managers have the ability to eject any observers who violate these limitations under this statute, as do election officials under every other state law governing poll watchers.
Moreover, Section 11b of the Voting Rights Act strictly prohibits any intimidation of, interference with, or threats against voters or anyone attempting to vote. And 18 U.S.C. § 245 makes it a federal crime for anyone to injure, interfere with, or intimidate voters and “any legally authorized election official.”
Shockingly, the U.S. Justice Department has apparently adopted this jaundiced view of poll observers. It is ignoring the fact that 18 U.S.C. § 245 not only protects voters and election officials but also anyone “qualifying or acting as a poll watcher.” Observers are protected by federal law from local officials or others trying to intimidate or interfere with what they are doing when they are peacefully observing the election process, a problem in places where some elected officials don’t want observers watching what they are doing—and possibly doing wrong.
But the Justice Department entirely failed to mention this federal shield for poll watchers in its Oct. 26 press release, which outlines DOJ’s plans to “protect the right to vote, prosecute election fraud and secure elections” in the upcoming midterm congressional election. The release provides detailed information on what the Civil Rights Division, the Criminal Division, and the National Security Division will be doing before, during, and after Election Day.
The release specifically talks about enforcing federal law “prohibiting unlawful threats of violence against election workers, and prohibiting voter intimidation and voter suppression.” No one disputes that the Justice Department should be doing that and that election workers and voters should be protected.
Yet, not one word about the Justice Department enforcing the law prohibiting unlawful threats against poll observers, a law that DOJ lawyers are charged with—but seemingly have no interest in—enforcing. Indeed, observers are never mentioned anywhere in the entire DOJ plan for “securing” the midterm election.
This should come as no surprise since many of the political appointees who are running the department come from the same radical ranks as the partisan activists who are making these farcical claims that election observers pose a threat to democracy. When it comes to threats to democracy, perhaps they should look in the mirror.
This piece originally appeared in The Washington Times