Poll Watchers: The Eyes of Democracy
By Steven Hamelman
Keeping Close Watch
Since the price of freedom is eternal vigilance, American citizens need to keep close watch on the government at all times.
Only through such watchfulness will our freedoms survive authoritarianism, apathy, and outside attack (e.g., Russian intervention).
The most important of our freedoms is the right to vote. Busy protecting that right is a group of citizens who by monitoring the electoral process ensure the integrity of elections.
These citizens are the all-important poll watchers.
Here in Horry County, with the presidential election on November 3, 2020 fast approaching, we need to enlarge our pool of poll watchers in order to, in the words of the United States Election Assistance Commission, “increase the community’s confidence in the integrity of [our] elections.”
Definition and Duties
The South Carolina Election Committee defines “poll watcher” as “someone who is appointed by a candidate or a political party to observe the election day procedures in a district.”
This self-evident definition merely hints at the many duties poll watchers perform.
In general, poll watchers must ensure that each registered voter has free, open, and unimpeded access, whether from the curbside or inside the voting station, to his or her right to vote.
They do this by, among other things, reporting illegal incidences of electioneering within 200 feet of the polling station, including the presence of signage or other partisan materials.
They inform the poll manager when visiting candidates (legal) go beyond campaigning and say “Vote for me” (illegal).
They work with poll managers and poll watchers appointed by rival parties to safeguard each given election process.
In sum, poll watchers must see that everyone—from the introverted loner susceptible to a panic attack in the voting environment, to the senior citizen intimidated by new digital voting machines—succeeds in casting his or her ballot without interference.
Potential volunteers should not feel daunted by the poll watcher’s tasks. Even the most demanding one—being available for thirteen hours (6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. on election day)—is manageable because volunteers can sign up for stints that suit their schedules.
No one need stay for the full 13 hours. (Poll stations are open 7:00 to 7:00; poll watchers arrive 30 minutes before opening and stay 30 minutes after closing.)
Here in Horry County
Contained within the 1,255 square miles of Horry County are 125 voting precincts. State law allows up to two poll watchers per thousand registered voters at each precinct.
The Horry County Voters Registration and Elections Department (VRED) lists 219,820 registered voters (2019).
These high numbers and far-flung districts are why the Horry County Democratic Party, like the VRED, seeks volunteers, including poll watchers, for all local, state, and federal elections.
The biggest one, of course, is the presidential election in November.
Poll Watcher Training Kick-Off
To prepare local Democrats for that November event, the South Carolina Democratic Party is hosting a poll watcher training “kick-off” on March 9.
Helen McFadden, Democratic Party Parliamentarian, will be on hand to provide information and answer questions from 5:00-6:00 p.m. at the Mount Zion FBH Church on 1621 6th Avenue, Conway.
Spring dates for a series of enhanced training sessions will be announced soon thereafter.
Calling All Dems!
Inquisitive, observant, patient, alert, reliable, dutiful, and patriotic: such qualities make for great poll watchers.
Thousands of Horry County Democrats possess these qualities. The HCDP calls upon those willing and available to put their eyes to good use on November 3.
With so much at stake in November, we need our poll watchers to serve as the eyes of democracy.
And knowing that many of the county’s western precincts are almost 100% red, we Democrats must not only be extra vigilant but extra involved.
We must try to have at least one poll watcher on site in each and every precinct.
Whatever the outcome, at least we will be able to certify that the election process in Horry County, South Carolina was clean and fair for everyone who took the time to exercise his or her constitutional right.