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State law: Poll watchers are designated, limited

Posted at 7:21 PM, Oct 01, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-01 19:21:49-04

FRANKFORT, Ky. (LEX 18) — While millions of people watched the first presidential debate, President Donald Trump said something that made election experts feel uneasy.

"I'm urging my supporters to go into the polls and watch very carefully because that's what has to happen," he said. "I am urging them to do it."

Later that night, the president tweeted, asking people to volunteer to be a "Trump Election Poll Watcher."

However, election experts say depending on how the watching is done, it may be illegal.

"It sounded like the president was encouraging people to break the law," said Joshua Douglas, a law professor at the University of Kentucky.

Douglas said poll watchers, poll observers or challengers are a real thing. However, there are laws and rules to follow to become one. You can't just walk into a polling location and watch others cast their ballots.

"Anyone can't just go in and become a poll watcher," said Douglas. "Most state laws say you can only be inside the polls if you are an elections worker, or if you're there to vote yourself, or if you're one of the designated poll watchers that's approved ahead of time."

Gov. Andy Beshear confirmed that the public can't just walk in and watch people vote.

"There will be no general public going into polling stations to watch other people vote," said Beshear. "That is not legal in Kentucky. In Kentucky, you are only allowed to be in that polling location if you are a worker, if you are a kid going with that active voter, or if you are a certified challenger under state law."

Beshear pointed people to KRS 117.315, the law that outlines challengers and inspectors' appointment, for more information on what is and is not allowed.

Kentucky state law allows each political party to have up to two challengers at each precinct. The challengers must be registered voters in that county, and the parties need to let the county clerks know who the designated challengers are at least 20 days before a regular election. During the election, challengers must show written proof if an election officer asks for it.

According to state law, these approved watchers are allowed to challenge the eligibility of a voter for four reasons:

  • They have reason to believe the voter is not registered in that precinct
  • They have reason to believe the voter does not live in that precinct
  • They have reason to believe the voter is a felon who hasn't had his or her voting rights restored
  • They have reason to believe the person isn't who they say they are

However, if the watcher wants to challenge a person's right to vote, they can only let election officers know. They are not allowed to intimidate or harass the voter.

"They can't intervene. They can't say anything to the voter," said Douglas. "You can say something to the elections official calmly, that you think something is amiss, but you can't intervene. You can't really do anything."

The law also prohibits appointed and certified challengers from:

  • Electioneering or campaigning on behalf of any candidate, issue, or political party
  • Handling official election materials (except as provided in KRS 117.187
  • Attempting to intimidate or harass any voter who is being challenged or any precinct election officer
  • Behaving in a way that disrupts activities at the polling place
  • Attempting to interfere with the proper conduct of the election

Key Dates and Deadline for KY Voters

Early Voting:
Oct. 13 - Nov. 2, but dates and hours may vary based on where you live

Registration Deadlines:
Online: Oct. 5
By mail: Received by Oct. 5
In Person: Oct.5

Absentee Ballot Deadlines:
Request: Oct. 9
Return by mail: Postmarked by Nov. 3
Return in person: Nov. 3 by 6:00 p.m.