“Election officials brace for onslaught of poll watchers”

Carrie Levine for VoteBeat:

North Carolina’s May primary was “one of the worst elections I’ve ever worked,” said Karen Hebb, the elections director in Henderson County. “It was worse than COVID.” 

In addition to long conversations with skeptical voters bringing her misinformation they read on the Internet, Hebb said she and her staff were blindsided by the sheer number of election observers who wanted to watch voting during the primary. There were at least 20 from the Republican Party alone, she said, compared with five or six observers total in the past. “We’ve never had that before,” she said. 

Hebb stresses she’s fine with having observers. But some of the people watching the primary were disruptive, endlessly questioning workers and demanding to approach tabulators to verify totals, she reported to state officials in a post-election survey. Become a Votebeat sponsor

And in one alarming case, Hebb said in an interview with Votebeat, an observer followed an election worker from a voting site to the elections office “to make sure that they actually brought the ballots.”

In the wake of the primary, Hebb is one of many local election officials nationwide worried about an onslaught of election observers. She called a special meeting with election workers to discuss the issues that came up during the primary. …

For its part, the North Carolina State Board of Elections last week unanimously approved the temporary changes to the rules governing election observers. The changes were an attempt to clean up existing rules that the state board’s associate general counsel, Paul Cox, described as “not models of clarity.” The state’s Rules Review commission must still approve the changes. Become a Votebeat sponsorhttps://c9fd74df8a7908a89d77c6f35c957354.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html

The new rules more clearly spell out where observers are permitted to be. For example, the new rules specify that observers cannot be “so close to a tabulator, laptop, pollbook[,] or other official [voting] document” that they are able to view confidential voter information. They may not use doors restricted to election workers only, unless authorized by the polling place judge, but do not have to stand in line with voters to enter. 

Multiple people spoke at public hearings in July and August about the proposed changes to the relatively obscure rules. Among them: Cleta Mitchell, a conservative election attorney who featured in Trump’s efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election and has been spearheading conservative efforts to train election observers. Mitchell, who said she now resides in Pinehurst, NC, a nationally renowned golf destination, said the state board was improperly using the temporary rulemaking process “for the purpose of curbing the enthusiastic interest that many citizens of North Carolina have expressed in making sure that the elections conducted in our state are transparent and that they are following the law.” 

The state board, which has three Democratic members and two Republicans, also received hundreds of public comments about the proposed changes, a sign of just how charged the issue of election observers is right now. 

“At this time of increasing incivility and openly egregious attacks on our democracy and voting rights, it is more important than ever to establish some ground rules and expectations for a safe, secure, and non-threatening electoral process.” one email in favor read. 

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