Comal County Republican Party Chair Sue Piner isn’t worried about election integrity during early voting.
“Since Comal is over 70% red and all but one of our voting locations is run by a Republican election judge we feel very confident that Comal elections are conducted by the book,” she said. “All legal and fair. Everyone who comes to vote gets to vote.”
Helping to keep everything above board during midterm elections is Texas’ new poll watcher program, which certifies and authorizes Texans who are not election clerks or judges to see and hear all election functions and question anything that looks irregular.
Poll watchers can walk freely around polling locations although they can’t look over the shoulder of anyone casting a ballot.
Comal County’s partisan poll watchers — who are appointed by candidates, political parties and opponents/proponents of individual ballot items — were granted this freedom in 2021 by Senate Bill 1 and House Bill 3107.
But they can’t talk to voters and are under oath not to disrupt the voting process or harass voters.
Most Comal voters probably won’t notice their presence, say Comal County Republican and Democratic party officials.
Voters may find polling locations a bit crowded, though.
“When I’ve worked the polls before you only have the election judges and the poll workers there,” said Jerrie Champlin, president of the nonpartisan League of Women Voters of the Comal Area (LWV-CA) said. “There are actually very few people even though there may be a long line outside.”
Piner said each Vote Center already has two election judges, one Democrat and one Republican, and each judge is allowed up to five clerks.
“That is 12 election workers plus the voters,” she said. “The location can get crowded pretty quick.”
New state laws have changed for election judges and clerks too.
“Nobody’s allowed to interfere with a voter,” Champlin said. “That’s always been clear from day one, but a poll worker who thinks that a poll watcher is being intimidating or in some way is impeding the voting process has to be very careful about how they deal with that because election workers — hence the judges and the poll workers — under that new law, there are penalties if they try to interfere with a poll watcher.”
She’s worried that poll watchers might make some voters nervous. Historically, poll watching has been construed as a form of voter intimidation.
Most election judges do not consider themselves to be political operatives. They work long hours at very difficult, demanding jobs for very little pay because they believe in democracy.
“Party is not their first concern,” she said.
“We already have polling locations that are run by both parties,” Champlin said. “Why you need partisan poll watchers makes no sense to me.”
Monday, some 4,561 people voted in person in Comal County — and 1,222 of those voted in the Bulverde Area Library District.
Democrat Election Judge Joyce Doyle said everything seemed to work smoothly at Bulverde’s Mammen Public Library on Monday, the first day of early voting.
She worked alongside Republican Presiding Judge Anita Valdez and saw no voter harassment by poll workers. They did not slow the process down or cause long lines.
Doyle said Valdez told poll watchers what to expect ahead of time.
“The first two were very observant,” Doyle said. “They seemed to have a checklist and would stand close, and I understand this is allowed in the new law, to hear what was going on, but they didn’t do anything to disrupt anything.”
The only glitch reported at Mammen was a machine malfunction that was quickly addressed.
Canyon Lake Democratic Party Pct. 105 Chair Justin Gillett, responsible for the “You don’t have to be a Democrat to vote Democrat this time” billboard on FM 2673, said poll watchers aren’t a concern for Canyon Lake voters.
“I’ve never worked at a polling place where a poll watcher showed up,” he said. “I don’t think they’re going to be out here at 105. There are not enough people to intimidate.”
More About Poll Watchers
Poll watchers are instructed to watch out for 19 illegal activities including illegal voting, removing ballots from ballot boxes, unlawfully assisting voters, coercing voters, tampering with voting machines, and interfering with the voting process.
They’re expected to:
- Sit or stand near enough to see and hear elections officers conducting the observed activity.
- Point out to an election judge or clerk any observed irregularity or violation of the law. Once an election clerk conveys their concerns to a judge, the poll watcher is prohibited from discussing the matter further with the clerk — unless the presiding judge invites the discussion.
Poll watchers are not allowed to:
- Talk with an election worker except to call attention to an irregularity or violation of law.
- Talk to a voter about the election.
- Use any device capable of recording images or sound.
- Observe voters or be present at a voting station when a voter is preparing the ballot or being assisted by the person of their choice.
- Leave without the presiding judge’s permission.
- Violate the Election Code either in the polling area or within 100 feet of the entrance to the building where the polling place is located.
- Reveal how a voter has voted before polls close.
- Reveal the number of votes received for a candidate or for against a measure before polls close.
- Talk about a candidate’s position relative to other candidates in the tabulation of votes
- Reveal the names of people who voted or not voted in the election.
Click here to review Texas’ new Poll Watcher’s Guide.