The Dangers of Poll Watchers

Colorlines columnist Brentin Mock runs down the playbook of poll watchers, who, in a number of states, can challenge voters at the poll for simply having the wrong last name.

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Many voters have been made aware of the voter-ID laws that are spreading across the country and how to maneuver around them, but what about poll watchers? According to Colorlines columnist Brentin Mock, even in states where there are no voter-ID laws, poll watchers are empowered to challenge voters on Election Day and request photo ID.

"This history of discriminatory voter challenges casts doubt on the fraud-prevention arguments traditionally used to justify these laws," writes Nicolas Riley, author of the report. True the Vote, and their many allies, often cite voter fraud as the reason for militarizing the polls, but countless studies have shown that massive voter fraud is mostly bunk, as meticulously noted in this News 21 investigation.

Still, 39 states allow private citizens to challenge voters at the polls. According to the Brennan study, election officials in those states are "under immense time pressure to decide challenges quickly in order to avoid voting delays." True the Vote is aware of this, but they put it differently, saying at a recent poll watcher training that election officials are "under immense pressure to do the wrong thing" -- namely let undocumented immigrants vote, and let people vote multiple times.

Scarier, of the 39 states that allow random people to challenge voters inside polling places, only 15 of them require the challengers to prove that the person they're challenging isn't an eligible voter. Which means in 24 states people can wage all kinds of frivolous accusations -- that a person is an "illegal alien," or that they are using a dead person's identity to vote -- to burden if not intimidate voters. In these states, the poll challenger statutes can be abused and used for racial profiling, when not sending a chill effect to others who might be vulnerable for no other reason than having a Latino surname.

Read Brentin Mock's entire piece at Colorlines.

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