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Election judges, poll watchers in spotlight after Trump tells supporters to 'watch very carefully'

Election security on people's minds
Ballot drop-off box
Posted at 12:00 AM, Oct 01, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-01 12:00:01-04

DENVER — The security of the election is on many people's minds, especially after President Trump asked supporters to get involved in poll watching during his debate with former Vice President Joe Biden on Tuesday night. In Colorado, a record number of people have applied to judge this year's election.

They want to make sure there's no cheating.

When Trump was asked if would hold off declaring victory until the election has been independently certified, he instead referenced an alleged problem involving poll watchers in Philadelphia.

"They were thrown out. They weren't allowed to watch. You know why? Because bad things happen in Philadelphia," he said.

Riding on the president's comments, Colorado's GOP sent a message to supporters saying, "We need YOUR help to ensure that everyone that has a legal right to vote gets to cast ONE ballot that is counted accurately. Join our poll watcher training at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 30 to learn how you can help us ensure the Democrats can’t steal this election."

That training took place at GOP headquarters in Greenwood Village.

The Chair of Colorado Democrats said they too are training poll watchers.

Morgan Carroll took issue with the president's comments.

She said the request to go to the polls and watch very carefully was likely intended to "keep people away."

"If people even have to question whether they'll be pestered at the polls, or whether their vote is even going to count, that itself is going to lower voter turnout," she said.

So, can anyone just show up at a voting site to observe what's going on inside?

"You can't just show up and be a poll watcher," said Denver Clerk and Recorder Paul Lopez.

He said there is a process that has to be followed — they have to be certified.

"They can be inside an in-person voting site if they've received training approved by the Secretary of State," said Denver's Director of Elections Jocelyn Bucaro.

Bucaro said there's a difference between poll watchers and election judges. The latter does everything from issuing ballots to verifying signatures and answering the hotline.

Sean Middleswart, the owner of Sean's Lawn Service in Aurora, has been working as an election judge for 24 years.

"I was never in the military and I just felt like this was going to be a way to give back to my community," he said.

When asked what steps he had to take to become a judge, he said there is rigorous training involved, along with refresher courses.

"You have to learn about cybersecurity, election law and all the changes over time," he said.

Bucaro said election judges are hired by the county and work in bipartisan teams.

She said poll watchers, on the other hand, are appointed by the political parties, or issue committees, to observe the process and to make sure rules are being followed.

"They can stand behind election judges issuing ballots and observe everything. They have a right to challenge a person's right to vote at a voting site," Bucaro said.

Arapahoe County Elections Director Peg Perl told Denver7 that poll watchers must take their certification paperwork with them to the polling center if they intend to enter and observe.

"Showing up without certification is not an option, mostly because we want to make sure all our voters feel safe and secure in the privacy of their vote and the process," she said.

She said if someone shows up without certification, "we'll reach out to the County party and go through the process, so they can be added as an official poll watcher."

Most of the time, poll watchers observe without any conflict.

Middleswart said he has seen a small number of poll watchers try to interfere.

"I've done this (election judging) since 1996 and on occasion, I've had a couple of poll watchers removed, but by and large, poll watchers are pleasant people who are just doing the job they feel compelled to do," he said.

Perl said if a poll watcher is removed, the party will replace them with someone else.

When asked what she anticipates during this election, she said every presidential election is different.

"There's obviously a lot of interest in this election from everybody, from voters and candidates, so I think everyone is tuned into what's happening," Perl said.

She said people are interested and want to make sure transparency is there.

Perl said Colorado voters can rest assured knowing their election is transparent.

She added that poll watchers are a crucial part of the election process that must be balanced.

"We just want to make sure ... we're protecting everyone's right to vote and their right to vote privately, while at the same time focusing on the transparency and integrity of the process," she said.