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NC elections board preparing counties for confrontational poll observers

There were several issues reported with poll observers during the May primary. Mecklenburg County officials say it didn't happen in the area.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The midterm election is less than a month away. At the polls, voters may notice a representative from one or all of the political parties watching, called a poll observer.

These observers have long been a part of the elections process, acting as extra eyes and ears to ensure the elections process is both fair and safe. Each party is allowed to appoint certain individuals to visit precincts with the purpose of watching the process but not interfering with it.

Statewide, there were several concerns during the May primary election with some observers. The issues weren't limited to one county or region either. The North Carolina State Board of Elections, however, is now helping counties prepare for any confrontations in November.

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“We did see some observers were trying to get between the voter and the tabulator as the voter was trying to put their ballot in, some became rather confrontational with precinct officials about where they were allowed to be," said state elections director Karen Brinson Bell, "they were getting too close to a voting booth or too close to the checking computer where they could possibly see personally identifying information, and that's just not allowed. That is interfering with the process."

Ahead of the November midterms, the NCSBE sent every county guidelines, reiterating long-standing state laws and clarifying the role observers can play. Depending on the urgency of the situation, the chief judge can call law enforcement if a situation is escalating.

“To hear from multiple counties in the May primary that there were incidents with observers is out of the norm,” Brinson Bell said. “And so that's what we're trying to prepare for, for this fall election. Because we want this to be a good process for everyone.”

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Mecklenburg County elections officials didn’t report any issues after the May primary or July city elections. Elections director Michael Dickerson said the local parties have always been cooperative and helpful when appointing poll observers.

“They’re not talking, they’re not interfering, they’re observing. And the law allows that. We’ve always allowed for that here in North Carolina," he said. "We fully expect that we get them, and we appreciate them because it’s a confirmation of our process."

Dickerson said they are always concerned and that is why they are currently training poll workers to make sure every voter has a safe and good experience at the polls.

Brinson Bell said they have noticed county parties that have never had observers before are appointing them for this election.

Contact Chloe Leshner at cleshner@wcnc.com and follow her on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

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