COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - With record-breaking turnout for early voting, both the South Carolina Democratic and Republican parties are gearing up for high turnout on Election Day.
Part of the strategy for both parties is to make sure every voter gets to cast their vote and every vote is counted. They believe the way to achieve that goal is by using poll watchers.
Just as the term sounds, official poll watchers observe the process inside of a polling place to help ensure that the rules are followed and report any instances in which the rules aren’t. Officials with both the Democratic and Republican parties tell WIS that poll watchers are going to be out in greater numbers than ever before.
“It’s bigger than we’ve ever done it before,” Claire Robinson, the SCGOP Communications Director, said. “We have poll watchers in each county with targeted precincts within those counties, and we will brag about our numbers on Election Day.”
It’s a strategy shared by the South Carolina Democratic Party, who said they have 1,200 poll watchers ready to go.
“We are leaps and bounds this election cycle from where we were in 2016 when it comes to having a voter protection unit and making a statewide effort, as opposed to having each county figure it out on their own,” Lauren Brown, the SCDP Communications Director, said.
The South Carolina Election Commission handbook says that poll watchers are certified by the political parties or a candidate and must be a qualified voter in the county he or she is watching.
“As far as transparency goes, when you have massive turnout in the middle of a pandemic, it’s sometimes easy for things to fall through the cracks. So, we are doing our part to make sure that doesn’t happen,” Robinson said.
They are allowed to be inside the polling location throughout the day making sure that the correct processes are followed. However, they are not allowed to interact or talk with voters. They are also supposed to be wearing a badge which specifies the name of the candidate or party they are representing.
“The bottom line goal at the party is to make sure every vote is counted and not only that every vote is counted, but that everyone who wants to vote can vote,” Brown said.
Although you have to be certified to be an official poll watcher, with it being a public election, anyone can be a poll observer. However, there are some key differences between a poll watcher and a poll observer. Poll observers aren’t certified by a party or candidate and must not display any campaign materials. They may be inside the polling place if space allows, but they must conduct themselves in an orderly manner.
Due to space constraints, poll managers are allowed to ask observers to leave if there’s not enough space inside a polling location, but both poll watchers and observers can talk to voters once outside of the polling place.
On Election Day, it’s against the law for anyone to distribute or display any type of campaign materials within 200 feet of an entrance to a polling place.