Amid Claims Of Fraud And Intimidation What Is (And Is Not) Allowed At Polling Sites
Who is voting may be just as scrutinized on Election Day as who wins. And we’re not talking about classic voting blocks.
From the mundane like ballot selfies, to the serious, like claims of rigged elections, fraud or voter intimidation, much of the scrutiny has been fueled on social media.
This is a national narrative. But like many things this election North Carolina finds itself at the center of the story.
If you want to go down a rabbit hole of election conspiracies simply search #stopthesteal on Twitter.
There you’ll find calls for supporters of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump to wear red on Election Day – a way to make them easier to spot in footage of the polls and make it harder, their theory goes, for the media to rig the election.
But one of the most common tweets is a screen grab of someone purporting to have voted more than once.
Take the story of Robert John Dougherty III of Onslow County. He posted on Facebook that he voted for himself and a few of his friends. That post was passed around enough that the North Carolina State Board of Elections launched an investigation and issued a press release saying it was, simply a joke.
But Stop the Steal is not just a hastag on Twitter – it’s also the name of a group of hard core Trump supporters explains Richard Hasen, law professor at the University of California Irvine and author of the election law blog. "Stop the steal is a group by Rodger Stone. Rodger Stone is a long time political operative."
Stone is well known as a political dirty trickster. Earlier this year, when it looked like there would be a floor fight at the Republican National Convention, Stone threatened to release the names and hotel assignments of delegates who did not vote for Trump.
Stone and Stop the Steal are sending supporters to conduct their own exit polls in specific, majority-minority precincts in targeted cities. Hasen says Charlotte is on their list. "And the idea is supposedly to look for voter fraud," but adds Hasen, "some people are concerned that it just might be an excuse to try to intimidate voters who might be likely to vote for Hillary Clinton."
Rodger Stone takes issue with that. Speaking to the conservative website Infowars last month Stone said "This is an exit poll. So how can we be intimidating voters after they vote?"
Stone portrays his volunteers as heroes fighting against the rigged system. "All signs point to Hillary trying to steal this election. I think they will do anything necessary to hijack this election."
As to why the group is coming to Charlotte, look no further than what Donald Trump had to say last month. Speaking in Wisconsin, the Republican presidential nominee told the crowd, "It is possible that non-citizen votes were responsible for Obama’s 2008 victory in North Carolina."
Trump was citing 2014 study printed in the Washington Post. One that Hasen says has been widely debunked. "Most recently it has been criticized by the creators of the database that the authors of the 2014 study used. And the critique is that the authors didn’t understand how the database really worked and didn’t properly do the analysis."
That argument and others has done little to tamp down the call for individuals to become their own voter integrity monitors. So it’s worth noting what is and is not allowed at polling sites.
The first thing to note independent groups representing both Democrats and Republicans will be at some sites…unofficially monitoring the election. Others will be taking a more official role.
"We have election observers on the outside and inside of polling locations," explains Kim Strach, the executive director of the State Board of Elections. And she notes the observers are appointed by the Democratic, Republican and Libertarian parties. And there are limits as to what observers can legally do. "They have to be allowed to hear the voter when they come in and state their name and address."
But they can't be close enough to read confidential information the poll workers may have on the voter. And at no time can an observer go to a voting booth with a voter, impede a voter going to the booth or directly talk or question a voter.
Nor may they take photos or videos inside the precinct.
As for outside, there is a 50 foot buffer zone around the entrance where no one is allowed to hand out election flyers, take exit polls or otherwise impede voters in any way.
And outside that 50 foot buffer? More is allowed but that doesn’t mean anything goes says Strach. "If someone is harassing someone or they feel fearful to go into the voting enclosure those are types of actions that would not be allowed."
Any problems, Strach says, should be reported to poll workers inside, the county or state boards of election or in extreme cases, the police. The FBI and The US Attorney’s Office in Charlotte also say they’re standing by to investigate any illegal activities at the polls.
Finally, on a lighter note, if you are one of those people who want to take a selfie with your ballot - don’t. In North Carolina it is illegal to take any pictures inside a voting place. So you’ll just have to settle for an 'I Voted' sticker and a photo in the parking lot.