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New regulations on poll watchers not being put in place until next year

Posted at 7:55 AM, Oct 07, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-07 08:55:49-04

OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — It may seem like its been much longer, but just last week, we had our first presidential debate and one topic discussed during the 90 minutes was the concept of poll watchers.

“I’m urging my supporters to go into the polls and watch very carefully because that’s what has to happen," President Donald Trump said last Tuesday.

Right now in Nebraska, anyone can designate themselves as a poll watcher, but groups like Civic Nebraska will train those interested in poll watching on what to look out for on election day.

“We train individuals to go to polling locations, and they act as poll observers, where they look at things such a wait time, how many provisional ballots are being issued," said director of voting rights with Civic Nebraska. "And they also perform additional functions such as assisting voters. It can be something as simple as looking up on their phones if they’re registered to vote or if they’re at the right polling place.”

Poll watchers with Civic Nebraska are also trained to make sure correct information is being given out and that polling locations are adhering to the ‘Americans with Disabilities Act’.

Civic Nebraska also has voting attorneys who are on call as part of their Election Protection Hotline. That number is 402-890-5291.

Sarpy County Election Commission Michelle Andahl says she has had positive experiences working with poll watchers from groups like Civic Nebraska. She also welcomes poll watchers that are not with any group as long as voting is not impeded.

“Having those people show up at the polling site and self imposing themselves as a poll watcher, it’s not a concern so much as long as they read up on what the rules are, what they can and cannot do and just how to generally interact or not interact with voters in a way that interferes with voting," Andahl said.

Though there are not hard rules on the book for who is and is not a poll watcher at this time, that will be changing next year. State Senator Matt Hansen worked with local election officials to write LB 1086, a law addressing poll watchers.

That law was eventually added as part of LB1055 which was approved by Gov. Pete Ricketts in August.

“So this would give them an opportunity to kind of preregister with the Secretary of State or the local election official, have a credential, have a sign in sheet to confirm that they were there and kind of give a bit more formality to the structure," Hansen said.

Under the law, poll watchers would register with their group, listing what locations they plan to visit at what time. They will be given a name tag to identify themselves and will be asked to sign in at the precinct.

The law does state however that “a poll watcher shall not be denied entry to a polling place because the poll watcher is not on the list or because the precinct is not on the list.”

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