Poll watchers called on by GOP and MassVOTE to prevent voter intimidation 

  • Voters cast ballots at Boston City Hall during early in-person voting, Monday, Oct. 26, 2020. AP PHOTO/ELISE AMENDOLA

For the Gazette
Published: 10/27/2020 1:27:33 PM

BOSTON – With early voting underway, and the state Republican Party calling on poll watcher volunteers, voter intimidation is an increasing concern and election officials are working to ensure there are no disruptions at the polls.

“It is a major concern that is amplified this year. We were having a call with the city clerk in New Bedford, which is a diverse community with a large Hispanic population. He openly said, ‘I am afraid that violence is going to erupt at some polling locations,’” said Alex Psilakis, policy and communications manager at MassVOTE.

Psilakis said that MassVOTE is working to recruit as many election protection volunteers as possible.

“If necessary, those volunteers will be there to check any sort of voter intimidation that arrives. We hope that does not happen. In a place like Massachusetts, we do not typically think of it happening, but there is enough reason to be concerned so we need to be ready,” Psilakis said.

Boston Elections Commissioner Eneida Tavares said there is no technical limit to the number of poll watchers observing the election.

“The way we are training our election officers, until we get any further guidance on this, is to perhaps rotate the observers,” Tavares said. “There are capacity limits in some of our spaces, so it depends on the size of the voting location. They may have some observers take turns and rotate observation during the day.”

There is no formal process to become a poll watcher. With COVID-19 and space limitations, observers are advised to notify their local election official, or town clerk, in order to reserve a space.

“As usual, we will be sending an advisory to our local election officials to remind them of the rules regarding observers in the polling place,” said Debra O’Malley, a spokeswoman with Massachusetts Secretary of State William Galvin’s office.

She said that disruptive poll watchers, who do not follow the rules will be removed from the polling place. They are not permitted to speak to any voters, or to speak to any poll workers besides the warden. They must remain outside the immediate voting area.

Voter intimidation is of concern this election year throughout other areas of the country.

At a Virginia polling center, voter intimidation occurred when Trump supporters staged a rally on Sept. 19 during the early voting period, according to election officials. Protesters were 100 feet from the building entrance and did not block access to polling station at the time, according to a report by Business Insider.

In Westborough, Town Clerk Wendy Mickel said she is not anticipating an influx of poll watchers this upcoming election.

“I do not plan to have any more than we usually get,” Mickel said. “We are not going to have 50 people standing behind the checkers. There would be a reasonable amount, with two people, maybe three. Usually one from each party, maybe two from each party. There is only so much room.”

In Ashland, Town Clerk Tara M. Ward said that she is not worried about voter intimidation at the polling locations in Ashland.

“Not in this town. People are safe to come here and vote any way they want. They are going to be safe, and we will make sure of that,” Ward said.

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