Vote Watch: KSL Investigates Poll Watching Rules

Nov 2, 2020, 10:33 PM
Residents vote in Salt Lake County on Oct. 30, 2020 (KSL TV)...
Residents vote in Salt Lake County on Oct. 30, 2020 (KSL TV)

FARMINGTON, Utah — Voter intimidation and poll watching has been a hot topic nationally.

Utah’s reliance on mail-in ballots, as well as pandemic concerns, means fewer in-person voting locations this year. This has election officials teaming up with law enforcement to make sure those who show up at the polls on Election Day have a safe experience.

Poll Watching Has Rules

Back in September, President Donald Trump told voters “go into the polls and watch very carefully” for possible voter fraud.

“Poll watching is nothing new,” said Utah Elections Director Justin Lee. “It’s something that happens every election.”

But few people sign up to be poll watchers. When KSL Investigators contacted both Davis and Washington counties on Oct. 30, no one had signed up to watch polling locations.

Justin Lee, director of elections. (KSL-TV)

No one can simply show up at a polling location and expect to watch. Most counties require individuals to register with the county clerk to be a poll watcher.

Lee said there are rules, and poll watchers can’t get close enough to see actual votes on the ballots.

“They don’t get to interfere. They don’t get to question things on the spot. They get to watch, and they can take notes or memos. But they’re not there to interfere.”

When Support for a Candidate Becomes Voter Intimidation

Not interfering extends to anyone who shows up at the polls and is not actively voting.

State and federal laws prohibit electioneering at polling locations, which means anyone with campaign apparel or regalia is not allowed.

Because some polling locations are drive-through, this also means any flags or signage for candidates or parties on vehicles are also prohibited.

Every polling location has a 150-foot buffer zone by law. Capt. Tanner Jensen with the Utah Department of Public Safety said those who show up to protest must stay at least that far away.

“[Protesting] near an election site is not permitted, and it could be interfering with somebody trying to use their constitutional right to vote,” Jensen said.

Additionally, those gathered outside of polls are not allowed to follow voters to or from their cars, disrupt lines or access to the polls, aggressively challenge a voter’s qualifications to vote or brandish firearms.

“People do have a right to protest, but they don’t have a right to do any electioneering at the polling location, said Davis County Sheriff Kelly Sparks.

Sparks said his force plans to be at the polls on Election Day, but hopes activities are limited to conducting traffic at the polling location, rather than fighting those who might try to intimidate voters.

“We aren’t receiving any reports of intended or planned protests,” he said.

Statewide, Jensen echoed Sparks, saying “we currently have no threats that we’re aware of at this time.”

Overall, both election officials and law enforcement believe Utah can lead the nation in conducting a peaceful, accurate and safe voter experience.

“I hope that things continue to go as smoothly as they have been and that we’ll show that Utah knows how to vote, knows how to vote by mail and that we’ve been doing it for a while,” said Lee.

See Something? Say Something

There are multiple ways to report voter intimidation.

If you see this happening, you can reach out to the Utah Attorney General’s office at 801-381-6168.

KSL Investigators will also be working all day on Tuesday to be a voting advocate. Call us at 385-707-6153 or click Vote Watch at ksltv.com.

Have you experienced something you think just isn’t right? The KSL Investigators want to help. Submit your tip at investigates@ksl.com or 385-707-6153 so we can get working for you.

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Vote Watch: KSL Investigates Poll Watching Rules