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1 day until the election: What’s the difference between a poll watcher and poll challenger?

Stock image/Sara D. Davis
Stock image/Sara D. Davis (Getty Images)

As people head to polling places in the next day or so, the terms “poll watcher” and “poll challenger” will likely be tossed around at precincts.

But what exactly are they, and what functions do they perform?

What a poll watcher is

A poll watcher is someone appointed by the political parties or candidates to make sure their party has a fair chance of winning an election, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

They monitor election administrators at the precincts and may keep track of voter turnout for their parties, but can’t interfere in the electoral process other than reporting issues at polling places.

What a poll challenger is

A poll challenger is someone who can challenge whether a person is eligible to vote. They can be appointed or picked by a political party but they can only challenge something based on actual knowledge, not an assumption.

Can the same people be poll watchers and poll challengers?

It depends on the state. Some states also allow watchers to challenge voter eligibility, but other states separate the roles. For a list of each state’s qualifications and designations, click or tap here.

What qualifications do I need to have to be a poll watcher or challenger in Virginia?

Any poll watcher must be a registered voter.

There can be one person per party per polling place at a given time, but there can’t be more than three for any organization. Candidates can’t serve as poll watchers.

Independent candidates can appoint a poll watcher.


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