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Poll watchers, ballot selfies and voter ID's: What to expect on Election Day

Nov 4, 2016

 

Election Day is almost here at last, but there are still a lot of questions to be answered.

There’s been a lot of talk about poll challengers and poll watchers, and that’s an issue for the folks who are doing all the work on polling day.

Chris Thomas, director of elections at Michigan's Secretary of State, sat down with us today to talk through some of the questions we still have as November 8 approaches.

Poll challengers and poll watchers

There is some concern that people could come into the polling place and intimidate voters, but Thomas assured us that poll watchers and poll challengers won’t be a problem.

Poll challengers are provided for in the election law, he explained, and while they do have the right to look at documents and challenge an individual’s eligibility to vote, they’re not allowed to interact with voters directly.

“You’re not allowed to have any discussion with voters,” he said. “Anything you want to do by way of challenging a voter is done through the precinct inspector.”

He added that you can’t just walk in off the street and start challenging voters. Poll challengers need to present credentials from the political party or group that’s sponsoring them.

Thomas told us poll watchers have even less authority than poll challengers.

“A poll watcher’s different from a challenger. They don’t have an status at all. So they can go stand in a roped-off public area and watch.”

If someone without credentials attempts to challenge a voter at the polls, Thomas said they will be asked to go stand in the roped-off area and remain silent.

“If they continue to be disruptive, they’ll be asked to leave once,” he said. “If they don’t leave, the police will be there to escort them out.”

Voter ID

You will be asked to present some form of identification at your polling place – a state- or federal-issued ID, a passport, military ID, student ID from a high school or accredited institution of higher education or a tribal ID card with a photo will do – but you don’t need one to vote.

If you don’t have any ID, you will be asked to sign an affidavit, and your ballot will be counted along with all the others.

“If you don’t have an ID with you, you will sign the affidavit.… Under no circumstances is that a reason not to count a ballot,” Thomas said.

Straight-ticket voting

Attorney General Bill Schuette is still fighting to get Michigan’s ban on straight-ticket voting reinstated, but in this election at least, Thomas told us you will have the option to cast a straight-party ballot.

Thomas said we can also vote a split ticket,”which means you can vote one of the parties, fill in the oval, and then you can go vote for candidates in other parties as well.”

A reminder: There are a number of candidates at the bottom of the ballot who are not affiliated with a party, so you’ll want to do your homework.

Ballot selfies

The ban on exposing your ballot remains in effect, Thomas told us.

He explained the law goes back to the 1890's, when businesses and political machines would intimidate people, pressuring them to show their ballot before it was cast to ensure they were voting in the manner their bosses wanted them to.

“It’s been a great law. We don’t see much of that going on anymore, and we’d like to keep it that way,” Thomas said.

Campaign swag

Election law prohibits attempts to influence votes and the display of political slogans in a polling place or within 100 feet of its entrance.

But if you’re sporting a t-shirt with “Make America Great Again” or “I’m With Her” emblazoned across the front, don’t worry, you won’t be asked to leave.

You may, however, be asked to go to the bathroom and turn your shirt inside out before you vote, Thomas told us.

Rigged elections

There have been a lot of accusations across the nation that elections are rigged. As the director of elections, Thomas’ credibility is being questioned.

He told us these accusations are “a lot of nonsense.”

“It’s a lot of chatter. When people make those allegations, they should be coming forward with their specifics if they’re serious,” Thomas said.

It would be exceedingly difficult to rig an election in America, thanks in part to our decentralized election system.

“We have no real concern about any rigging of elections, and anybody who really takes the time to study our election system would know the absurdity of those statements,” Thomas said.

Listen to our full conversation with Chris Thomas above for more.

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