HOUSTON (KIAH) — Early voting for the midterm elections is now in full swing. And you may see more poll workers at your local election site this year. But do you know the rules poll workers have to abide by at polling locations?

The Texas Secretary of State John P. Scott’s office released new information on a new law and changes to requirements for poll watchers this election season. These new requirements were approved under state House Bill 3107 and Senate Bill 1.

On top of a training program and oath that poll watchers must take, there are certain rules they must also follow. Here’s a look at what the Texas Secretary of State’s office lists as Rights and Rules for Poll Watchers:

Rights of Poll Watchers

  • The Code provides that a poll watcher is entitled to sit or stand near enough to see and hear the election officers conducting the observed activity
  • A poll watcher may not be denied free movement where election activity is occurring within the location at which the watcher is serving. A poll watcher who is entitled to “observe” an election activity under the Code is entitled to sit or stand near enough to see and hear the activity.
  • While a poll watcher may be present if an election worker is assisting a voter, a poll watcher may not be present at the voting station when a voter is preparing the voter’s ballot or is being assisted by a person of the voter’s choice, including by a person also serving as an interpreter at the voting station.
  • A poll watcher does not have the right to free movement in other areas of an election office that is not being used for the designated activities. Because election offices often possess confidential voter information that may not be subject to inspection by poll watchers, this information must be closely guarded and election officials should clearly designate what rooms and locations are needed for specified election activities.
  • It is an offense if a person serving in an official capacity takes any action to obstruct the view of a poll watcher or distance the poll watcher from the activity or procedure to be observed in a manner that would make observation not reasonably effective.
  • A poll watcher’s appointing authority who believes that the poll watcher was unlawfully prevented or obstructed from the performance of the watcher’s duties may seek: (1) injunctive relief under Section 273.081, including temporary relief; (2) a writ of mandamus under Section 161.009 or Section 273.061; and (3) any other remedy available under law. (Sec. 33.063).

Poll Watchers Allowed at Signature Verification Committee

As amended by HB 3107, Section 33.054 permits poll watchers to be present at any meeting of the signature verification committee, if an SVC has been created for the election.

Observing Data Storage Sealing and Transfer

  • A poll watcher appointed to serve at a polling place may observe all election activities relating to closing the polling place, including the sealing and transfer of a memory card, flash drive, hard drive, data storage device, or other medium now existing or later developed for use with voting system equipment.
  • A poll watcher duly accepted for service at a polling location is entitled to follow the transfer of election materials from the polling place to the regional tabulating center, central counting station, or other location designated to process election materials. The authority responsible for administering the designated location must accept a duly appointed poll watcher for service in the same manner as a poll watcher is accepted and must accept the same number of poll watchers that may serve.  
  • A poll watcher may observe the transfer of these materials from the early voting or election day polling location to the appropriate county personnel. However, if the watcher would like to observe additional activities at that location such as EVBB or CCS meetings, they must present a new certificate of appointment and certificate of completion to extend their poll watching activities to the new location.
  • An election officer commits a Class A misdemeanor offense by intentionally or knowingly refusing to accept a poll watcher for service as required.

Hours of Service

A poll watcher at a polling place may begin service at any time after the presiding judge arrives at the polling place on election day and may remain at the polling place until the presiding judge and the clerks complete their duties there. A poll watcher that serves for more than five continuous hours may serve at the polling place during the hours the watcher chooses, except that if the watcher is present at the polling place when ballots are counted, the watcher may not leave until the counting is complete.   If a poll watcher leaves the polling area temporarily to use a cell phone or other wireless device, this temporary absence does not affect their 5 hours of continued service.

Removal of a Poll Watcher

A presiding judge may not have a poll watcher removed from the polling place for violating the Texas Election Code or any other law relating to the conduct of an election, other than a violation of the Penal Code, unless the violation was observed by an election judge or clerk. A presiding judge may call a law enforcement officer to request that a poll watcher be removed if the poll watcher commits a breach of the peace or a violation of law.

For more, go to the Texas Secretary of State’s website.