poll watcher

or poll-watcher

[ pohl ]
/ poʊl /
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a representative of a political party or of an organization running a candidate who is assigned to the polls on an election day to watch for violations of the laws that regulate voting, campaigning, etc.
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Words nearby poll watcher

Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2022


What is a poll watcher?

A poll watcher is a person who is officially assigned to observe a polling location on election day and report violations of laws or rules related to voting or campaigning.

In the United States, laws and rules regarding poll watchers vary by state. Generally, a poll watcher is a registered voter who is usually appointed by a political party or political campaign to ensure fairness for their party or candidate.

Such poll watchers observe the voting process, making sure all voters are following the law and the vote is being conducted properly. A poll watcher can challenge a voter’s eligibility to vote by bringing their concern to poll workers or election officials. However, poll watchers are prohibited from interfering in the voting process in any way. They are not allowed to watch someone vote, to count votes later, or to stop a person from voting. They can only report their concerns to poll workers or election officials.

Sometimes, poll watchers also attempt to keep track of voter lists in order to identify people who have not yet voted and who may support their party or candidate. Doing so allows them to tell campaign workers which voters could be contacted and encouraged to vote before the polls close.

In the U.S., interest in the meaning of the term poll worker and the role of poll workers has increased due to concerns about voter intimidation, which is illegal. Although official poll watchers are intended to prevent any unfair practices, some poll workers have been accused of intimidating people to prevent them from voting.

The term poll watcher is also sometimes used very loosely to refer to people who attempt to observe other voters for some reason—such as to prevent the perceived threat of voter fraud—despite not having been officially assigned to do so.

The practice of serving as a poll watcher or the collective action of poll watchers can be called poll watching. Poll watcher can also be spelled with a hyphen, as poll-watcher.

Example: There were a few poll watchers at the voting location keeping an eye on the process, but I didn’t see them interact with anyone.

Where does poll watcher come from?

The first records of the term poll watcher come from the 1890s. The first term, poll, is used to refer to a place where voting occurs (in this sense, it’s usually used in the plural form) or to the voting process. The word watcher refers to a person who is acting as an observer.

A poll watcher observes a polling location to make sure all laws and rules are being followed. Importantly, though, a poll watcher is only assigned to watch and reports problems to election officials. Otherwise, a poll watcher has no power or authority to take actions to affect how or if people vote.

The term and the role of poll watchers became the subject of increased scrutiny in 2020 when President Donald Trump during his reelection campaign encouraged his supporters to “be poll watchers” when visiting the polls on election day. He was criticized for seeming to encourage random voters to try to position themselves as poll watchers despite not having been officially assigned that role by a party or candidate, leading to concerns that such people would try to intimidate other voters.

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What are some other forms related to poll watcher?

  • poll-watcher (alternate spelling)

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How is poll watcher used in real life?

Poll watchers are often discussed in the context of the rules and laws intended to protect election fairness.



Try using poll watcher!

Which of the following actions is a poll watcher not allowed to take?

A. Watching voters enter a polling place.
B. Counting voters who enter a polling place.
C. Stopping a person from voting.
D. Reporting a person who they think is not eligible to vote.

How to use poll watcher in a sentence