Election officials brace for onslaught of poll watchers

Surge in observers during the primary, along with tensions and disruptions, leads to NC rule tightening.

North Carolina’s May primary was “one of the worst elections I’ve ever worked,” said Karen Hebb, the elections director in Henderson County. “It was worse than COVID.” 

In addition to long conversations with skeptical voters bringing her misinformation they read on the Internet, Hebb said she and her staff were blindsided by the sheer number of election observers who wanted to watch voting during the primary. There were at least 20 from the Republican Party alone, she said, compared with five or six observers total in the past. “We’ve never had that before,” she said. 

Hebb stresses she’s fine with having observers. But some of the people watching the primary were disruptive, endlessly questioning workers and demanding to approach tabulators to verify totals, she reported to state officials in a post-election survey. 

And in one alarming case, Hebb said in an interview with Votebeat, an observer followed an election worker from a voting site to the elections office “to make sure that they actually brought the ballots.”

North Carolina is far from the only state wrestling with how to handle a rush of new election observers. In Michigan this month, officials ejected a GOP observer from a Detroit facility where they were counting primary ballots after he spent hours arguing about predetermined rules. Some Arizona election officials are now requiring poll observers to fill out forms detailing problems before they leave polling sites, a way to avoid unsupported allegations that surface after the fact. 


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