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GREENSBORO, N.C. — Millions of North Carolinians have already cast their vote for the Nov. 3 election, several of whom have chosen to vote for the first time. 

As new and experienced voters head to the polls, more attention is being given to poll observers, or poll watchers.

The Guilford County Board of Elections reports a higher-than-traditional number of poll observers than in recent years, which has also led to a higher-than-traditional number of complaints. 

The most common ones are regarding standing or observing too close to an individual as they cast their ballot and standing close enough to listen to the voters as they stand inside the voter center. 

Charlie Collicutt, the director for the Guilford County Board of Elections said of the observers, “It’s about finding that line between what they are allowed to do, with where are they pushing the line.” 

Collicutt mentioned that they have followed up on complaints filed by voters but would not say how many were found to be credible or led to action by the elections board. 

“Whether or not this is legitimate or not, it’s always a great time to have a good talking point. But if I feel – when you talk to the voter that – it truly does feel like a situation that is something that pushed the line then we do have to look further into it at that point. It’s a hard thing to define, it just takes talking to our voters and talking to our officials,” Collicutt said.

The board will first follow up with the voter who filed the complaint. 

One of those complaints was filed by Andrew Willis Garcés, who reported a poll observer’s actions as intimidation. 

He was accompanying a first-time teen Hispanic voter when a poll observer approached his group.

“Suddenly this guy came out with a clipboard and he just started standing closer to us. Just making notes on his clipboard,” he said.

Garcés said it left the voter uneasy. 

These actions are within the realm of what poll observers can do, to a degree. 

They can stand within six feet of an individual and can be taking notes on a clipboard or piece of paper. They cannot talk to a voter, and they are not allowed to wear material that endorses a certain candidate.

Collicutt said if a line is crossed, additional action will be taken against the poll observer. 

The following is the definition of what a poll observer is, and what their tasks and restrictions are. This is from the North Carolina Board of Elections. 

“Members of the public may not enter a polling site to observe the election process. Only election observers appointed in advance by the political party may be inside a polling place. The chief judge will designate a place for observers that is close enough to hear the voter state their name and address, but far enough to not impede the voting process. Each party may assign at least two observers per precinct and an additional 10 at-large observers for the county. No more than 2 precinct-assigned observers and 1 at-large observer from the same political party may be in the voting enclosure at the same time. Precinct observers may be relieved after serving for at least 4 hours.” 

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