Poll watchers a regular occurrence in York County

David Weissman
  • Candidates are permitted two poll watchers, and parties are permitted three in York County.
  • Poll watchers monitor lines, report to party officials and also have the power to challenge voters.
  • Neither local party's chairman has heard of any local cases of voter fraud.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump's recent assertion that he would only lose in Pennsylvania if cheating occurred was soon followed by a call for election observers, which have existed in the state for many years under a different name.

Poll watchers are permitted to observe election activities from within polling places by the Pennsylvania Election Code and have been utilized by candidates for many years, according to state Department of State spokeswoman Wanda Murren.

Nikki Suchanic, director of York County Elections and Voter Registration, said each candidate is allowed to appoint two poll watchers in the county, and political parties are allowed to appoint three more.

Donald Trump speaks during a rally at Cumberland Valley High School, Monday, Aug. 1, 2016. John A. Pavoncello photo

"It's nothing new," Suchanic said. "We've had poll watchers every election as far as I can remember."

Candidates and parties are only allowed to have one poll watcher at a time in any one polling place, she added. The watchers must be certified by the elections office through the candidate or party and live in the county they're watching. They typically report any voting irregularities they see to local party officials, Suchanic said.

Parties: Alex Shorb, chairman of the York County Republican Committee, said GOP-sponsored poll watchers have reported a few "incidents" to him in the past but never a case of voter fraud.

"It's usually just a polling place is having trouble dealing with high voter turnout," he said.

Nonetheless, Shorb said the local party will have an attorney on hand in November to deal with any potential issues.

"This is a critical election," he said. "We'll do what is required."

Chad Baker, chairman of the Democratic Party of York County, said he also has never heard of any incidents of voter fraud locally.

Baker said his party also will send out poll watchers on Election Day "to ensure every voter has a voice."

Rules: Murren said poll watchers must remain at least 10 feet from check-in tables and are not allowed to actively campaign for any candidate, which is called "electioneering" and must be done outside at least 10 feet away from the door into polling places.

Poll watchers are allowed to challenge voters before they cast their ballot on their residency or identity, Murren said.

If a voter's identity or residency is challenged, that person can still vote by signing an affidavit affirming both, Murren said, or vote using a provisional ballot that would be counted once both are confirmed.

Matthew Jansen, a Spring Grove school board member and staunch Trump supporter, said he has some concerns about voter fraud, but he'd be "pissed" if someone tried to question his identity or residency.

"How would you be able to screen someone like that?" he asked, adding that he would look into signing up to be a Trump election observer on the candidate's website.

Luckily for Jansen and others, Suchanic said she's never heard of a voter being challenged in York County, or any voter fraud in general.

York County's role in presidential election

GOP state Rep. Stan Saylor, who is running unopposed in the 94th House District, said he's had poll watchers in the county and never heard anyone suggest any corruption, but he understands Trump's concerns.

Few concerns have been expressed in the majority of Pennsylvania, Saylor said, but Philadelphia has a bad reputation of suspicious activity during elections.

Philadelphia favored  Democratic President Barack Obama by approximately 465,000 votes in 2012.

Saylor said Chicago and all of Louisiana are other places with negative reputations where elections should be closely monitored.

— Reach David Weissman at dweissman@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @DispatchDavid.