Regulation sought for poll watchers

Election observers would have more oversight under a bill considered Feb. 12 by the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee.

<a href='http://news.legislature.ne.gov/dist26' target='_blank' title='Link to the website of Sen. Matt Hansen'>Sen. Matt Hansen</a>
Sen. Matt Hansen

LB1086, introduced by Lincoln Sen. Matt Hansen, would require poll watchers who wish to observe Election Day procedures to be either a registered voter in Nebraska or a member of a state, national or international election monitoring organization.

Poll watchers would register with either the Nebraska secretary of state or their county election commissioner prior to an election and would be required to display credentials. A poll watcher could observe any Election Day activity but would be required to maintain a distance of 8 feet from those activities.

Poll watchers would be prohibited from assisting a voter, electioneering on behalf of a candidate or issue or interfering with a voter or election official.

Hansen said he introduced the bill because poll watchers currently have little oversight.

“It’s not my intent to restrict anyone’s access to observing our elections, however, the counties have communicated with me that poll workers want more of a streamlined process and clarity of what is allowed so no one is inadvertently denied access,” he said.

Lancaster County Election Commissioner David Shively testified in support of LB1086. The number of organizations sending poll watchers to polling places has increased recently, he said, but there is no formal process to identify poll watchers in advance of an election.

“We want to have a little bit of guidance,” Shively said. “We want to make sure our poll workers understand what [poll watchers] can and can’t do.”

Westin Miller of Civic Nebraska also testified in support. The organization has employed poll watchers throughout Nebraska, he said, and agrees that a formal process is in the state’s interest.

“I think this will create a smooth, confusion-free Election Day,” Miller said.

Deputy Nebraska Secretary of State for Elections Wayne Bena also supported the bill, saying it is important to have guidelines in place before this November’s election.

No one testified in opposition to LB1086 and the committee took no immediate action on it.

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