Montgomery Co. lets visitors get a peek into US election process

GAITHERSBURG, Md. — The U.S. State Department may have dismissed Russia’s effort to monitor the upcoming general election as a publicity stunt, but a local elections board said it has a program that allows international guests to observe the voting process on Election Day.

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Margie Roher, spokesman for the Montgomery County Board of Elections, said giving international observers access to Election Day operations is not new.

“It’s an opportunity to give other countries insight into how things work, what a normal day’s operation is at the polling place” on Election Day, she said.

Because elections officials are with the guests at the various polling places, members of the on-site operations can still do their jobs.

“It’s not a distraction for them, and we keep the groups small,” Roher said.

Roher said she’s already got at least five requests, one from a group of 75 people. Large groups will be broken up into smaller cohorts, she said, so that Election Day operations are not disturbed and guests can have their questions answered.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures website, the District of Columbia and 33 states allow for international observers to visit polling places.

Apart from the international observers, political campaigns or parties can assign people to serve as “challengers or watchers,” but the role is strictly defined.

“If you want to be a challenger or watcher, you can contact the Maryland State Board of Elections, [and] they’ll issue you a certificate,” Roher said.

While challengers and watchers have access to the polling place, they do have a number of rules they must follow. They have to keep their certificate with them. In addition, they are not allowed to carry campaign materials, a rule that includes wearing campaign gear such as hats or T-shirts.

Election Day challengers or watchers are also barred from trying to determine how a voter will vote, cannot talk to voters and cannot carry electronic devices or take pictures inside the polling place.

Interested in being a challenger or watcher? Find out more at the Maryland Board of Elections.

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