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Civil rights advocates say Texas needs to improve new required training for poll watchers

An election poll worker stands among voting machines Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020, in Houston.
David J. Phillip
Associated Press
An election poll worker stands among voting machines Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020, in Houston.

Under Texas’ new voting law, which went into effect in December, poll watchers must undergo mandatory training. It’s currently an online course through the Texas Secretary of State’s Office. Advocates say that’s not enough.

A non-profit voting rights group says Texas’ current training for poll watchers isn’t comprehensive enough.

Poll watchers are appointed to observe conduct during an election on behalf of, for example, a candidate or a political party. On top of enhanced protections for poll watchers, the state’s new voting law also requires poll watchers undergo training, which is provided online by the Texas Secretary of State’s office.

Emily Eby, an attorney with theTexas Civil Rights Project, said that training currently consists of clicking through a slide presentation. She told the Texas Newsroom it should be a video training instead to ensure people get all the information they need.

“There was one part where they talked about ‘a poll watcher cannot be related to an election worker within the second degree of consanguinity or affinity,’” said Eby. “Now, what does that mean? If you had a video training, somebody could say, ‘well, that means you can’t be related by marriage or blood.’ That’s easy to explain.”

Eby, who has completed thePoll Watcher Training Program, also wants questions included at the end.

“I would recommend an actual test with teeth — a test that you have to pass to be a poll watcher,” Eby added. “It doesn’t have to be a difficult test, but it has to show what you can and cannot do as a poll watcher in order to keep voters protected.”

But Keith Ingram, the head of elections for the Texas Secretary of State’s office, disagrees.

“We don’t think we’re going to make any passing grade necessary to do this,” Ingram told a panel of state lawmakers Wednesday. “We don’t think it’s our place to prevent somebody from serving as a poll watcher.”

While he called the training “very basic,” Ingram also told members of theHouse Elections Committee his office received feedback saying there should be questions along the way, so that “people can’t just click through the slides without reading them.”

“We think that’s a good suggestion, and we’re going to add some questions,” Ingram promised the legislators, who are tasked with examining how election results are reported and studying the effectiveness of the state’s new poll watcher training.

According to theTexas Secretary of State’s office, hundreds of Texans have completed the new training so far.

“With regard to poll watcher training, I would say that as of [Monday], we’ve had 2,865 folks who have started the training,” Ingram told lawmakers. “We have 1,914 who have finished the training and received a certificate.”

To be a poll watcher underSenate Bill 1, Ingram explained a person must have that certificate of completion from the Texas Secretary of State’s Office showing they have completed the training, and another showing they were appointed by a person or an entity to be a poll watcher known as the certificate of appointment.

Meanwhile, Ingram said his office did not really receive any calls regarding poll watchers during the elections that have occurred in all 254 Texas counties since the state’s new voting law took effect Dec. 2, 2021.

“It was relatively quiet,” said Ingram. “There wasn’t anything regarding harassment of voters or being too close to voters — nothing like that was reported.”