This week a poll watcher, while simply observing, was approached by the Registrar, and
told he could not observe registrar staff doing their jobs. The GOP poll watcher, Colin
Kelly, was prepared to challenge the registrar and prove he did have the right to observe
according to Virginia law. Please read Mr. Kelly’s narrative below to see just what
happened and how Mr. Kelly handled a difficult situation.
Around 4:30 a women pushed a cart with a stack of USPS mail trays holding Absentee Ballots
(AB’s) from behind the cubicle wall area to a storage closet just to the left of where I was
sitting. I observed her unlock the room, put the cart in the storage room, leave and lock it. I did
not talk to that woman.
A few minutes later the Absentee Ballot Coordinator approached me and asked if I had
observed the cart being put into storage, I said yes. She informed me that I am not allow to
observer her staff and that I was limited to only those activities inside the cordoned area. I
disagreed and said Poll Watchers/I have a right to watch/check the chain of custody of the AB’s.
She continued to press her position. She left the room.
Shortly thereafter the General Registrar arrived and asked me to step to the side to discuss this
issue. He reiterated the Absentee Ballot Coordinator’s position that Poll Watchers could not
observe the staff, and that I was limited to observing Election Officers, specifically those within
the cordon area. I stated that I disagreed, that’s not my understanding. I went back to the table
I was sitting at and grabbed my poll watcher Authorization Form. I showed it to the Registrar
and stated that at the bottom, the code states Poll Watchers/I can see all activities.
He read the last sentence on the form and pushed the letter back to me and said, “see, it says
only Election Officers”. I looked at the letter and stated to him that the sentence he read refers
to “…. interference with Election Officers….” the section above it defines the Poll Watchers
rights. At this point the environment was tense. I clearly felt that I was not wanted in this area. I
then stated I don’t want to cause a big issue here at CAP and that I would just report it to the
Electoral Board. I wrote down the Registrar’s name, he left stating “I know what I am doing.”
In hindsight, I probably should have called the Hot line number at that point to get clarification.
Also, I find it upsetting that the Absentee Ballot Coordinator and registrar had the position that
a PW could only observe EO’s. It was clear to me in that room that the registrar and Absentee
Ballot Coordinator’s position was intentional and previously thought through. I can attest that I
felt intimidated by the two.
Mr. Kelly called Virginians for America First (VFAF) asking for advice on how to handle
the situation. Since Mr. Kelly was a GOP poll watcher we advised him to call the GOP
hotline and speak with an attorney to report the incident and to confirm that he did
indeed have the right to observe what was going on in the Central Absentee Precinct
(CAP) and that included registrar staff. An attorney did confirm his right to observe.
Mr. Kelly then filled out an Incident Report Form found in the VFAF Poll Watchers
Guide and submitted it.
During CAP everyone in the registrar’s office is considered staff. Meaning the registrar
was wrong to differentiate between election officers and his staff. Although they seem to
be arguing that the letter of the law restricts observation, the intention of observation is
that all electoral processes be observed, including security, transportation of materials,
etc. To suggest that election officers can be observed, but not registrar staff conducting
electoral activities is absurd. Mr. Kelly pointed to the law, but the registrar read only the
bottom sentence of the law and not the sentence above which Mr. Kelly pointed out
again. Instead of reading the law, the registrar looked up without reading it and instead
insisted he was right.
We now share it with you so you may learn how to handle situations like this and know
what to do if something like this ever occurs to you. Mr. Kelly did an outstanding job of
keeping his cool when confronted with hostility. As he states, he wished he had called
the hotline number then for clarification, which would have aided in keeping him
present in the CAP to continue observing everyone, as was his right, and which is also
If any other poll watchers have incidents they would like to share, please do so by
emailing Bill Hawkins at [email protected].
Note: Colin Kelly is the head of the Election Integrity Unit for the Norfolk GOP. Since I
knew that to be true, I referred him to the GOP Hotline.