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Election 2022 Questions: What are the rules on voting observation?

A voter observation area is marked off at a Buncombe County polling site at the Weaverville Community Center.
A voter observation area is marked off at a Buncombe County polling site at the Weaverville Community Center.

Early voting is underway in North Carolina. BPR is answering listener queries about voting.

This week’s question focuses on the rules around observing elections. To find out more we spoke with Buncombe County’s Director of Elections Services, Corrine Duncan while poll workers were setting up at the community center in Weaverville.

Inside Observers

Duncan says only partisan observers who are appointed by the chairs of each county’s political party are permitted inside the polling place, and must be registered voters of the county in which they observe.

“And those observers are here to observe the process,” says Duncan. “They're making sure that no laws are being broken and if it happened, they would report it to either to the party chairs or to our office. So, the observers inside are allowed to sit, observe, listen to the process, take any notes, and contact election officials if they are aware of any issues that need reporting.”

Additionally, the state political parties can each designate 100 at-large observers who are North Carolina registered voters, and they can observe any voting place in the state. No more than two county observers and one at-large observer from the same political party are permitted in the voting enclosure at any time. Find out more about the rules for inside observers here.

Outside Observers

Outside – is a different story. Duncan says anyone has the right observe the election outside the voting place, but must stay outside of a 50-foot buffer zone.

“Every polling location, whether it's early voting or on election day, has a 50-foot buffer zone around the door, the entryway, and no one but voters and poll workers are allowed. Outside that buffer, there's campaigning and observing can happen. And other people will gather. So there's a lot of different people outside that buffer zone. So, when you come to vote, that's something that you should expect to see - a lot of different types of people.

It can get a bit crowded, and that’s okay says Duncan, as long as the crowd doesn’t intimidate voters or block voter’s access to the polls. Find out more about the rules for outside observers here.

What other questions do you have about voting this November? BPR and America Amplified are answering your questions. Just text the letters BPR to 855-670-1777.   

BPR also has links to all of the sample ballots in Western North Carolina on our website at

Helen Chickering is a host and reporter on Blue Ridge Public Radio. She joined the station in November 2014.