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Peoria-area election officials seeing a big increase in poll watchers

Tim Shelley / Peoria Public Radio

Election officials are seeing an unprecedented number of poll watchers this year.

Tazewell County Clerk John Ackerman said the last several elections haven’t seen a single poll watcher at multiple locations. This year, poll watchers are present every day of early voting.

“You know, people out for the first time as poll watchers, election judges may be not familiar with it,” said Ackerman. “I mean, we train all of our election judges to know about them, but maybe they've never had one there. That just increases the likelihood of questions or concerns, misunderstandings.”

He said the increased number of poll watchers shouldn’t have a substantial effect on a voter's experience. Poll watchers file through a political candidate, political party, or nonprofit organization and are credentialed through the county clerk’s office.

“So, it's not as if just a random person off the street can walk in and say I'm a poll watcher,” said Ackerman. “They have to have credentials and present those credentials to the election judges.”

He also said poll watchers at early voting haven’t caused any issues.

“They just are quietly going about their task or going about ours,” said Ackerman. “And the interactions have been like I said, nothing but pleasant.”

Peoria County has also seen a dramatic increase in interest for poll watching. Peoria County Elections Commission Executive Director Elizabeth Gannon said it’s just a way to observe the process.

“I don't necessarily think it's a bad thing,” she said. “I think this is a great way for people to see the checks and balances that we have in place and just get a feel for the whole voting process as a whole.”

Gannon said Peoria County also is seeing poll watchers every day of early voting. Both officials attribute the increased interest to prominent national conversations about election security.

“It's just the national dialogue concerning elections that has been going on that is driving interest,” said Ackerman. “Well, how is it being done in my community?”

Aside from the increase in poll watchers, Peoria County election officials are preparing for the possibility of “tailgate parties” near drop box locations. These unsanctioned vigils of ballot box locations have raised allegations of voter intimidation in Arizona.

“I don't want a voter to feel like they are being intimidated by using a drop box, which is completely legal under Illinois law,” said Gannon. “And so that's why we're being vigilant and reaching out and having plans in place if this was to arise.”

The Election Commission is coordinating with the Peoria County Sheriff’s Office, with both Gannon and Sheriff Chris Watkins saying there hasn’t been a reported “tailgate party” in the county yet.

“We have increased our security,” said Watkins. “And there's a lot of polling places in Peoria County. So, the ones that are located outside the city limits, we've hired some extra deputies, to increase our security at those locations.”

Watkins said there also are state laws that ensure safety and efficiency at a polling place. No one can attempt to influence a voter within 100 feet of a polling location, and intimidation through threats or by force is illegal.

“We've never really had those types of problems,” said Watkins. “But we're prepared in case that does happen.”

You can find more information about voting in Peoria County here and in Tazewell County here.

Collin Schopp is a reporter at WCBU. He joined the station in 2022.