Uniformed law enforcement officers won’t be stationed at polls during the early election or on Nov. 3, but they will be on standby if needed.
A memo from the state Board of Elections to local boards caused a furor earlier this week when it was reported that uniformed officers were prohibited from polling places. Sheriff Jody Greene and Elections Supervisor Carla Strickland both said that while officers will not be inside or at the polls, they will be available if needed.
“We have a good relationship with our LEOs, and we know if we need them we can call them,” Strickland said.
The memorandum from the state board said that some voters might find the presence of law enforcement “intimidating.” Patrick Gannon of the state board said the memo does not in any way prevent uniformed officers from voting or responding to calls for assistance.
“Our duty at the State Board of Elections is to ensure that all voters may cast a ballot comfortably and free from any form of intimidation,” Gannon said in an email. “We know from complaints in previous elections that some voters feel intimidated by uniformed police presence at polling places.”
Critics have claimed that the Elections Board – which lost two Republican members last week – was following Democrat Gov. Roy Cooper’s lead in cooling toward law enforcement. Cooper marched with anti-police protestors in Raleigh earlier this year.
While not naming previous governors, Gannon explained that prohibiting LEOs from being stationed at polls has been endorsed by both political parties in the past.
“The guidance issued by the State Board is in line with guidance from former executive directors under different administrations,” he wrote. “The State Board’s guidance for numerous years has been that county boards shall not have law enforcement monitoring at voting sites.”
Strickland said that state law requires chief poll workers to call the board of elections or law enforcement if intimidation is reported. Officers in uniform can also escort pollworkers to their vehicles after polls close, and can cast their ballots while in uniform.
If intimidation by campaign workers, supporters or other individuals is reported – or if poll workers are threatened — Strickland said officers will be called to assist.
Greene said that additional deputies will be on patrol in the area around polling places during early voting and on Election Day, but they will not be posted at the polls.
“We are going to be close by so we can quickly respond if we are needed,” he said. “The right to vote is one of the most important things we have as citizens. We are going to protect the right of every citizen to cast a vote.”
“There is a lot of interest in this year’s election,” Strickland said. “We are not going to allow anything to get in the way of those who are trying to cast a ballot.”