Election Observers

Observing election activities at the main office or in the field is a cornerstone of transparency in Yolo County.

You are invited to get involved in the voting process by becoming an observer.

Election Observation provides the public with the opportunity to observe, make suggestions to improve the electoral process, and ensure the integrity of elections. The Yolo County Elections Office wishes to remove all misconceptions associated with conducting and participating in elections. This approach is one aspect of building voter confidence and encouraging more voter and public participation.

Types of Observers

Election observers, also known as poll watchers, play an important role before, during, and after Election Day. Some observers, who intend to view, ask questions about, and report on the processes observed, draw a distinction with the term poll watchers - who tend to be partisan. In California, there is no distinction between election observers and poll watchers. All election observers must follow federal, state, and local rules regarding observation and applicable laws regarding the prohibition of "electioneering." More information about the roles, rights, and responsibilities of observers, and information about electioneering are in the following sections. Types of Observers include, but are not limited to:

  • Members of the Public
  • Media
  • Students and Academics
  • State Observers and Other Election Administrators
  • International Delegations
  • Political Parties
  • Advocacy Groups, Campaigns, and Candidates

What and When to Observe

Almost all our duties are considered observable to the public. Below is a list of specific activities of interest. The tasks and activities are referenced by the number of days prior to Election Day, rather than a calendar date. These "E-minus" dates are mostly driven by California Election Code; however, the "E-date" may refer to a "no earlier than," a "no later than," or an "on this day" milestone.

Before Election Day (beginning E-82)

Drawing for the Randomized Alphabet

  • 11 a.m. 82 days prior to Election Day
  • a drawing for a randomized alphabet to order the names of the candidates on the ballot
  • coincides with the Secretary of State's "random alpha draw"

Logic & Accuracy Testing of Ballot Counting Equipment (Hart InterCivic Verity Central scanners) - around e-29

Function Testing of the Ballot Marking Devices (Hart InterCivic Verity Touch Writers) 

Vote-by-Mail Return Envelope Return Identification Envelope/Ballot Retrieval - Throughout the voting period on a mandated schedule

  • Retrieval locations include the Post Office, Ballot Drop Boxes, Vote Centers, and Ballot Drop Box partners
  • Return to Elections Office (625 Court St., Suite B-05, Woodland) for processing

Vote-by-Mail Return Identification Envelope Processing - Throughout the voting period and canvass

  • Vote-by-Mail Return Identification Envelope Sorting (Runbeck Agilis)
  • Vote-by-Mail Return Identification Envelope Signature Verification (DFM Associates EIMS)
  • Vote-by-Mail Ballot Extraction from validated Return Identification Envelopes (OPEX)

Vote-by-Mail Ballot Processing - Throughout the voting period and canvass

  • Ballot Inspection and Preparation for scanning
  • Ballot Scanner Set-up (Hart InterCivic Verity Central)
  • Scanning Ballots (Hart InterCivic Verity Central)
  • Ballot Adjudication (Hart InterCivic Verity Central)

During Early Voting Days (E-11 through E-1)

Elections Office Activities during work hours

Vote Center Activities, including opening and closing procedures

Elections Office after the close of the Vote Centers

  • Return of voted ballots
  • Sorting of ballots and materials

On Election Day (E-0)

Vote Center Activities, including opening and closing procedures

Election Night at the Central Count Location (Elections Office)

  • Return of Live Ballots
  • Sorting of Ballots and Materials
  • Scanning and Adjudication of Ballots
  • Reporting of Results at the Elections Office
  • Election Night Closing Procedures/Backups

After Election Day (E+1 through E+30)

The canvass begins on Thursday after Election Day (E+2)

Sorting and Processing

  • Vote-by-Mail Ballots
  • Conditional Voter Registration/Provisional Ballots
  • Damaged/Duplicated Ballots
  • Election Supplies

Ballot Counting

  • Scanning and Adjudication of Ballots
  • Reporting of Results - unofficial and official

Post-Election One-Percent Manual Tally (PEMT)

  • Selection of the precincts/batches of ballots to be hand tallied
  • Manual tally of the ballots
  • Reconciliation of the manual tally with the election results reports

Planning your Election Observation

Please keep in mind that no activity related to election administration will be postponed, halted, delayed, or concluded based on the presence or absence of observers, an observer's schedule, or the coordination of an election observer team's schedule. The work being conducted is managed based on statutory requirements, maintaining the integrity of the election, business processes, workflow efficiencies, and workload. 

It is difficult for one observer to watch all aspects of the operation at all times. The elections staff works long hours many days in a row, and there are multiple activities happening at the same time. To maximize your observation opportunities, we suggest:

  • Stay in close contact with elections office management to get a sense of when the election workers intend to begin an activity you are interested in and when they estimate it will end. The dates and times might not be exact but being proactive will help you plan.
  • A team of observers may take turns in shifts. If this is your plan, we request that you schedule a group orientation on the activity you are interested in observing. This ensures a uniform understanding of our work and allows the elections staff to lead observers directly to the work area on subsequent visits.
  • Familiarize yourself with the Yolo County Election Observer Procedures ahead of time. You will be asked to read the procedures and sign the Election Observer Acknowledgment agreeing to abide by those rules and procedures.
  • Remember you will be asked to sign in and out whenever your visit.


  • Bring your own notebook and pen/pencil. 
  • Wear comfortable shoes, you will be standing for long periods of time. Some observation areas are conducive to chairs and seating - others are not.
  • Bring binoculars or opera glasses. Even in a standard workroom, they can help in getting a closer view.
  • If staff can hear you breathe, please back up; you are too close.
  • If you can hear staff breathe, please back up; you are too close.
  • Please refrain from wearing strong perfume or aftershave while observing.
  • You may not eat or drink while observing; however, you may wish to bring snacks, food, or drinks for breaks outside the office.
  • Public restrooms are available in the County Administration Building on the first floor at 625 Court Street in Woodland. Other locations may not have public restrooms.
  • The County Administration Building is climate-controlled; however, it is advised to wear layers to adapt to changing room temperatures.

Rights and Responsibilities

Election observers should be aware that in general, the law provides elections officials with some discretion in terms of how various observation laws are applied. Furthermore,
how a law is applied will vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction for reasons including, but not limited to:

  • The size and configuration of the elections office
  • The staffing levels that the county elections official is able to afford.
  •  The number of observers who are requesting access to a particular process. 

Observers have the right to:

  • Observe pre-Election Day activities, as permitted by law, such as voting equipment preparation, testing, and vote-by-mail ballot processing
  • Observe the proceedings at vote centers, including the opening and closing procedures
  • Obtain information from the voter list that is posted or otherwise available at voting locations
  • Take notes and watch election procedures
  • View election-related activities at the central counting site on Election Day.
  • View the canvass of the vote activities following the election
  • View vote-by-mail and conditional/provisional ballot processing
  • Ask questions of election workers as long as they do not interfere with the conduct of any part of the voting process
  • Ask questions of supervisors at the central counting site as long as they do not interfere with the conduct of the election procedures.
  • Use an electronic device, including a smartphone, tablet, or other handheld devices, at a polling place provided that the use of the device does not result in a
    violation of any other provision of the Elections Code, including disturbing or disrupting voting

Election officials have the right to:

  • Use discretion in determining a sufficiently close distance for observers to stand from the process they want to observe
  • Require observers to be quiet inside the observation area
  • Use discretion to determine how (e.g., written or verbal) and to whom observers may pose questions and challenges during the observation process
  • Ask an observer who does not follow observation rules to leave the premises
  • Restrict the number of observers permitted in a room to prevent interference with the observed process
  • Restrict the items observers may bring with them into the polling place or central counting site, such as cell phones, large bags, backpacks, etc.

Observers are responsible for:

  • Check-in at each site, whether voting location or central counting site. At a Vote Center, introducing yourself helps voters and election workers interpret your presence as a part of the process, not hostile nor intimidating
  • Wear an identification badge. This is required when entering the elections office work areas; you will receive an "Observer" badge upon check-in. Wearing an identification badge or nametag is preferred when observing Vote Centers; the Vote Centers can provide a name tag when you sign in.
  • Maintain a professional demeanor while observing the election process. Be courteous and respectful to election workers and election officials.
  • Be mindful of what's going around you so that you do not interfere with the elections process. Many activities can occur at one time. Sometimes an observer must decide what he or she will focus on. The paths of travel of materials and election workers must remain clear regardless of the activity the observer is focused on. 
  • Follow established county observation rules/policies
  • Follow direction from the election official who makes the determination if the observer's actions are interfering with the election process.
  • Speak to designated election workers and election officials only when it is convenient and does not interfere with the conduct of the election

Election Officials are Responsible for:

  • Maintaining the integrity of the administration of the election
  • Determining observer misconduct or interference
  • Establishing security rules for public observation. Examples of such rules are:
    • the use of sign-in sheets and identification badges
    • prohibiting the use of cell phones, pagers, cameras, and other audio or video equipment or electronic devices
  • Providing notice to the public of the dates, times, and places of election-related activities that may be observed by the public, as required by law. For example,
    elections officials are required to:
    • provide 48 hours notice for vote-by-mail (VBM) ballot processing
    • five days’ notice of the post-election one percent manual tally

Prohibited Activities

  • Interfere, in the judgment of the elections official, with the conduct of the election
  • Physically handle any voting materials or equipment without the express permission of the election official
  • Sit at the official worktables or view confidential voter information on any work terminal or document
  • Communicate with voters (within 100 feet of the entrance to a voting location) regarding the casting of a vote or speak to a voter regarding their qualifications to vote (Electioneering)
  • Display any election material or wear campaign badges, buttons, or apparel (Electioneering)
  • Wear the uniform of a peace officer, a private guard, or security personnel unless required as a part of the voting location facility operations
  • Disruptive use of cellular phones, pagers, or two-way radios inside the voting location and/or within 100 feet of the entrance to the voting location
  • Use the voting location's or central count location's telephones, computers, or other facilities at the voting locations or the central counting site
  • Talk to or attempt to stop any election worker while they are assisting voters
  • Talk to or attempt to stop the central counting site workers while they are processing ballots
  • Eat or drink in the voting locations or the central counting site
  • Assist in operations at any voting location or the central counting site
  • Prevent other observers from observing materials or a process
  • Enter secure areas without the express permission of the election official
  • Make physical contact with election personnel
  • Disrupt the workplace or anywhere voting is taking place including, but not limited to, intimidation, pushing, shouting/loud vocalizations, cursing, or throwing objects


Violation of "Electioneering" laws can lead to fines and/or imprisonment.

By definition, electioneering is prohibited within the immediate vicinity of a person in line to cast their ballot or within 100 feet of the entrance to a polling place, vote center, curbside voting area, or a ballot drop box. County election workers have tape measures to identify the 100-foot mark. Electioneering definition and prohibitions are further set forth in Article 7 of Chapter 4 of Division 18 of the California Elections Code. Below is a brief summary:

  • Do not ask a person to vote for or against any candidate or ballot measure.
  • Do not display a candidate's name, image, or logo.
  • Do not block access to or loiter near any ballot drop boxes.
  • Do not provide any material or audible information for or against any candidate or ballot measure near any polling place, vote center, or ballot drop box.
  • Do not circulate any petitions, including for initiatives, referenda, recall, or candidate nominations.
  • Do not distribute, display, or wear any clothing (hats, shirts, signs, buttons, stickers, or other paraphernalia) that include a candidate's name, image, logo, and/or support or oppose any candidate or ballot measure.
  • Do not display information or speak to a voter about the voter's eligibility to vote.

Intimidation of Voters, Election Interference, and Corruption of the Voting Process

Violation of and conspiracy to violate Voter Intimidation and Corruption of the Voting Process laws can lead to fines and/or imprisonment. Article 3 of Chapter 6 of Division 18 of the California Elections Code (Corruption of the Voting Process) includes  Corruption of Voters, Intimidation of Voter, and Corruption of Voting.

  • Do not commit or attempt to commit election fraud.
  • Do not provide any sort of compensation or bribery to, in any fashion or by any means induce or attempt to induce, a person to vote or refrain from voting.
  • Do not illegally vote.
  • Do not attempt to vote or aide another to vote when not entitled to vote.
  • Do not engage in electioneering; photograph or record a voter entering or exiting a polling place; or obstruct ingress, egress, or parking.
  • Do not challenge a person’s right to vote or prevent voters from voting; delay the process of voting; or fraudulently advise any person that he or she is not eligible to vote or is not registered to vote.
  • Do not attempt to ascertain how a voter voted their ballot.
  • Do not possess or arrange for someone to possess a firearm in the immediate vicinity of a polling place, with some exceptions.
  • Do not appear or arrange for someone to appear in the uniform of a peace officer, guard, or security personnel in the immediate vicinity of a polling place, with some exceptions.
  • Do not tamper or interfere with any component of a voting system.
  • Do not forge, counterfeit, or tamper with the returns of an election.
  • Do not alter the returns of an election.
  • Do not tamper with, destroy, or alter any polling list, official ballot, or ballot container.
  • Do not display any unofficial ballot collection container that may deceive a voter into believing it is an official collection box.
  • Do not tamper or interfere with the copy of the results of votes cast.
  • Do not coerce or deceive a person who cannot read or an elder into voting for or against a candidate or measure contrary to their intent.
  • Do not act as an election officer when you are not one.

EMPLOYERS cannot require or ask their employees to bring their vote by mail ballot to work or ask their employees to vote their ballot at work. At the time of payment of salary or wages, employers cannot enclose materials that attempt to influence the political opinions or actions of their employees.

PRECINCT BOARD MEMBERS cannot attempt to determine how a voter voted their ballot or, if that information is discovered, disclose how a voter voted their ballot.

More information about law enforcement responses to election interference