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Roger Stone’s Plan to ‘Watch’ Polling Places, Explained

Once or twice a week, we'll be posting Q&As with experts answering voting questions and concerns.

First up: The Guardian has reported that a supporter of Republican Presidential Candidate Donald Trump is planning to conduct his own exit polling on Election Day, in hopes that he and a team of volunteers might be able to catch “rigged” results.

The effort is led by Roger Stone, one of Trump’s loopiest supporters. He has identified 600 precincts in nine blue cities (all with heavy minority populations): Cleveland, Detroit, Philadelphia, Las Vegas, Milwaukee, Fort Lauderdale, Charlotte, Richmond and Fayetteville. All, coincidentally, are in swing states. Stone told the Guardian the exit polling will be done by 1,300 volunteers from the independent Citizens for Trump. The former Nixon advisor said his methodology was “designed by professionals,” though Stone didn't tell The Guardian who those professionals were.

The experts we spoke with said that the "exit polling" doesn't sound at all like exit polling

Michael Li (@mcpli, senior counsel at the Brennan Center, points out that it "doesn't really sound like exit polling in the traditional sense," and if "done wrong it could create an intimidating environment in minority communities."

And it won't catch voter impersonation

"If this is about 'rigging,' their theory of how that would get done seems to have changed — more pollworker fraud than voter fraud," said Li.

Exit polls, after all, are meant to measure how voters voted in different locations. If Stone's theory is that exit polls may not match the results of any given precinct, then the fraud he's tracking isn't ineligible voters (who, after all, could participate in the "exit polls"), but instead fraud that takes the form of poll workers stuffing ballot boxes or throwing out votes.

There are other, better ways citizens can participate in the process

Katy Owens Hubler (@katyowenshubler) runs Democracy Research, LLC and is an expert in election administration. She points out that people who are concerned about the validity of the election do not need to resort to participating in unsound exit polling schemes to monitor the vote. "There are plenty of opportunities for concerned citizens to see the process first hand," she said. "Become a poll worker and learn about the security measures that are in place. Or become a poll watcher and follow the rules about observing but not interfering with polling place operations."

"Citizens who aren't going through these well-established channels for participating in the election but are showing up at polling places of their own volition have the potential to intimidate and confuse voters, and cause some very real headaches for election administrators," she said.

So what can election administrators do about it?

Not much, said Tammy Patrick (@aztammyp), a fellow at the Bipartisan Policy Center and an Electionland advisor. "As long as they're outside the prescribed electioneering limit given by state law," she said. "I don't know what would prevent it."

Follow today's experts on Twitter for more. Got responses? Tweet at @Electionland and let us know.

About Electionland

ProPublica’s Electionland project covers problems that prevent eligible voters from casting their ballots during the 2020 elections. Our coalition of newsrooms around the country are investigating issues related to voter registration, pandemic-related changes to voting, the shift to vote-by-mail, cybersecurity, voter education, misinformation, and more.

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