Poll Watchers

All About Poll Watchers: Rights & Responsibilities

A poll watcher is a representative of a candidate, political party, civic organization or proposition who is legally in the polling place to observe the conduct of the election.

To be a poll watcher in Chicago, the poll watcher must be registered to vote in Illinois. 

A poll watcher must surrender a signed credential to the judges of election upon entering a polling place. After a credential has been surrendered to the judges in a precinct, a poll watcher may leave that precinct and return, without presenting an additional credential. However, if a poll watcher monitors multiple precincts, the poll watcher must present a credential at each of those precincts where the poll watcher plans to monitor.

Precinct Captains, "checkers" (workers who check the poll list to determine who has voted), "watchers" (poll watchers) and candidates must have a credential in order to remain in the polling place.


Numbers of poll watchers per precinct

In a Primary Election, poll watchers permitted in each precinct, at a given time, are:

  • Two (2) poll watchers per candidate.
  • One (1) poll watcher per political party.
  • One (1) poll watcher per qualified civic organization
  • One (1) poll watcher for proponents and opponents to a proposition.

In a General Election, poll watchers permitted in each precinct, at a given time, are:

  • Two (2) poll watchers per candidate.
  • Two (2) poll watchers per political party.
  • One (1) poll watcher per qualified civic organization
  • One (1) poll watcher for proponents and opponents to a proposition.


If, in the opinion of the judges, the polling place becomes too crowded to conduct an orderly election, the judges may limit the number of poll watchers in an objective and reasonable manner.

  1. Poll watchers may observe the conduct of the election in the precinct polling place, which includes the right to:
    1. Hear and see instructions given to each voter on the demonstration unit.
    2. Compare signatures in the poll book with the signatures on the ballot application.
    3. Observe the judge make the proper marking in the poll book to indicate the voter has voted.
    4. Challenge of any voter if the poll watcher believes the voter is not qualified to vote in that precinct.
      1. Note: This challenge must be directed only to election judges (never to the voters). The judges determine whether the challenge is valid.
    5. Observe the judge initial the ballot.
    6. Observe voters deposit their ballots into the scanner.
    7. Obtain a tape of the results after the results are transmitted. At least four (4) "totals" tapes must be made available for poll watchers.
  2. Call Election Central at 312-269-7870 if the poll watcher believes the judges are not carrying out their duties properly.


A poll watcher may not:

  1. Remain in the polling place without surrendering a credential to the judges.
  2. Instruct voters inside the polling place or within 100 feet of the door to the room serving as the polling place.
  3. Electioneer inside the polling place.
  4. Examine spindled applications for ballot, the poll book or other official election materials.
  5. Observe a voter receiving lawful assistance at a voting unit.
  6. Touch or handle any election materials.
  7. Be disorderly or disruptive of the voting process.
  8. Continue protesting to the judges after the judges have ruled on a challenge.
  9. Film, photograph or otherwise record inside the polling place.


Poll watchers at the Cook County Department of Corrections

Any person or candidate wishing to be a poll watcher at the Cook County Department of Corrections (CCDOC) must obtain security clearance and pre-approval from the CCDOC as a condition to be in the jail as a poll watcher. Learn more here.


Poll watchers at Nursing Home Voting

Voting in nursing homes is scheduled by the Board on the Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday prior to the election.

Poll watchers during nursing home voting must meet the same requirements as poll watchers on Election Day, but also must obtain a specially designated "Nursing Home" credential. The number of poll watchers at a given time is the same as in the precinct polling place on Election Day.

Once a poll watcher has surrendered a valid credential to the election judges, the poll watcher may leave and reenter the nursing home during voting unless the action disrupts the conduct of voting.

A poll watcher is allowed to be present in the nursing home during the conduct of voting and until its completion. A poll watcher may accompany the judges into the voting area, but may not observe the ballot being marked or the ballot after marking nor may they listen to a voter direct the marking of the ballot.

When non-ambulatory voting (room-to-room) is occurring, the poll watcher must remain outside the door of the room. The door must remain open to ensure the integrity of the election.

If the number of poll watchers crowds the voting area and interferes with the conduct of the voting, the judges may reduce the poll watchers to a reasonable number by drawing lots.


How to file a complaint with the Board of Election Commissioners

All persons, including voters, poll watchers and judges of election, have the right to file complaints with the Board of Election Commissioners.

A complaint may be filed over the telephone, in writing or in person.

On Election Day, all complaints will be directed to the Board's Election Central at 312-269-7870.

At other times, the Board's Investigation Department will receive all complaints at any time when the Board's offices are open to the public. The person filing a complaint may discuss the complaint with the Legal and/or the Investigation Departments of the Board and to receive a written response regarding the outcome of the complaint -- if a mailing address is provided at the time the complaint is filed.