Precinct and county election officials dealing with citizens not authorized to serve as poll watchers may try to restrict access to your media poll watchers. To avoid this, I recommend you act prior to Election Day.
I would urge editors to reach out to county clerks so that everyone is on the right page concerning the right of your reporters and photographers to serve as poll watchers. If you intend to use freelancers or other non-employees to serve as poll watchers be sure to follow the procedures set out in I.C. 3-6-10 for “watchers for the Media.”
I.C. 3-6-10 sets out the media’s right to observe the election process. A media watcher may enter the polls before they open, inspect ballot boxes, ballot card voting systems or electronic voting systems before votes have been cast, inspect the work being done by a precinct election officer, witness the calling and recording of votes and other proceedings by precinct election officers and receive a summary of the vote prepared by the precinct election board, accompany the inspector and judge in delivering the tabulation to the county election board; and be present when the inspector takes a tabulation receipt from the county election board.
I.C. 3-6-10-5 does limit media photographers from taking a picture of a voter in the polls if the voter objects to the precinct election board or taking a picture that would show for what ticket, candidates, or public question the voter has voted.
For non-employees you want to serve as watchers for your newspaper, you need to put together a written list of those you are appointing. You can appoint one watcher for each precinct. Your list needs to be signed by you or your publisher and presented to the following on Monday prior Election Day to the Circuit Court Clerk, County Election Board and the county chairmen of the political parties and chairmen of any independent candidates’ committee if they qualify to appoint watchers under IC 3-6-8.
This list isn’t required if your watchers are all employees of the newspaper, but I recommend they have credentials identifying them as newspaper employees in case their presence at the polls are challenged. Even if the list isn’t required with your employees, I’d recommend you at least reach out to the county clerk and/or election board and let them know of your intent to cover the polls, so they’ll be prepared to answer properly if a precinct official calls in on Election Day questioning whether your reporter can be in the polling area.
The freedom allotted to media watchers is intended to give the public assurance that the election held is fair and that voters’ rights are not infringed. The only restriction imposed concerning photographs is to ensure the privacy of the voting booth and sanctity of the actual vote.
I’ve attached a copy of the relevant code in case you need to refer to it on Election Day or in your conversation prior to Election Day with public officials. Here’s my cell phone number if you have a question: (317) 509-1507.