Election Observer Guidelines

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The purpose of ​election observation is to allow the public to view all election processes. Public participation helps educate the public and increases voter confidence in the integrity of the electoral process.​

The public may observe the operations at 7000 65th Street, Suite A, Sacramento, CA 95823, at any time processes are running, including Election Day. 

Voter Registration and Elections offers office tours. This is an important step in election observation and gives the public an overview of processes taking place at the elections office. It will also give those interested in observing a better idea of which processes they would like to observe. Appointments for office tours are required. Appointments can be made using our online appointment system​, by emailing voters-campaignservices@saccounty.gov, or calling (916) 875-6451. 

No appointment is required for election observation. 

Procedures for Observers

  1. All observers must report and sign in daily at the front counter located at 7000 65th Street Suite A, Sacramento, CA 95823.

    • It is strongly recommended that observers review this Election Observer Guidelines Handbook (EOGH)​ prior to arrival and sign in. On their first visit during an election cycle, observers will sign an acknowledgment that they have received the guidelines and will abide by them. If they have not been reviewed prior to arrival, the observer will be provided a QR code to review the EOGH online before signing the acknowledgment. ​
  2. An Election Observer Badge will be issued and must be worn and visible at all times.

  3. ​Observers will be escorted to their area of choice and can remain there as long as desired. To be escorted to another observation area, please notify a staff member.

  4. When leaving for the day, the badge must be returned to the front counter where the observer will sign out. 

General Rules

The Registrar of Voters has full discretion to change the rules at any time to ensure the safety and security of all personnel, and to maintain the integrity of the election. 

  1. ​​Observers who fail to follow the EOGH rules will be required to leave the facility for the duration of the election canvass.

  2. This is a neutral office. No discussion of politics, campaigns or candidates is allowed among observers within the facility.​

  3. No observer shall interfere with the orderly processing of Vote by Mail (VBM) ballot return envelopes or processing and counting of VBM ballots, including touching or handling of the ballots or envelopes. Elections Code §15104e

  4. Observers will be permitted access to a designated observation area(s), sufficiently close to enable them to observe and challenge whether individuals handling VBM ballots are following established procedures. Elections Code §15104d

  5. If the challenge process unduly impedes or interferes with the verification process, challenges shall be discontinued.

  6. Radios, cameras, cell phones and recording devices are not allowed without explicit approval from the Registrar of Voters or their designee. Pagers and cellular phones must be set to vibrate or off mode while observing the canvass. You may not use your cell phone in the building EXCEPT in the front lobby should you need to make a call.

    Pictures of a voter’s personal information or any other confidential information is strictly prohibited. 

  7. Backpacks, briefcases and large purses are not allowed.

  8. The individual’s function is to observe that procedures are followed. Observers cannot assist in operations, or touch or handle any ballots or other election-related materials.

  9. All questions concerning a procedure must be directed only to the Supervisor or Manager of the section.

  10. The number of observers may be limited so as not to interfere with the process. Observers must avoid physical contact with employees.

  11. Observers are to hold discussions and conversations outside the designated Canvass work areas. Anyone not adhering to these rules will be asked to leave for the day.

  12. Observers will be allowed into the canvass work areas only when employees are performing canvass operations.

  13. Operations will continue as scheduled whether or not an observer is present.

  14. Observers must remain in the area they were assigned to. If you are found unsupervised in an area that you were not assigned to, you will be escorted from the building.

  15. Inappropriate or aggressive behavior towards staff or other observers will not be tolerated and you will be escorted from the building.

What Can Observers Do

  • Take notes.
  • Watch procedures related to election processes, including election planning and preparation, voting, post-election auditing, etc.

What Observers Cannot Do

  • Interfere with work being performed.
  • View signatures on petitions or come within 6 feet of the staff working on those items.
  • Use electronic devices, take video or photos while observing election processes.
  • Touch any materials or equipment.
  • Sit at a desk or workspace of elections personnel.
  • Display any election material or wear campaign badges, buttons, or apparel.
  • Wear the uniform of a peace officer, private guard, or security personnel.
  • Distract elections personnel from their tasks.​

Helpful Hints for Election Observers

  • Wear comfortable shoes, you will be standing for long periods.  Seating may be limited.

  • Please refrain from wearing strong perfume or aftershave while observing.

  • Our staff is working as diligently as they can. Please respect their personal space.​

Ballot Handling Challenges

  1. ​​​Any member of the county grand jury, and at least one member each of the political party Central Committees or County Councils who have a candidate on the ballot, and any other interested organizations, shall be permitted to observe and challenge the manner in which the VBM ballots are handled, from the processing of VBM ballot return envelopes through the counting and disposition of the ballots. Elections Code §15104b

  2. Observers may not challenge signatures on VBM ballot return envelopes. Only the elections official shall perform signature comparison, in accordance with Division 3 of the California Elections Code.

  3. Observers may challenge whether the individuals handling VBM ballots are following established procedures.​

Canvass​ - Required Certification Procedures, including 1% Manual Tally

  1. Canvass begins the day after the election and continues everyday (excluding weekends and holidays at the election official's discretion) until complete. Per Election Code law, Canvass procedures must be completed within 30 days after the date of the election (28 days for a presidential election).
  2. All canvass procedures are open to the public, and the same election night guidelines are applied to canvass proceedings. The canvass resumes each morning and does not wait for your arrival, nor will it be halted until completed.
  3. Any questions on procedures should be made directly to the Canvass Manager, and not to individual workers. No communication between canvass workers and observers will be allowed regardless of the topic. If you are seen communicating directly with a canvass worker, you will be escorted from the building.
  4. No food or drinks will be allowed in Canvass area around any ballots (water bottles with lids are okay). We kindly ask observers to eat and drink in your car or at a local restaurant in the area. 

​Things to Remember - Elections Code §​ 18562.5

(a) A member of the public is guilty of a misdemeanor if, while observing any of the following, he or she willfully engages in any conduct set forth in subdivision (b):

(1) The processing of vote by mail ballots conducted pursuant to Chapter 2 (commencing with Section 15100) of Division 15.

(2) The semifinal official canvass conducted pursuant to Chapter 3 (commencing with Section 15150) of Division 15.

(3) The official canvass conducted pursuant to Chapter 4 (commencing with Section15300) of Division 15.

(4) A recount conducted pursuant to Chapter 9 (commencing with Section 15600) of Division 15.

(b)(1) Attempting to ascertain the identity and ballot choices of a voter, or having observed or learned the identity of a voter, attempting to ascertain the ballot choices of that voter.

(2) Opening a provisional or vote by mail ballot envelope containing a voted ballot in order to ascertain the voter's ballot choices.

(3) Making or placing a mark or device on a ballot or secrecy envelope in an attempt to ascertain the voter's ballot choices.