A key factor in our democratic process is the voters confidence that our election system will produce an honest, fair, and fully transparent election,  regardless of candidates, issues, or electorate.  Every vote will count, and every vote will be protected.

A little known and under utilized tool that can boost the confidence and transparency in the election process is the ability to allow an every day citizen to act as “Official Observers” of the election process. (Reference ORC 3505.21)

Election ObserverAn Observer is there to do one thing, and one thing only, “Observe”.  They are not to interfere, judge, give opinion, etc.  If they see something questionable, they need to communicate to the Precinct Supervisor or Judge, or directly with Board of Elections or the Secretary of State..  They may not intervene in disputes or decisions.

There are two documents that provide significant detail to the subject of “Observers”

CLICK HERE for the Ohio Secretary of State manual on Observers.  This is very brief and covers just about everything Observers.

CLICK HERE for the Ohio Secretary of State “Directive 2008-29”

There are three ways an Observer can be appointed, and the Observer can be assigned to any or all aspects of the election; early voting centers, precinct on election day,  vote count location, vote re-count, etc..  The Observer(s) and location(s) must be defined when the initial “Notification” is provided to the Board of Elections.

These are the three ways an Observer can be appointed:

1) Appointed and Certified by a Party. i.e. County Party Chairperson assigns Observer to locations. This is the most common way.

2) Appointed and Certified by 5 candidates.  This is the very unusual and very rare. When doing research for this article,  many BOE’s had no idea this existed.

3) Appointed by an Ballot initiative committee.

The process is similar for all three, each has their own special forms that are required but other than that, the process is similar.  I want to address the “5 candidate” method, as this is the rare one, but most likely the one that will be used by voters who are not associated with a party.


There are two forms, Form 216 and Form 217. that must be completed and signed by 5 candidates whop appear on the ballot

Observer_217Form 216 –  is the “Notification” form.  This is to notify the Board of Elections that 5 candidates have certified a person to be their Observer.  The Observer(s) names are provided, the location(s)s for Observation is provided.  The 5 candidates must be on the ballot at the specific location where the Observer is certified to be at.  This “Notification” MUST be submitted to the Board of Elections where the “Observing” will take place, no later than 11 days before the election.

ObserverMcAvoyForm 217 – is the “Certification” form.  Each Observer should have one form for each location they will be observing at.   This form must be signed by the same five candidates who signed the notification.  On election day,  the observer will provide the  “Certification” to the Precinct Supervisor.  The Observer will be sworn in and take and Oath. Make sure you have many copies of this form as every place you visit will require a copy.

IMPORTANT NOTE  for  Observer Location:

1) On your Form 216, you must specify what “locations” the Observer will visit. The Observer is restrict to observe at those locations only. HOWEVER – If the location specified is the “Board of Elections”  you are authorized to visit any precinct or tabulating center on the day specified. Make sure the dates you specify are the day of elections. ORC 3505.21 (C) para #2

2) You can name as many observers as you wish – However,  only one observer from your specific appointment may act as on Observer at any location at any time.  i.e. if you listed 10 observers,  only one of those may be at any precinct or main office at any time.


Show up early, bring donuts and coffee, introduce yourself and present your Certification form. You will be sworn in by the Poll official and will be asked to sign their log.

Your presence may cause some uncomfortableness with workers.  Introduce yourself to everyone,  I like to say  “I’m not allowed to touch any of the election stuff, but is there anything else I can do to help you” This should NOT be an adversarial relationship, but your presence could cause some uncomfortableness with workers.. Do your best to put everyone at ease. You are not allowed to help, you are not allowed to touch any voting equipment.

Most locations don’t allow food or drink in the area. Some will ask you not take photos or use text / cell phone in voting area. Ask about any rules that you need  to know about.

Dress for Success,  wear your Sunday best. No elections or campaign stuff, no pins or stickers.  I wear a nice tie and jacket, comfortable shoes,  I also carry a clipboard with a notepad to make notes.  Do not take any photos inside unless you have permission from the Poll official

If you observe anything questionable,  make a note and contact the Supervisor.  Be friendly. don’t do anything that could potentially interfere with the election process.

I like to stay the whole day,  maybe grab a sandwich when things are slow.  This wlil be a long day, so be prepared.  Extra Cell batteries, food / drink in the car. etc.

They are supposed to keep all machines up and running till closing. However, toward the end of the day, depending on precinct size and volume of voters,  they sometimes like to start taking machines apart 15 or so minutes before closing. If its dead, you may want to tell the Supervisors something like. “If your comfortable that you won’t need them and you folks normally start taking machines apart, I have no problems with this”


Similar as above, but assigned by Party Chairperson

Form 214 – Notification of Observers

Form 215 – Certification of Observers


This is for something like when SB5 or the Healthcare Freedom Amendment was on the Ballot – The Ballot Committee could also assign Observers OR can assign a committee to assign observers.

Form 218 – Committee to assign Observers

Form 219 – Notification of Observers

Form 220 – Certification of Observers