Earlier this week, the Harris County (Texas) Democratic Party forwarded 14 complaints about poll watchers during early voting in the county, including allegations of voter intimidation, to the Harris County Clerk. But the County Clerk’s office, run by a Republican, says they looked into the allegations and found nothing wrong.
“We investigated it, we talked to everybody there at the different locations, and they basically said it didn’t happen,” said Hector DeLeon, a spokesman for the County Clerk.
He said the office takes each allegation seriously. But their investigations consisted solely of calling up the polling locations where the incidents allegedly occurred to ask poll workers if there was anything wrong.
“A call is placed to the location, and we talked to folks who were working at the location, and in Texas, the presiding judge actually represents one party and the alternate judge represents the other party, so both of those folks — both sides in general — were spoken to, and what they reported is that what was being alleged did not occur,” DeLeon told TPMMuckraker.
The 14 complaints were “all reported by one party,” DeLeon said. “Part of what happened the first day is that there was an uncomfort [sic] level with the poll watchers being there.”
As TPMMuckraker has reported, Harris County is where the Tea Party group King Street Patriots started a non-profit movement called “True the Vote” which is dedicated to combating what they claim is widespread voter fraud. Though the Justice Department is gathering information on allegations of intimidation in the county, True the Vote has denied that their program is about intimidation. “True the Vote has never, and will never, condone or promote voter intimidation at a polling place,” they said.
Despite those statements, there was a lot of suspicion circulating about the mostly white poll workers in heavily minority neighborhoods, and there were allegations that some of the poll watchers believed to have been trained by True the Vote crossed the line. But whether there were just a few individuals who allegedly went astray or if there is a coordinated campaign of intimidation depends upon who you ask.
“In all the years that I’ve voted, almost everybody at the polls was black, and they tend to be older,” Jolanda Jones, a city councilwoman in Houston, told TPMMuckraker. “I just left Sunnyside and there were probably about seven or eight non-black people there.”
Jones said that the poll watchers crossed the line.
“You had a woman standing over people yesterday when I was at Palm Center. They’re taking notes yesterday when I was at Palm Center. They’re standing over people while they were voting,” Jones said. “These people are there and they’re intimidating. It’s definitely different than what we’re accustomed to. We’re not used to people coming there and writing down our every move as if we’re doing something illegal.”
Late Thursday new accusations arose of both poll watchers intimidating voters, and from poll watchers themselves, who believe they were harassed.
The complaints from earlier this week, listed in a document obtained by TPMMuckraker, include 10 allegations of voter intimidation at the Acres Homes, Kashmere Gardens, Moody Park, Tracy Gee, Baytown and Sunnyside polling locations. The list of complaints was compiled by the Texas Democrats based on what they say were actual complaints voters reported to the Democratic Party in Harris County. The document does not include the names of voters who say they were intimidated, and TPMMuckraker was not able to independently verify the legitimacy of the complaints. The unredacted list was turned over to the Harris County Clerk’s office and to the Justice Department.
One voter reported that at Acres Home “poll watchers are intrusive… watching voters cast votes, tracking personal info of voters, violating her personal privacy,” according to the list compiled by the Democrats. At the Kingwood Library, a man allegedly said “you going to vote twice, I’m sick of you people, f… you,” according to the document.
There have been fewer incidents since early voting got underway on Monday, according to Democrats in the area. But they say the incidents haven’t stopped, either.
“We’ve seen a reduction in incidents, but they still remain alarming concern,” Chad Dunn, a lawyer representing the Texas Democratic Party, told TPMMuckraker.
Democrat Anthony Gutierrez, Deputy Executive Director of the Texas Democratic Party, said allegations of voter intimidation have “definitely at least slowed down,” since Monday.
“One thing we try to get people to tell us when they phone in voter intimidation or an incident report of any kind, when it has to do with a poll watcher, is tell us what did the person look like,” Gutierrez told TPMMuckraker.
Another witness, Janie Reyes, told TPMMuckraker that she talked to a Justice Department lawyer about her experience at a Moody Park, a historically Hispanic neighborhood in Houston. She said that poll workers were talking so loudly that the clerk couldn’t hear her say her name, and that she told them they shouldn’t be talking but that a supervisor defended them.
“The Justice Department called me to ask me about it and I did tell them, you know, I know we have poll watchers, but all the poll watchers are in minority precincts. And it tells you something,” Reyes told TPMMuckraker. “And I said, now, I’m not illegal, they can watch, but they’re not supposed to be talking, I know that.”
Harris County Democratic Party Chairman Gerry Birnberg said the allegations of voter intimidation against poll watchers came from very reliable people.
“There’s no question about the fact — and I believe that the folks at the Republican Party acknowledge — that a number of the poll watchers violated the law,” Birnberg told TPMMuckaker. Specifically, he said poll watchers had been following voters into where they were casting their ballots and engaging in confrontational conversation with voters.
“We got the reports of exactly the same problems in the six different locations, and they all describe the same conduct,” Birnberg said. “If it was one or even two voting locations and some aberational conduct by some single poll watcher, you say hey that’s whatever, but when you get that same conduct involving six different places and its the same type of conduct in six different locations, then you have to think there’s credibility to the reports.”
“Does that mean that the motive, the intent, was to intimidate? Not necessarily. Does it mean the effect was? Yeah,” Birnberg told TPMMuckraker. “I suspect that these Tea Party zealots honestly believe in their heart of hearts that there is the potential for fraud in the election process in Harris County.”