Parties clash over accusations of bias at Travis County polling centers

Nolan Hicks

With polls opening on Election Day at 7 a.m., Democrats and Republicans have spent the past several days dueling over allegations of voter intimidation in heavily minority precincts in Harris and Travis counties.

The Travis County Republican Party charged that Travis County sent out an urgent call for staffers last weekend because of a shortage because they hadn’t contacted potential Republican poll-workers. Travis County Democrats retaliated, charging that Travis County Republicans had dispatched poll workers to predominately minority precincts to intimidate.

“The Travis County Republican Party held a training [session] where they told people to go to precincts that are in East and Southeast Travis County,” said Andy Brown, chairman of the Travis County Democratic Party. “We are asking them why they are only sending people to the high-minority precincts. It appears they’re only targeting those precincts.”

Brown said that during the Republican training, one of the GOP volunteers asked jokingly if he could wear camouflage and bring a baseball bat to the poll he was watching. Travis County Republican Party chairwoman Rosemary Edwards told the volunteer that he could not bring those items.

“If that is the mentality of the volunteers that are going to be watching the poll, they should pull the program down,” Brown said.

The Travis County Republican Party is sending poll watchers to minority-dominated precincts in Travis County because of voting irregularities during the past few elections, said David Nalle, spokesman for the party. He said many of the complaints were because non-English speakers had trouble casting ballots.

“It’s not widespread,” Nalle said. “Travis County doesn’t have a lot of problems. Our elections are pretty well-run.”

In Harris County, Democrats charge that Republicans are using predominately white poll watchers trained by King Street Patriots, a tea party group, to intimidate minority voters in heavily Democratic precincts.

“The Department of Justice has been called in, and they will be monitoring polling locations on Election Day,” said Anthony Gutierrez, deputy executive director of the Texas Democratic Party. “All of the people who are familiar with this would testify that this is far beyond anything we’ve ever seen before.”

Gutierrez said the poll workers trained by the King Street Patriots had been overstepping their bounds, talking to voters and peering over voters’ shoulders as they cast votes.
Republicans counter that Democratic poll workers have been roughing up King Street Patriot poll watchers.

“There is no factual basis for the complaint. Poll watchers just observe,” said Kelly Shackelford, president and CEO of the Liberty Institute, which provides legal representation for the Patriots.