In the last week Democratic Party operatives have launched a campaign to silence and intimidate poll watchers in Houston and Austin prior to the general election on Tuesday. This raises the question of why the Democratic Party and its allies don’t want observers in the polls looking out for the rights of voters.
In Houston local Democrats have targeted a non-partisan group called the King Street Patriots and accused them of voter intimidation because they have sent poll watchers to early voting locations. In fact, poll watchers maintain that they have been physically attacked and intimidated by Democrat activists at the polling locations. They have written the Department of Justice requesting an investigation into harassment of poll watchers in Houston.
Democrat Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee has jumped on the band wagon and is also demanding that the Department of Justice send observers to the polls. Meanwhile the New Black Panther Party plans to deploy their own poll watchers in Houston on Tuesday, a clear threat to those watching the polls given their past history of violence and intimidating voters.
In Austin the local Democratic Party Chairman Andy Brown held a press conference on Friday with representatives of the Texas Civil Rights Project and the NAACP to accuse the local Republican Party of training poll watchers to intimidate voters in minority precincts. They had sent two undercover Democrats to a Republican Party poll watcher training session, and when they couldn’t find any actual malfeasance, they reported that Republicans were “targetting” minority precincts, implying that their intent was to intimidate voters. In fact the poll watcher training followed Texas Election Code guidelines and according to local party Chairman Rosemary Edwards the intent was to make sure that “everyone in the polls has a safe, well executed, and legal voting experience.”
Of course, with the limited number of people available to work the polls, what they were actually doing was directing those limited resources towards the areas where social pressure and language issues made abuses most likely, and specifically precincts where in 2008 there were confirmed reports of election judges telling voters who to pick on their ballot.
I’ve been an election judge in the Austin area and I’ve seen voter intimidation and other abuses first hand. I’ve seen young African American voters wait until their friends have left the polling place before they are willing to come up to a clerk and whisper that they want to vote in the Republican primary because they don’t want their friends to know the choice they’ve made. I’ve seen elderly voters told how to vote by volunteers who brought them to the polls. I’ve heard first hand reports of partisan judges telling voters who to vote for in Spanish when they thought no one could understand them. This kind of thing does go on, but it is almost always Democrats trying to manipulate and intimidate minority voters over whom they feel they have a proprietary claim. With this sort of history it makes perfect sense to send poll watchers to the places where that is most likely to happen.
Democrats seem determined to heighten the level of tension at the polls and make it more difficult to carry on a free and open election. Harris County Republican Party Chairman got to the key point when he asked “Democrats don’t want to be watched. My question is, ‘what are you hiding?’” In a press release the Travis Colunty Republican Party stated that “Clearly (Democrats) believe that if they can bully poll watchers into silence they can get away with whatever they want at the polls.”
Open elections with bipartisan and nonpartisan observers benefit everyone and keep the process honest. Why are Democrats trying so hard to reduce transparency and silence those raising questions?