Voter intimidation complaints get closer look

The prevalence of poll watchers in predominantly minority voting areas drew dozens of complaints
October 19, 2010 5:34:43 PM PDT
Thousands of people have already cast their ballots during early voting, and some voters have filed complaints about what happened to them while they were at the polls. Some say they felt intimidated. Armed with two forms of identification, Willie Jones fully expected to vote early, but when he got to the Acres Homes polling location Tuesday morning, he was told no.

"I just got a voter registration card and I brought all my ID and everything, so why was it canceled?" Jones asked. "I got two forms of ID and everything, so I still don't understand why I was denied."

Jones' case was witnessed by no fewer than three poll watchers, including one man who hovered over an election worker, taking notes.

Situations like this are exactly the reason why the Harris County Attorney's Office brought in the District Attorney's Office, as well as chairs of both the Democratic and Republican Party for a meeting.

Terry O'Rourke with the Harris County Attorney's Office said, "We are reviewing the allegations that people have made because the allegations are serious."

First Assistant District Attorney Jim Leitner said, "All we're doing is actively investigating that the process goes fairly and smoothly."

The county attorney says it has received numerous complaints about overzealous poll watchers at several heavily minority early voting locations, including at Kashmere Gardens, where a poll watcher told Eyewitness News he was recruited by True the Vote, an organization that proclaims rooting out voter fraud is its main goal.

We asked him, "Have you have you talked to anybody with the Republican Party?"

"No," Brent Chipley said.

"Any candidate who was running for office?" we asked.

"No."

"Just True the Vote?"

"Yes," Chipley responded.

Chipley admitted he has no idea which candidate he's even watching the polls for.

We asked, "Who did you register as representing?"

He said, "Uh, I don't remember."

The actions of True the Vote, a group whose aim is to root out alleged voter fraud, has led to dozens of voter intimidation complaints since early voting began. One former city council member says she's never seen so many poll watchers in minority voting locations.

" I think it's just coming from that particular party, trying to intimidate the voters and stop us from wanting to come and vote and participate in the voting system," said former councilmember Carol Galloway.

But Jones isn't going to let any of the controversy deter him, promising to try again to vote tomorrow.

He said, "A lot of people died to vote, and people take that really seriously."

No problems were reported Tuesday, but late in the afternoon Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan issued a memorandum to all election judges in Harris County reminding them of the importance of protecting the rights of both the voters and the poll watchers.


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