Tensions run high at some polling places on Election Day

November 2, 2010 4:36:03 PM PDT
Election Day is running pretty smoothly overall here in Harris County. However, several people are alleging voter intimidation today. We're hearing at least four or five people were stopped and questioned as they attempted to vote at St. Mary's Catholic Church.

"The election judge in charge wants her removed from the premises. If she don't leave, she can go to jail," explained a constable at the time.

Voters say an alternate judge questioned a number of people. Some questioned whether she should have been. One voter tells us after filling out a form verifying her residency, she saw the questioning as too aggressive.

"Her tone of voice. She was trying to do too much to me," said voter Bobbie Burnett.

The same woman allegedly was stopping would-be voters outside the voting location and questioning them as they walked in.

The alternate judge was forced by a deputy constable to leave the property. She did so voluntarily.

Activist Quannel X said he was in line to vote when alternate election judge Carmen Cuneo unlawfully questioned him.

"She stopped me outside me on the sidewalk and began to question me about why I was here, what I was doing and what I needed her help with," Quannel X.

Cuneo said that's not the case. She was assigned by the Republican Party to be an alternate judge at her local precinct. She says a voter complained to her about campaign workers and then the situation escalated.

"I was doing my job. When a voter comes in and complains that somebody is campaigning within 100 feet of the polling location, it's the responsibility of the election workers to make sure that those rules are maintained for all voters," Cuneo said. "I don't believe that Quannel X was passing out material, but there had been people in the lobby that were."

The Harris County Attorney's Office is now investigating what happened. They have been working all day to deal with elections concerns and have received thousands of calls.

There have been few major issues at other polling locations. At one place, some eslates didn't work for an hour and voters had to use paper ballots. At another, two of four poll watchers were asked to step outside because of a lack of room inside.

The county attorney says they are dealing with complaints and concerns as they come in and investigators are being dispatched as necessary.

"Each of the constables has committed to having people immediately respond if that's necessary. I think that's done a lot to keep things calm," said Vince Ryan, Harris County Attorney.

Elections officials estimate 20,000 to 25,000 calls will come into their phone banks before day's end; most were just verifying voter registration, but some registered complaints.

Earlier Tuesday

Voters at a high-volume polling place in Montrose report seeing fewer campaign workers asking for their support for candidates, and virtually no waiting once inside. The county clerk's office says that's consistent with what is happening nationwide.

There were what the office called some "minor hiccups" at a few locations where the e-slate machines were improperly connected by the election workers, something that happens in every election. The issues were resolved in what the county called a short time, but some voters may have been inconvenienced by the delay.

There are 10 extra e-slate machines on standby in case they're needed, that's as many as the county says are needed in an election of this size. There are a minimum of four e-Slate machines per polling place, which exceeds the state requirements. That's because County Clerk Beverly Kaufman was able to buy or borrow enough machines in the wake of the August fire that wiped out all of the county's machines.

Early voting has helped keep election-day turnout low, which is keeping the polls running smoothly. Paper ballots are on hand as a back-up, in case the e-slates break, and while voters are each being asked if they want to use the machines or a paper ballot, the county encourages everyone to go the eSlate route, to make tallying the votes faster at the end of the day. In addition to volunteer poll watchers, the state and the federal government have assigned officials to monitor some polling places to protect the integrity of the election.

Voters are being encouraged to contact the Department of Justice if they witness any infractions or voter intimidation.


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