County Hopes Tape Will Quiet Poll Watcher Controversy

Today is your last chance to vote early before the election. Harris County officials say they have seen near record numbers of early voters, but with some controversy — mostly concerning poll watchers. Bill Stamps reports.

“Poll watchers are an important check and balance in the election process. They are protected by the law. They have a right to be there. They are there to observe the actions of election officials.”

That’s Harris County Clerk Beverly Kaufman. She and Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan say they’ve received a number of complaints about the behavior of poll watchers. Almost all of the complaints have come from predominately minority polling locations. Some of the voters say they were intimidated as they tried to vote.

This is County Attorney Vince Ryan.

“One person’s intimidation is another person’s normal. And that’s part of the issue.”

So what type of intimidating behaviors are some of the poll watchers accused of doing?

“Poll watchers actually leaning over, hovering is the word that’s been used. We’ve had allegations that there’s been visual signs given to voters as they’ve come in by poll watchers.”

Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee has sent a letter to the U.S Justice Department asking them to look into the allegations. But Ryan says he and his staffers are already investigating the matters and have found not criminal wrongdoing. But they say whether or not someone stood too close or not on any occasion is hard to say.

“Part of the issue is the poll watchers are not of the same race for instance, so to some people that can be intimidating. They’ve been to that early voting site before and they’ve not seen someone looking like me there standing as a poll watcher or standing outside working for a candidate.”

To avoid any problems on Election Day, the county has come up with a real high tech solution. They’re asking the head of each polling location to put colored tape on the ground to clearly mark where a poll watcher can and cannot stand.