Strong Enforcement Of Voter Protections Needed In Texas To Stop “Bullies At The Ballot Box”

Release Date: 
September 10, 2012

As the elections approach, strong enforcement of voter protections is needed to prevent attempts to block Texas voters from casting their ballot, according to a report released today by voting rights groups Demos and Common Cause. The study, “Bullies at the Ballot Box: Protecting the Freedom to Vote from Wrongful Challenges and Intimidation” focuses on voter protection laws in Texas and nine other states where elections are expected to be close, or where large challenger operations are expected or have taken place during recent elections. 

The study concludes that Texas generally has mixed laws on the books when it comes to voter protection, and that there is plenty of work yet to be done to protect voters from voter intimidation and attempts to kick registered voters off the rolls. 

True the Vote and other Tea Party-affiliated groups are reportedly recruiting 1 million volunteers to object to the qualifications of voters in targeted communities on and before Election Day, according to the study. These volunteers are being rallied to block, in their own words, the “illegal alien vote” and “the food stamp army.” Their stated goal is to make the experience of voting “like driving and seeing the police behind you.”

“We call on elections officials and law enforcement at the state and federal level to stand ready to enforce the law and aggressively protect every eligible American’s right to vote this November,” said Liz Kennedy, report co-author and Counsel at Demos. “Wrongful challenges and intimidating tactics should never stand between Americans and their right to have their voices heard on the issues that affect their lives. There should be zero tolerance for bullying at the ballot box.”

“Voting must be free, fair and accessible to all, and voters should know their rights,” said Common Cause President Bob Edgar. “It is important to maintain the integrity of our election system, but candidates, parties and political activists should be focused on persuading and turning out voters, not bullying them or trying to manipulate the law to freeze them out of our democracy.”

Texas is exemplary in banning voter challenges on Election Day. Texas offers mixed protections for voters from wrongful challenges to their right to vote before Election Day. The state has some excellent and some questionable legal protections for voters from intimidation by partisan poll watchers on Election Day inside and outside the polls:

  • For challenges to voter eligibility before Election Day, Texas requires a sworn statement based on personal knowledge.
  • Texas is exemplary because it bans challenges to a voter’s eligibility on Election Day.  
  • Texas prohibits poll watchers from communicating with voters, and a judge can limit disruptive activity. However, the provision that allows a poll watcher to examine the ballot of a voter who has received assistance is very problematic and violates voter privacy. 
  • Texas prohibits loitering within 100 feet of a polling place, and prohibits persons not engaged in election code activities to be in the polling place. 

The ten states reviewed in “Bullies at the Ballot Box” are Colorado, Florida, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas and Virginia.  In addition to assessing the current state laws, the report provides recommendations to protect citizens from these large-scale, well-organized efforts to intimidate or block them from voting. 

“It is important that all participants understand the rules and respect the right of all eligible Americans to vote free of intimidation or obstruction. We want to minimize the risk of positive civic engagement moving into disrupting the orderly conduct of elections,” said Liz Kennedy. “Unwarranted challenges to voters’ eligibility can lead to problems at the polls for everyone seeking to cast a ballot by depleting resources, distracting officials, and leading to longer lines. They threaten the fair administration of elections and the fundamental freedom to vote.”

“Voting is one of our most fundamental rights,” said Common Cause President Bob Edgar. “No eligible voter should be blocked from casting a ballot, and the entire voting rights community is mobilized to protect voters’ rights.” Coalition partners “are prepared to empower voters at the polls and to ensure all Americans have an equal chance to have their voices heard,” Edgar said.