After an NAACP chapter alleged voter intimidation in a predominately Black community in Texas, a federal judge ordered officials at a polling place in Jefferson County not to harass or intimidate voters. This includes refraining from asking them to read their addresses aloud or standing near them as they fill out their ballots.
The judge, Donald Trump appointee Michael J. Truncale, emphasized that he was not making “a finding of fact.” Still, he did grant a temporary restraining order stopping the reported behavior and instructing the county’s clerk to implement the order by 7 a.m. Tuesday.
White poll workers at the John Paul Davis Community Center, including a GOP-appointed election judge, “repeatedly” asked Black voters in “aggressive tones” to recite their addresses within earshot of other voters, poll watchers and poll workers, “even when the voter was already checked in by a poll worker,” according to the lawsuit. Around 90% of people who vote at the community center are Black, the suit claimed.
By contrast, the election judge at the community center did not ask white voters to recite their addresses, the complaint continued.
The named plaintiff, Jessica Daye, who is Black, “plans to try to vote somewhere else on Election Day because she fears that — among other things — the poll workers at the Community Center will ask her to recite her address out loud in front of everyone,” according to the suit.
The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, which helped bring the suit and operates the 866-OUR-VOTE hotline, said in a press release Tuesday that it had “received multiple complaints about white poll workers at the Beaumont polling place asking Black voters to loudly recite their addresses after already being checked in and verified to vote, in a gross instance of invasion of privacy and voter intimidation.”
White poll workers also allegedly “followed” Black voters and voter assistants around the polling place, including standing “two feet behind a Black voter and the assistant” as the voter was casting their ballot. Poll workers also allegedly helped white voters scan their ballots into voting machines but did not similarly help Black voters.
Jefferson County, the county’s commissioners’ court, the county clerk, and the specific election judge in charge of the community center were named defendants in the lawsuit. Lawyers representing the county didn’t respond to HuffPost’s request for comment Tuesday. However, a court record shows that an emergency hearing Monday night lasted approximately three hours, including recess and time for the court’s ruling.
The complaint noted that before filing the suit, a pastor who is also a member of the NAACP chapter relayed concerns about the center’s election judge, Mary Beth Bowling, to the county clerk, but “no action was taken.” Plaintiffs alleged the actions they described violated the Voting Rights Act, as well as the U.S. Constitution’s 14th and 15th Amendments. Plaintiffs also submitted several affidavits from poll workers, a voter assistant, and the president of the Beaumont Chapter of the NAACP flagging the behavior.
“I have never before gotten so many complaints about how uncomfortable and difficult it has been for my congregants to vote at the Community Center,” wrote affiant Airon Reynolds, Jr., an NAACP member and pastor at the Borden Chapel Missionary Baptist Church, a short drive from the polling place. Reynolds said he went to the polling place and asked Bowling to “adjust” her behavior — saying that “drilling” voters about their addresses was “demeaning” — but she refused.
The voter assistant, Joyce Roper, wrote that Bowling “stood right behind me as I was assisting an elderly Black man” and only moved after being asked twice. Over 10 days of early voting, Roper added, more than 60 Black voters “told me they felt intimidated, uneasy, and uncomfortable voting in the Community Center.”
Reynolds’ own experience was similarly fraught. He wrote: “When I walked into the Community Center, there were two white poll workers standing and looking at me suspiciously. They watched every step I took. When I went to the voting booth, they came closer, walking toward me. They both stood about five feet behind me and watched me like I was getting ready to steal something. After I voted, they stared at me as I put my ballot into the scanning machine and as I walked outside. I saw them do the same to a handful of other Black voters who were in the polling place at the same time as me.”
In his order Monday, Truncale denied the plaintiff’s requests to prohibit Bowling from working as an election judge. But he granted their request prohibiting election workers and others “from requesting or ordering any voters to publicly recite their addresses before allowing them to vote,” as well as prohibiting them “from positioning themselves near voters who are marking their ballots such that they can view voters’ selections,” aside from certain exceptions spelled out in Texas law.
Truncale also prohibited election workers at the community center from turning away eligible voters.
In a press release Tuesday, Beaumont NAACP President Rev. Michael Cooper wrote that he was “thankful for Judge Truncale’s fair assessment to ensure that Black voters in Beaumont won’t face any additional violations as they exercise their right to vote.”