Travis Dems Allege GOP Voter Intimidation Plot
Claim East and SE Austin minorities targeted
By Lee Nichols,
3:31PM, Fri. Oct. 29, 2010
Claims of voter harassment and intimidation by pro-Republican groups have been rocking Harris County (Houston) during the early voting period. Today, the Travis County Democratic Party claimed it may be coming here, too, and pointed the finger at the Travis County Republican Party.
On the steps of the county courthouse, party leaders said they had sent two of their own to check out poll watcher training being conducted by local Republican Party chair Rosemary Edwards on Wednesday. The duo – identified as Lloyd Gardner and Alexandra Bledsoe – said Edwards specifically wanted to target areas in central east and southeast Austin, including precincts 124, 429, 423, 407, and 401.
Those areas have high concentrations of racial minorities that tend to vote Democratic, and are key areas of support for Democratic Congressman Lloyd Doggett. While Republicans have never come close to defeating Doggett in his District 25, some GOP loyalists believe they can take him out this year, and Doggett is taking the threat seriously.
Gardner claims one audience member at the training asked whether he could “wear my camouflage fatigues and bring my baseball bat.” However, Gardner said it sounded as if the man was joking, and Edwards said he could not.
Edwards did not deny that she wanted poll watchers in those precincts, but said it was because “we’ve had specific complaints in those polling places.” She said during the 2008 election, poll workers there, while demonstrating how to use the voting machine, would point to certain candidates, including Barack Obama. She called the Democrats’ allegations “an absolute, conjured-up lie.”
“For Republicans to target minority voting precincts with possibly intimidating tactics in this election cycle is exactly the wrong thing to do,” said TCDP chair Andy Brown. “Reports from across Texas and the nation show that there are far too many attempts to disrupt voting. It’s unfortunate if the Travis County Republicans are stooping to such tactics. I serve notice right now that Democrats in Travis County will do everything possible to protect the rights of all voters in Travis County.”
Brown was flanked by East Austin state Reps. Dawnna Dukes and Eddie Rodriguez as well as local NAACP president Nelson Linder and Jim Harrington of the Texas Civil Rights Project.
“Why would you tell people that they can videotape voters outside, or coming out, or coming into the polls?” Brown asked. “There’s nothing wrong with poll watchers in the abstract, however, when they target African-American and Hispanic precincts and voters, we have a problem with that.”
“Ever since I’ve been a lawyer working in Texas, 10 years in the Rio Grande Valley, I’ve seen the same thing happen over and over and over again: Minority districts are specifically targeted for this kind of activity,” Harrington said. “There’s no doubt in my mind that this is to suppress the vote and intimidate people.”
Dukes was livid.
“I never would have in a million years thought in Travis County that we would even have to discuss such an issue,” Dukes said. “This is 2010, not 1910. I say to the voters in East Austin, to the voters in Travis County, to the voters all over Austin: Do not be afraid. Do not allow someone to intimidate you into not voting.”
Dukes said she wanted the would-be GOP poll watchers to know, “I am insulted that you would think that you would need to educate the people in East Austin on what you consider the right way to vote.”
Edwards was angry that the Democrats had attended her meeting. What Brown called “volunteers” she called “moles.”
“They put two moles in our training, that I took for people who were coming of goodwill and good intentions,” Edwards told Newsdesk. “These two people misrepresented themselves. However, I have absolutely nothing to deny or take back.”
Edwards said the training was to guarantee “everyone in the polls has a safe, well executed, and legal voted experience.”
“It would be laughable if it was not so mean-spirited,” Edwards said. “This is actually the effort of a desperate, dying party . They’re making desperate moves at this point.”