The local Republican Party in Tarrant County, Texas – which includes Fort Worth and is state’s third most populous county – is being accused of egging on discriminatory voting practices with an email it sent calling for “poll watchers” for “Democrat-controlled polling locations.” The email said the GOP wants workers “to make sure OUR VOTER ID LAW IS FOLLOWED,” without noting that the Texas voter ID law was recently softened after an appeals court ruled it had racially discriminatory effects.
A voting rights advocacy group has sent a letter of complaint about the email to the Department of Justice.
The email from the Tarrant County Republican Party was titled “ALERT***EMERGENCY VOTER FRAUD INFORMATION
INSIDE***ALERT**” according to the complaint letter, and said that the party is “looking for Poll Watchers for Early Voting location sites and Election Day polling locations.”
“We especially need poll watchers in Democrat-controlled polling locations. Voter ID is still required in Texas,” the email, which is also available online, said. “We want to make sure OUR VOTER ID LAW IS FOLLOWED.”
In response to the GOP email, J. Gerald Hebert, the director of the voting rights and redistricting project at the non-partisan, non-profit group, the Campaign Legal Center, sent a voter discrimination complaint to the Department of Justice on Friday calling for federal election monitors.
“Virtually every precinct in Tarrant County that is ‘Democrat-controlled’ is a majority-minority precinct,” Hebert’s complaint noted.
“The vote suppression efforts being made are cloaked in partisan rhetoric but are clearly targeted at Hispanic and African American voters in Tarrant County,” the letter said, while noting other “inflammatory” language in the email, like “..buy, steal, and cheat their way to victory…”
The Department of Justice confirmed to TPM it had received the complaint and was reviewing it, but would not comment further.
Hebert, in an email to TPM, called it a “a very serious matter,” while noting he also reached out to county officials about the GOP email.
“Intimidating voters for any reason violates federal law and we are prepared to take legal action, if necessary,” Hebert said. “The County officials running the election have primary responsibility to make sure the election is being run in conformity with all provisions of state and federal law.”
Tim O’Hare, the chair of the Tarrant County Republican Party, called the claims that the local party was encouraging racially discriminatory voting practices “hogwash.”
“It’s become the rallying cry of Democrats. Call racism at every turn, and what happens? The media will go run and write a story about it immediately,” O’Hare told TPM Wednesday.
The Tarrant County GOP’s email comes as Donald Trump has urged his supporters in stump speeches to act as vigilante poll watchers of sorts, prompting concerns that what will result is voter intimidation.
The Texas voter ID requirement was passed in 2011 and has been struck down by multiple courts. Most recently, the full 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, perhaps the most conservative panel of judges in the country, ruled the law was discriminatory in its effect. As part of the resolution of that case, the voter ID requirement was softened to allow non-ID holding voters to vote using a regular ballot if they present one of several supporting forms of ID–like a utility bill or bank statement–and sign an affidavit attesting that they faced a reasonable impediment in obtaining the required ID to vote.
“We still have voter ID law and we want to make sure it’s followed,” O’Hare said, when TPM pointed out the affidavit option now in place. “We don’t have to explain to them in an email trying to get poll watchers what they’re going to do.”
He said there would be poll watcher training, adding, “We also don’t put the 46 page booklet in the email, either.”
At the training, O’Hare said the Tarrant County GOP’s poll watchers will be told that “if they see anything suspicious, if they see our law not being followed, to pick up the phone and call headquarters, or pick up the phone and call the elections department.”
TPM asked if the new affidavit option would be explained.
“Are we going to let them know what the law is? Of course,” O’Hare said.
Poll watchers are legal in the state if they are properly registered. A Texas secretary of state guide outlining the requirements and duties of poll watchers stresses that they cannot directly approach voters and lays out the new system for non-ID holders.
The Campaign Legal Center, also sent Tuesday night a complaint to the Tarrant County elections office. When reached by TPM, Tarrant County Elections Administrator Frank Phillips had not sent yet seen it. The complaints to the DOJ and to Tarrant County both also flagged an email sent last Wednesday by a county elections official that appeared to disseminate inaccurate information about the newly-softened voter ID law.
“Voters are required to show photo identification at time of voting. Information on website is just to inform everyone that if they go to vote and forgot to bring their acceptable form of approved photo IDs (as currently required) to the polling place and /or left it, for example at home or in their car,” the email from Patricia Benavides said, while going into more detail about the provisional ballot procedures without mentioning the affidavit option.
Benavides, the voter registration manager in Tarrant County elections office, confirmed the authenticity of the email, but told TPM it was part of a longer back-and-forth. She sent to TPM a version of the correspondence, in which, later on, she clarified the protocols of the affidavit option.
Read the Campaign Legal Center’s complaint to the DOJ below: