Tea Partiers and New Black Panthers To Square Off At Polls In Texas

Members of the fringe group the New Black Panther Party have announced they intend to be at the polls in Harris County, Texas tomorrow. So has the Tea Party-backed group True the Vote — with more than 1,000 poll watchers, they say. Both sides have already traded accusations of voter intimidation — but, despite all their press coverage, neither will likely play a deciding factor at the polls tomorrow.

The face off between poll watchers alleging massive voter fraud in Harris County and many voters in minority neighborhoods of Houston during the early voting period have already been racially tinged. New developments indicate it will only get worse.The New Black Panther Party has been designated as a hate group by both the Southern Poverty Law Center and Anti-Defamation League. The group became the subject of media scrutiny after one of their members was videotaped brandishing a nightstick at a polling place in Philadelphia during the 2008 election. While the individual accused in the case was eventually punished, the Department of Justice refused to pursue charges against the organization, leading to backlash from many conservatives.

On the other side, the Tea Party-backed group True the Vote used a doctored photo of an African-American voter in one of their videos that warned of voter fraud and has been accused of focusing their poll watching efforts on minority neighborhoods. Witnesses have said they are targeting Hispanic and African-American neighborhoods.

Justice Department officials, who have already confirmed they were looking into accusations of voter intimidation, are sending officials to monitor the election in the area.

J. Christian Adams, the former Civil Rights Division lawyer who accused the Justice Department of race-based prosecutorial decisions over the department’s resolution of a voter intimidation case against members of the New Black Panther Party, wrote that the New Black Panther Party was “emboldened by stupid decisions inside the Justice Department. And on cue, the Houston New Black Panthers announce a polling place operation for Tuesday.”

Election Journal — the on-again-off-again Republican-affiliated publication that published the original New Black Panther Party video — is out with footage from 2000 that shows members of the Houston New Black Panther Party marching through the streets of Houston with machine guns in hand.

True the Vote, an Adams client affiliated with the King Street Patriots group, has said it welcomes federal poll monitors, as have the New Black Panthers and Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D).

Jackson Lee, meanwhile, has been accused by Adams in a story for Andrew Breitbart’s Big Government of using “thug tactics” against the “old ladies or stay at home moms” serving as poll watchers for True the Vote.

“These old ladies have been harassed inside the polls by street ruffians as well as sharply dressed ruffian lawyers who told them, ‘you’ll soon learn what intimidation really means’,” Adams wrote.

“Take further note America – a sitting Congresswoman, despite being videotaped breaking the law, has herself leveraged her considerable political pull to demand that these law abiding citizens be criminally investigated,” he added. “On cue, they are being investigated by your federal government. Lee’s lawlessness is ignored, while law abiding citizens must wonder what their government has in store for them.”

King Street Patriots members say it is the poll watchers who are being intimidated. Another Big Government story said that State Rep. Borris Miles “entered an early voting place and began loudly proclaiming that he was there to ‘help’ anyone that needed it. After being ignored by the voters he threateningly announced that he would be back the next day.” Miles did not immediately return a phone call left by TPMMuckraker on Monday.

True the Vote poll watchers have focused on minority neighborhoods, according to a report by KHOU. A reporter for the Texas Observer wrote of her visit to Acres Homes Multi-Service Center — “which is over 85 percent black and where a plurality of households make less than $15,000 a year” that “since everything was crammed together, it wasn’t hard to imagine how one of the watchers could feel intrusive to a voter. There was barely room for people standing in their rows.”

As TPMMuckraker has reported, conservative groups have been raising fears over voter fraud this year, but voting rights experts have said that such concerns are overblown. “Activities that intimidate voters are against the law,” Tova Andrea Wang of the liberal group Demos wrote in an opinion piece for Politico Monday. “This can include photographing or videotaping them in a way that intimidates. Using confrontational language, targeting voter challenges or poll monitoring operations at communities of color is also illegal. Asking for voter identification only from minority voters is illegal. Interfering with someone getting help at the polls, who is uncomfortable speaking English, could also be a legal violation.”

[Correction: Mr. Adams did not accuse the Justice Department of “reverse racism” but of race-based decision-making in favor of minorities.]

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