A filmed presentation from a Republican official in Texas and obtained by a voting rights advocacy group reveals a push for an “army” of poll watchers in the greater Houston area “where the fraud is occurring”.
The 49-minute video published by Common Cause Texas shows a map of Harris County voting precincts, as a voice tells supporters to muster “the confidence and courage to come down here” as part of an “election integrity brigade” to combat alleged voter fraud, pointing to areas in Houston that include large Black and Latino populations.
Release of the video, which was created in March, follows passage of a sweeping bill to restrict ballot access by cutting early voting hours and banning drive-through voting sites that proved popular in 2020 elections for one of the largest counties in the US.
The Texas bill, if signed into law, would also make it illegal for local elections officials to mail out absentee ballots to voters who did not request them, even if they qualify, and would give partisan poll watchers more power to potentially intimidate voters at the ballot box.
“What we see in this video is a concrete, real-world example of why it is a downright dangerous idea to expand poll watcher powers while removing the ability of election workers to kick a disruptive poll watcher out,” Common Cause executive director Anthony Gutierrez, said in a statement.
“Volunteer poll watchers who have no ill intent and who do not plan to disrupt voting would have no need to be ‘courageous’ about going into predominantly Black and Brown communities,” he continued. “When I hear someone say he needs ‘courageous’ volunteers to be part of an ‘army’ that will keep an eye on voters in minority neighborhoods, I hear all the same old dog whistles with a slightly updated harmony.”
Texas Democrats, voting advocacy groups and civil rights organisations have warned lawmakers that the latest GOP proposal – among dozens of similar bills in state houses across the US – revives and enshrines the legacy of Jim Crow-era voter suppression that disproportionately targets voters of colour.
In the video, the person speaking reveals a plan to recruit and disperse more than 10,000 people across voting precincts in Harris County to monitor polls and perform other tasks.
At one point, he specifically names Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church, a voting precinct with a majority Black congregation and a storied history in Houston’s civil rights legacy.
Mr Gutierrez said proposals in Texas legislation would “weaponise poll watchers and empower them to disrupt and delay voting at any poll site in Texas.”
In a statement to The Washington Post, the Harris County Republican Party accused Common Cause of “blatantly mischaracterizing a grassroots election worker recruitment video” and attempting to “bully” Texas Republicans.
Proposed legislation in Texas mirrors dozens of similar bills in nearly every state – at least 361 GOP-sponsored bills aimed at restricting access to ballots and making it more difficult to vote have been filed in 47 states.
Last month,. Texas Governor Greg Abbott said that the bills are aimed at restoring “trust and confidence in the outcome” of the state’s elections, although he also admitted that he is not aware of any elections altered by fraud. Voting advocates argue that persistent lies of a “stolen” election have emboldened lawmakers to pursue restrictive elections bills.
Election officials across the country – as well as former president Donald Trump’s attorneys, the Justice Department, FBI and a federal elections commission that he disbanded – have failed to produce any evidence that such widespread fraud exists.
“Right now, I don’t know how many, or if any, elections in the state of Texas in 2020 were altered because of voter fraud,” Governor Abbot said on 15 March.