The red dot of a laser pointer circled downtown Houston on a map during a virtual training of poll watchers by the Harris County Republican Party. It highlighted densely populated, largely Black, Latino and Asian neighborhoods.
“This is where the fraud is occurring,” a county Republican official said falsely in a leaked video of the training, which was held in March. A precinct chair in the northeastern, largely white suburbs of Houston, he said he was trying to recruit people from his area “to have the confidence and courage” to act as poll watchers in the circled areas in upcoming elections.
A question at the bottom corner of the slide indicated just how many poll watchers the party wanted to mobilize: “Can we build a 10K Election Integrity Brigade?”
As Republican lawmakers in major battleground states seek to make voting harder and more confusing through a web of new election laws, they are simultaneously making a concerted legislative push to grant more autonomy and access to partisan poll watchers — citizens trained by a campaign or a party and authorized by local election officials to observe the electoral process.
This effort has alarmed election officials and voting rights activists alike: There is a long history of poll watchers being used to intimidate voters and harass election workers, often in ways that target Democratic-leaning communities of color and stoke fears that have the overall effect of voter suppression. During the 2020 election, President Donald J. Trump’s campaign repeatedly promoted its “army” of poll watchers as he publicly implored supporters to venture into heavily Black and Latino cities and hunt for voter fraud. [Continue reading…]