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Texas: Protections Against Intimidation of Voters and Election Workers

This resource details state and federal laws protecting against the intimidation of voters and election workers and the disruption of the voting process.

Last Updated: May 14, 2024
Published: October 28, 2022
View the entire Laws Protecting Voters and Election Workers from Intimidation series

Voters in Texas have the right to vote free from intimidation under federal and state law. footnote1_sk2fucy 1 See, e.g., 18 U.S.C. §§ 594, 241; 52 U.S.C. § 10101(b); Tex. Pen. Code § 36.03(a)(2); Tex. Elec. Code §§ 61.003, 61.008, 62.0115(b)(2), 85.036, 276.001.  The federal protections that apply to all states are explained here. The following actions are specifically prohibited by Texas law:

  • Influencing or threatening to influence a voter not to vote or to vote in a particular way. footnote2_5r4y3lk 2 Tex. Pen. Code § 36.03(a)(2).
  • Harming or threatening to harm a voter because the voter voted for or against a candidate or measure, or the voter refused to reveal how they voted. footnote3_82643u3 3 Tex. Elec. Code § 276.001.
  • Indicating to a voter in a polling place by word, sign, or gesture how the voter should or should not vote. footnote4_gptltbz 4 Tex. Elec. Code § 61.008.
  • Loitering or electioneering for or against any candidate, measure, or political party within 100 feet of a polling place. footnote5_w12f1lp 5 Tex. Elec. Code §§ 61.003, 85.036.
  • Tampering with voting equipment. footnote6_asc2ztp 6 Tex. Elec. Code § 127.127.

The below addresses the laws that serve as guardrails against specific threats of intimidation.

Voter Challenges

Texas does not allow challenges to voter eligibility at polling locations. Only state election officials can inquire into the qualifications of voters at a polling location.

The National Voter Registration Act provides additional safeguards to protect voters from mass challenges before an election:

  • The NVRA expressly recognizes that National Change of Address information is not sufficient on its own to serve as the basis for canceling a voter’s registration. footnote7_3moueig 7 52 U.S.C. § 20507(c)(1)(B).
  • The NVRA prohibits the systematic removal of voters from the rolls within 90 days of a federal election. footnote8_4bqe5n7 8 52 U.S.C. § 20507(c)(2)(A).

Voter Intimidation by Poll Workers

The Brennan Center published a detailed resource on the rules and constraints for Texas poll workers here.

Intimidation by Poll Watchers

Although Senate Bill 1 (2021) expanded the risk of intimidation by poll watchers, Texas still has safeguards in place:

  • In Texas, not just anyone can be an observer at the polls; unauthorized watchers are not permitted at polling places.
  • Watchers must be appointed in advance of the election by party or candidate representatives. footnote9_5wep8ay 9 Tex. Elec. Code §§ 33.002, 33.003.
  • Poll watchers must provide a certificate of appointment and certification of completion of poll watcher training to officials on Election Day. footnote10_arcsm4g 10 Tex. Elec. Code § 33.051(a).  Poll watchers must wear identification provided by the poll manager or superintendent during the watcher’s hours of service at the polling place. footnote11_34n19sq 11 Tex. Elec. Code § 33.051(f).
  • Federal law, including case law, limits the use of law enforcement officials or observers wearing official-seeming clothing in polling places. footnote12_iseensl 12 18 U.S.C. § 592; 52 U.S.C. § 10102; Democratic National Committee v. Republican National Committee, 671 F. Supp. 2d 575, 579–80 (D.N.J. 2009) (individuals in official-seeming attire intimidated voters).

Texas also limits how many watchers can be at the polls and what they may and may not do:

  • Each candidate and party may appoint no more than two poll watchers to each precinct polling place. footnote13_7ff6w8d 13 Tex. Elec. Code § 33.007(a).
  • Pursuant to the oath all poll watchers must take, poll watchers should not in any way interfere with the conduct of the election. footnote14_gzahi4x 14 Tex. Elec. Code § 33.051(h).  Poll watchers cannot speak to voters or talk to election officers about the election (except to call attention to an irregularity). footnote15_n2ugime 15 Tex. Elec. Code § 33.058.

A poll watcher who continues to hinder the voting process after a warning should be removed by the precinct’s presiding election judge, consistent with the duty to preserve order and prevent breaches of the peace and violations of the election code. footnote16_mzshuin 16 Tex. Elec. Code § 32.075(a).

Guns at Polling Places

Guns and other weapons, apart from those belonging to peace officers, are prohibited on the premises of polling places. footnote17_z3lg7u5 17 Tex. Pen. Code §§ 46.03(a)(2), 46.15(a)(1).  Therefore, the presence of any firearm in any polling place should be treated as intimidation.

Even at locations where firearms are not prohibited, firearm carry may constitute unlawful intimidation. Such conduct may consist of carrying a visible firearm while near a polling location or at a drop box or vote-counting site, displaying a concealed firearm during a discussion or argument with a voter or election worker, or approaching a voter or election worker while displaying a firearm.

Door-to-Door Intimidation

Federal and Texas law prohibits canvassing efforts that are used to intimidate voters. footnote18_6xkutrl 18 18 U.S.C. §§ 594, 241; Tex. Pen. Code § 36.03(a)(2).  Any voter who receives a visit from a privately organized canvassing group does not have to answer any questions and should report any incidents of intimidation to their local officials.

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