Voters in Texas have the right to vote free from intimidation under federal and state law. footnote1_2thggla 1 18 U.S.C. §§ 594, 241; 52 U.S.C. § 10101(b); Tex. Elec. Code § 62.0115(b)(2). The federal protections that apply to all states are explained here. The below addresses the laws and policies that serve as guardrails against specific threats of intimidation.
Intimidation by Poll Watchers
Although Senate Bill 1 has 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 should not be permitted at polling places.
- Watchers must be appointed in advance of the election by party or candidate representatives. footnote2_thdcz99 2 Tex. Elec. Code §§ 33.002, 33.003.
- Poll watchers must provide written confirmation of their appointment to officials on Election Day. footnote3_9jte19g 3 Tex. Elec. Code § 33.051(a). Poll watchers must obtain identification from the poll manager or superintendent. footnote4_4ro2s7b 4 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. footnote5_nkx703s 5 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 can do:
- Each candidate and party may appoint no more than two poll watchers to each precinct polling place. footnote6_83u7f5h 6 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. footnote7_y0id83p 7 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). footnote8_3p4rfwj 8 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. footnote9_qpg15qc 9 Tex. Elec. Code § 32.075(a).
Challenges to Voter Eligibility at the Polls
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.
Voter Intimidation by Poll Workers
Poll workers in Texas may be election judges (those who oversee polling place operations) or election clerks (those who operate polling places). Texas has limits on what both kinds of poll workers can and can’t do:
- All poll workers are required to take an oath that they will not persuade or induce any voter to vote for or against a candidate or measure. footnote10_0ssrh13 10 Tex. Elec. Code § 62.003. In addition, election judges, alternate judges, and early voting clerks are required to take a constitutional oath of office to uphold the laws of Texas and the federal Constitution in their role. footnote11_g8mnz6f 11 Tex. Const. art. XVI, § 1.
- Election judges must complete a training program developed and provided by the Texas secretary of state and administered by a city or county. footnote12_lzph1yx 12 Tex. Elec. Code § 32.111. Election clerks must also complete a training regarding how to accept and handle identification presented by a voter to an election officer. footnote13_r1l9ufx 13 Tex. Elec. Code § 32.114.
- Election judges and election clerks may be removed, replaced, or reassigned if they cause a disruption in a polling location or willfully disobey provisions of the election code. footnote14_8ysk0yi 14 Tex. Elec. Code §§ 32.002(g); 32.034(f).
The Brennan Center published a detailed resource on the rules and constraints for Texas poll workers here.
Firearms at Polling Locations
Guns and other weapons, apart from those belonging to peace officers, are prohibited on the premises of polling places. Therefore, the presence of any firearm in any polling place should be treated as intimidation. footnote15_rf8aw9x 15 Tex. Penal Code §§ 46.03(a)(2), 46.15(a)(1).
118 U.S.C. §§ 594, 241; 52 U.S.C. § 10101(b); Tex. Elec. Code § 62.0115(b)(2).
2Tex. Elec. Code §§ 33.002, 33.003.
3Tex. Elec. Code § 33.051(a).
4Tex. Elec. Code § 33.051(f).
518 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).
6Tex. Elec. Code § 33.007(a).
7Tex. Elec. Code § 33.051(h).
8Tex. Elec. Code § 33.058.
9Tex. Elec. Code § 32.075(a).
10Tex. Elec. Code § 62.003.
11Tex. Const. art. XVI, § 1.
12Tex. Elec. Code § 32.111.
13Tex. Elec. Code § 32.114.
14Tex. Elec. Code §§ 32.002(g); 32.034(f).
15Tex. Penal Code §§ 46.03(a)(2), 46.15(a)(1).