Texas Jefferson County Voter Intimidation Challenge
Beaumont Chapter of the NAACP v. Jefferson County
Lawsuit filed by the Beaumont Chapter of the NAACP and a Jefferson County, Texas voter against Jefferson County, the Jefferson County Commissioners Court, the Jefferson County Clerk and Mary Beth Bowling, the presiding judge of the John Paul Davis Community Center. The plaintiffs allege that the John Paul Davis Community Center, a voting location in Beaumont, Texas that serves a predominantly Black community, is conducting elections in a way that intimidates Black voters. The plaintiffs argue that “White poll workers throughout early voting repeatedly asked in aggressive tones only Black voters and not White voters to recite, out loud within the earshot of other voters, poll workers, and poll watchers, their addresses, even when the voter was already checked in by a poll worker” and that “White poll workers and White poll watchers followed Black voters and in some cases their Black voter assistants around the polling place, including standing two feet behind a Black voter and the assistant, while the voter was at the machine casting a ballot.” Additionally, the plaintiffs assert that although white poll workers helped white voters scan their ballots, they “did not similarly help Black voters scan their ballots.” The plaintiffs further allege that even though these actions were reported to the Jefferson County clerk, “no action was taken to remove Defendant Bowling, who has been responsible for carrying out these practices and enabling this type of conduct, from the Community Center.” The plaintiffs contend that this conduct violates Section 11(b) of the Voting Rights Act (VRA), which prohibits voter intimidation, and the 14th and 15th Amendments of the U.S. Constitution, which prohibit denying a person the right to vote on account of race. The plaintiffs request that the court declare the defendants actions in violation of Section 11(b) of the VRA and the 14th and 15th Amendments as well as temporarily and permanently block the defendants from engaging further in intimidation.
On the same day that the lawsuit was filed, a federal judge issued an order granting in part and denying in part the plaintiffs’ emergency motion for a temporary restraining order. The court denied the plaintiffs’ request to prohibit Bowling (the presiding election judge at the John Paul Davis Community Center polling site) from serving in her role at either the John Paul Davis Community Center polling site or any polling site in Jefferson County. The court also granted the plaintiffs’ request to “prohibit all election judges, clerks, workers, volunteers, or watchers at the John Paul Davis Community Center from requesting or ordering any voters to publicly recite their addresses before allowing them to vote.” The judge further granted the plaintiffs’ request to “prohibit all election judges, clerks, workers, volunteers, or watchers at the John Paul Davis Community Center from positioning themselves near voters who are marking their ballots such that they can view voters’ selections with two exceptions: (1) an election worker or volunteer may assist any voter who requests assistance; and (2) election watchers may position themselves as permitted by” Texas law. Additionally, the judge granted the plaintiffs’ request to prohibit election workers from refusing to assist voters and turning away voters who are eligible to vote.