WASHINGTON, D.C. — On Monday, Nov. 7, a federal judge issued an emergency order prohibiting election officials at a polling site in Beaumont, Texas from engaging in behavior that the county’s Black voters found to be intimidating and discriminatory. This decision comes after a federal lawsuit was filed earlier in the day yesterday by the Beaumont Chapter of the NAACP and a voter against Jefferson County elections officials alleging that the John Paul Davis Community Center, a voting location in Beaumont, Texas that serves a predominantly Black community, is unjustly intimidating Black voters. In their complaint, the plaintiffs allege 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 while white poll workers helped white voters scan their ballots, they “did not similarly help Black voters scan their ballots.” The plaintiffs argue that this conduct violates Section 11(b) of the Voting Rights Act, which prohibits voter intimidation, and the 14th and 15th Amendments of the U.S. Constitution, which prohibit denying a person their right to vote on account of race. The plaintiffs asked the court to temporarily and permanently block the defendants from engaging in such intimidation.
Yesterday, on the same day the suit was filed, a federal judge partially granted the plaintiffs’ emergency motion for a temporary restraining order. Specifically, the court 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. However, the court denied the plaintiffs’ request to prohibit Mary 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, meaning she is still allowed to serve as a poll worker for the Nov. 8 election. The president of the Beaumont Chapter of the NAACP, Rev. Michael Cooper, called this decision a win for Beaumont voters. Voters may report incidents of voter intimidation by calling the National Election Protection Hotline at 866-OUR-VOTE or 866-687-8683.