Texas Senate Bill 1 calls for stronger protections for poll watchers, but concerns of intimidation this midterm election

HOUSTON, TX (KTRK) — Early voting for the midterm elections is underway. This year, more eyes and ears may be watching the voting process at the polls.

It comes after Senate Bill 1 Enhanced protections for poll watchers, one of many changes made after President Trump questioned the authenticity of the 2020 presidential election results.

“Now in Texas, no one has ever questioned the election results. In fact, the day before the election, after the results were released, Governor Abbott said we had the cleanest, cleanest election ever. safest and safest in the country”, Rob Stein, professor at Rice Universitywho teaches political science, said.

“I think there are others whose voter confidence was low when their candidate lost. The Republican Party swept the entire state, but you’ll notice there are urban areas that are blue. I think this is where many SB 1 proponents thought there was a need for further examination,” Stein added.

Critics fear the enhanced protections could lead to voter intimidation at the polls. However, supporters say these volunteers are not there to disrupt the process, but rather to make sure everything is going well.

Poll watchers are appointed by a candidate, party, or political action committee to support or oppose a ballot measure. This year, they are required by law to complete a online training certification course, before being granted free movement in the polling stations. They are required to wear a name tag that identifies them as a poll watcher while at a polling site location.

“Poll observers have full and unimpeded access to the polling station, operations, setup, conduct, verification of eligibility determination and ballot counting,” Stein said.

A representative with the Office of the Texas Secretary of State tells ABC13 that more than 3,300 people have taken the program so far.

In Fort Bend County, the Republican and Democratic parties have been calling for months to recruit registered voters to register and volunteer as poll watchers. James Pressler, who is the president of communications with Fort Bend County GOPsaid it was an added layer of security to reassure skeptical voters, primarily those who question the integrity of elections after the 2020 presidential election.

“When that freedom is undermined and the integrity of elections is not taken seriously, people feel like their vote doesn’t count. it doesn’t really matter.’ But actually, it does matter,” Pressler said. “Whenever people see that we are taking steps to make sure everything is done fairly and accurately, it inspires confidence in them knowing their vote will be counted as it should be.”

Voting rules prohibit the use of cell phones inside polling stations. SB 1 allows poll watchers to leave the vicinity if they need to make a call to report any irregularities.

“The law allows a poll watcher to challenge the decision of an election official. Now, the method of challenging cannot disrupt, impede, or in any way prevent anyone from voting,” Stein said.

Cynthia Ginyard, who is the president of the Fort Bend County Democratic Party, believes it is a solution to a problem that does not exist, citing that there was no substantial evidence to prove anything went wrong in the previous election. Nonetheless, they have been actively recruiting poll watchers to place in locations where they believe GOP volunteers will also be present.

“Our election process is of the highest level of integrity. There is no panky. We have been advised that Republicans are particularly interested in our polling places where there are overwhelmingly Democratic voters and that is not no big deal. We’ve got nothing to hide and we’re going to have a pollwatcher there as well,” Ginyard said. “Although we’ve had that in the past, we’ve never had to do that so widely. . It really wasn’t our initiative, so to speak. We are responsive.”

It will be difficult to say what the impact of the new improvements will be until the elections are over. Stein said the law limits each candidate, party or supporter of a polling station to a maximum of seven poll watchers at each polling location. Texas State Representative Gary Gates of Fort Bend County, believes the effects will be minimal, as there are laws in place outlining their rights and limitations.

“It would be a class A misdemeanor up to a third degree felony, if a poll watcher attempted to intimidate a voter in any way,” Gates said.

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Norman D. Briggs