Voter intimidation allegations grow during first week of early voting


by Kevin Reece / 11 News

Posted on October 22, 2010 at 6:10 PM

Updated Friday, Oct 22 at 6:10 PM

HARRIS COUNTY, Texas—The Harris County District Attorney’s Office is investigating what it says are a record number of complaints of irregularities and voter intimidation just one week into the early-voting process.

One of those complaints surfaced Thursday when Tamika Francis was denied the right to vote in southwest Houston because she was wearing an Obama-themed T-shirt. Francis’ mother was also reeling from the reaction she got from the same poll workers, a reaction she said reminded her of voting problems for African Americans in the 1960s.

Sandra Francis arrived at the polling location inside the Fiesta grocery store at Main and Kirby armed with her driver’s license as identification. While in the midst of an argument over her daughter’s shirt, which poll workers said was a violation of the electioneering rules in the Texas Election Code, Sandra, who was not wearing political paraphernalia of any kind, was told she was not registered to vote and that county records showed her voter registration had been cancelled. 

"I was denied my civil right to vote and I was a qualified voter," she said.

When Sandra insisted the poll workers re-check the records, the argument allegedly became heated, prompting workers to threaten to call police if she did not leave. She said poll workers eventually agreed to call the central elections office to cross-check the election rolls, which showed she was a registered voter. But the entire process of denial, arguing, and final clarification had taken about 30 minutes.

"So I was denied my civil rights three times for not being able to vote even after it was proven I was a registered voter," she said. "It really disturbed me. I was really kind of hurt by the incident. But I was determined that I was not going to give up. I was not going to give up my right to vote."

Sandra said the whole thing could have been avoided from the start.

"If he had just put in the information at the beginning, none of this would have occurred. But they did not want me to vote."

The attorney who arrived at the polls to investigate the dispute said Francis’ tenacity is what eventually granted her the right to vote. But she fears others could be turned away and denied their right to vote if the problem Francis encountered is more widespread.

"I don’t care what party you’re in favor of," said attorney Loretta Johnson Muldrow. "I don’t care which candidate you’re supporting. Each and every person has that right and it has to be protected."

Rock Owens with the Harris County District Attorney’s Office said he considered the allegations very serious.

"They warrant investigation as all the allegations our office receives do. And we will take the information we’ve seen today here and we will get to the bottom of those allegations," he said.

Owens said the DA’s office is currently investigating more than 30 complaints from voters and poll watchers during the first week of the early-voting process. He said they would try to determine if the allegations are actual cases of bias or problems traced to elections record-keeping systems that need to be solved immediately.