HOUSTON For months accusations of intimidation and slander have been slung between liberal and conservative groups vying for power in Harris County; now the Harris County Attorney is investigating allegations of misconduct by poll watchers at early voting locations.

The allegations of harassment at the polls surfaced on Monday, the first day of early voting.

The Harris County Attorney on Tuesday said it is investigating some credible, if somewhat one-sided, complaints of minority voter harassment.The voters reported that poll watchers got into election workers faces and blocked or disrupted lines of voters waiting to cast their ballots.

Either Republican or Republican party candidate poll watchers, who were almost exclusively white, [were] in areas that were almost exclusively black, said First Assistant County Attorney Terry O'Rourke of the poll watchers. Intimidation of a voter comes in a variety of ways. Obstructing a voter on the way in to vote would be another of them.

The chairman of the Harris County Republican Party agrees there has been intimidation at the polls, but he said it hasn't been directed at voters.

The bigger concern for us, is the harassment our poll watchers were experiencing, Jared Woodfill said. We have folks that aligned themselves with different offices coming up to them and asking them for their notes or to see their credentials.

Any harassment at the polls is illegal.

The Harris County Attorney issued a letter Tuesday to all election judges regarding the allegations of misconduct. In his letter, Attorney Vince Ryan outlined poll watchers duties of enforcing Texas election laws and protecting voters from intimidation.

We are committed to conducting this election free of voter intimidation fraud, Ryan said, pointing out that poll watchers are not allowed to speak with voters or other poll watchers at any time.

But Ryan also emphasized the legal rights and importance of poll watchers in the election process.

Poll watchers are important in the election process. They are legally entitled to point out violations or irregularities to the election officials appointed to that location. That is the extent of their job, Ryan said.

Back on Aug. 24, the Harris County Registrar s Office said it was investigating allegations of voter registration fraud by a registration project called Houston Votes.

Leo Vazquez, the Harris County official in charge of voter registration, said the liberal group was attacking the voting process and causing his staff to spend countless hours working by turning in thousands of falsified voter-registration forms.

[The staff is] trying to sift through the garbage being dumped into our voter-registration system under this organized effort, said Vazquez, who is a Republican.

It turns out that Vasquez first learned of the flawed forms from a local conservative group called King Street Patriots.

The group holds meetings focusing on the importance of monitoring local polling places because it says black activists are intimidating voters in other states.

A group meeting on Aug. 9 was led by King Street Patriot co-founder Catherine Engelbrecht. She says the New Black Panther Party is a threat to the voting process in Harris County.

During a meeting she showed a photo of what she says is the New Black Panthers office in Houston.

You can see the person walking in the red shirt. I'll just say this: that looks mysteriously like the T-shirts the Houston Votes group wears, she said.

Jim George, a lawyer for Houston Votes, which is an off-shoot of the liberal activist group Texans Together Education Fund, said their building was in the photo that was shown during the King Street Patriots meeting. Now he is suing the King Street Patriots for allegedly defaming what he said is a respected organization that provides housing and other assistance to low-income Houstonians.

The King Street Patriots didn't return calls from 11 News.

The dispute is headed to court.

The allegations of voter registration fraud, which Houston Votes says were mistakes made by one bad worker, are being investigated.

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