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Beaumont election officials accused of harassment and discrimination against Black voters

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Posted at 9:07 PM, Nov 07, 2022
and last updated 2022-11-07 22:09:28-05

On the eve of the election, an East Texas county is facing allegations of intimidating and discriminating against Black voters during early voting.

In a federal lawsuit filed Monday, the Beaumont chapter of the NAACP and Jessica Daye, a Black registered voter, accused Jefferson County election officials of unconstitutionally harassing Black voters in Beaumont by scrutinizing their identities and shadowing them while at the voting stations. A federal judge Monday evening was holding an emergency hearing on the lawsuit, which asks for changes during Tuesday’s election.

“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,” the suit claims.

“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,” the suit continued. “White poll workers helped White voters scan their voted ballots into voting machines but did not similarly help Black voters scan their ballots.”

Daye witnessed such an incident while in line to cast her ballot last week at a community center that serves a predominantly Black community in north Beaumont where she typically votes, the suit claims. Daye was a few feet behind an elderly Black voter who, the lawsuit alleges, had already been checked in to vote by a Black election worker. But when the voter moved down the table to where a white poll worker stood, the poll worker “aggressively asked the elderly Black voter to show him her identification again and recite her address out loud to him.”

Daye abandoned the polling place without voting for fear of facing the same treatment and plans to vote at a different polling place on Election Day. White voters, the lawsuit claims, were not asked to recite their addresses out loud after already being checked in.

In the lawsuit, Daye and the NAACP are asking a federal judge to declare the election workers’ actions unconstitutional treatment of Black voters in violation of the 14th and 15th Amendments as well as a violation of the federal Voting Rights Act which guarantees the right to vote without intimidation. They are asking the judge to block county election workers from engaging in the same behavior during Election Day.

Located to the east of Houston, the city of Beaumont sits in the northeast corner of Jefferson County. While Jefferson County is majority white, Beaumont’s population is 45% Black and 43.5% white.

To be checked in, voters must present a photo ID to verify their identity. The election worker checking them in will then pull up the list of registered voters to locate the voter and compare their name.

Once they’ve determined the voter is registered, the Texas Election Code says the election worker must ask if the address on their voter registration record has changed. Though Texas requires photo ID to vote, the address on the ID does not have to match what’s on a voter’s registration record. Once this is verified, the voter will be asked to sign a roster and then directed to the voting area.

Meanwhile, no other person — except the person assisting a voter — is allowed to be present while they prepare their ballot, according to the secretary of state’s handbook for election judges.

The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit statewide news organization dedicated to keeping Texans informed on politics and policy issues that impact their communities. This election season, Texans around the state will turn to The Texas Tribune for the information they need on voting, election results, analysis of key races and more. Get the latest.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2022/11/07/voting-discrimination-lawsuit-beaumont/.

The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.