Deterrence, not violence, comprises modern-day voter intimidation

Poll watchers are a common form of voter intimidation today. Photo Illustration by Brittney Matthews | Photo Editor

By Vivian Roach | Staff Writer

Voter intimidation is a type of voter suppression that is illegal according to the The Voting Rights Act of 1965. The act is aimed to enforce the Fifteenth Amendment. It said in section two that no state or political subdivision can suppress a voter’s right.

“No voting qualification or prerequisite to voting, or standard, practice, or procedure shall be imposed or applied by any State or political subdivision to deny or abridge the right of any citizen of the United States to vote on account of race or color,” section two of the Act said.

In election history, there were more violent forms of voter suppression, Dr. Dave Bridge, political science professor, said.

“If you were Black and you showed up to the polls, you were threatened to an inch of your life, if not killed,” Bridge said. “There’s a history of intimidation in this country for sure, and we think that it’s limited to the south, but maybe the more egregious examples are in the south, but it spreads throughout the entire country.”

In the post-reconstruction American South, party competition was strong. Black voting rights were suppressed with violence. Cleburne sophomore Caleb Barkman said that voter intimidation today isn’t as violent as in the past, but intimidation still exists on some level.

“It’s more Billy Bob Johnson standing a quarter mile away from the polling place holding an AR-15,” Barkman said. “It’s well in his right to do so, but I don’t want to deal with that guy, and I think a lot of people feel that way. It’s less direct voter suppression, and it’s more just making people feel uncomfortable.”

If not careful, the role of poll watchers could turn into another form of voter intimidation, political science professor Pat Flavin said.

Poll watchers, or partisan citizen observers, monitor voter turnout and election administration to make sure it is a fair election for their party. They may also challenge voters and question voter eligibility, but that responsibility and other poll watcher guidelines vary from state to state, said the National Conference of State Legislatures.

“There is a real value of poll watchers who are genuinely there to view the process and to make sure that ballots are counted correctly and that the process laws are followed,” Flavin said.

The Texas Secretary State’s Office said poll watchers must register at an official polling site and be appointed by a candidate, a political party or political action committee.

The problem is the untrained “election monitors” from each party that show up at the polling places, campaigning outside the boundaries of the polling place — that’s 100 feet away in Texas — Flavin said.

“In a democracy, you shouldn’t feel intimidated to go and vote. Having poll monitors that are there objectively — that have been trained — that’s one thing,” Flavin said. “But having people that are hanging out at the polls, wearing political paraphernalia, that to me seems to be problematic, and to me seems to be the most likely form of intimidation that we might see.”

This is especially true for people who see voting more as a hassle, Barkman said.

“So they’re kind of just voting because they have time in the day,” Barkman said. “And when they have to deal with someone who wants to challenge them and wants to yell at them and make them feel awkward, they have no desire to deal with it.”