Polling stations around Houston have turned into bastions of controversy this week: Fourteen reported incidents Monday and another that Hair Balls heard about on Wednesday in south Houston near Gulfgate.
There are few details for the Gulfgate incident, but what is known, and seems to have become modus operandi, a poll watcher was over-stepping the boundaries between observing and interacting in the democratic process.
In one of the Monday incidents, a female poll watcher at the Kashmere Multi Service Center felt it was necessary and acceptable to stand directly behind voters while they entered their votes, in a manner described as "hovering." When the election judge requested that the overzealous woman back away from the voter, her response was "I have the right to stand wherever I want!"
Almost every year there are a handful of "isolated" reported incidents in and around polling stations, according to Anthony Gutierrez, the Deputy Executive Director of the Texas Democratic Party. But what went on on Monday was something that that he and members of the party viewed as clearly "systematic and organized."
As reports of the incidents were discovered, all fingers appeared to be pointing to the King Street Patriots and their "True the Vote" campaign. A video on the groups' website explains the campaign as an attempt to stop voter fraud (complete with inspirational, Pearl Harbor-type background music). One goatee'd man makes the comment that "the voting system is under attack" and goes on to say "Obama's very connected to ACORN, which is a voter fraud machine; ACORN is the radical army." ACORN is the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now.
So "True the Vote" is a clear rebuttal to "Rock the Vote," President Obama's campaign to get individuals to come out to vote in the 2008 presidential election. KSP has been reportedly tied to Tea Party activists -- the same Tea Party activists that sent a number of distasteful, grammatically challenged emails to a group called Houston Votes, which was trying to register voters.
The incidents of voter intimidation have been occurring in minority districts and have been directed at Latinos and African-Americans.
The King Street Patriots' attorney, Hiram Sasser, did not return our calls.
On the groups' website, KSP calls the accusations that it has been training its poll watchers to deliberately intimidate or interact with voters "false and libelous", and that any action taken were "purely individual actions" and that "True the Vote conducts extensive citizen training of poll watchers."
Poll watchers are volunteers, appointed by a party or candidate. They're the people who are usually sitting quietly with a clipboard in their hands, watching all the voting excitement. In one television report, a True the Vote poll watcher was identified and the man had no idea of who he represented, nor his purpose as a poll watcher.
As a response, according to Gutierrez, the Texas Democratic Party has seen a rise in volunteers willing to serve as poll watchers, which could help limit and make officials aware of inappropriate conduct.
The incidents were taken so seriously that the U.S. Department of Justice rolled into town to investigate the matter.
As voting came to a close in Kashmere Gardens on Wednesday, and the final voters entered their selections, a row of poll watchers -- including the woman from Monday's incident -- sat patiently, eyes locked.
One volunteer, who did not want to share her name with Hair Balls, said today was a quiet day at the location, the type of day that is preferred at a polling place. Following the incident on Monday, it got a bit "ugly" as one individual came into the room, pointed a finger into the face of the controversial poll watcher and asked "who are you?" The gentleman was removed by security.
On Tuesday, "voters had an attitude" according to the witness, but no further incidents occurred.