The 2020 election is gearing up to be an interesting event in the nation’s history. The United States seems as politically polarized as ever and it’s a tense time to be voting, especially when some campaigns seem to be encouraging people to watch others at the polls.
What you may not realize is that in Texas there is such thing as an official poll watcher – as opposed to the unofficial call the GOP has put out for poll watchers.
To help you protect voter’s rights, it’s important to recognize the difference between voter intimidation and someone following proper protocol to oversee voting activities. Here’s what you need to know to empower yourself on election day and ensure Texas voters’ rights.
Official Texas Poll Watchers
There are official poll watchers that are appointed by the state’s political parties, citizens groups, or candidates that observe proceedings such as ballot counting and voting. Their purpose is to promote fairness in elections and transparency in the process simply by being there.
They are bound by strict guidelines, so if you’re being harassed or threatened by someone who claims to be a poll watcher, they’re not there in an official capacity and should be reported.
Voter Intimidation in Texas
Voter intimidation is the use of coercion, threats, or attempts to intimidate for the sole purpose of interfering with another person’s right to vote or to try to convince them to vote for another candidate. Some common voter intimidation tactics include:
- Blocking the entrance to polling places
- Using threats near or in a polling place
- Calling people names or yelling at people as they’re waiting in line to vote
- Interrogating or disrupting voters
- Attempting to look over the shoulder’s of people as they fill out their ballot
- Displaying misleading or false signage
- Questioning voters about citizenship status, criminal records, or political choices
- Spreading false information about voting procedures or requirements
These activities are illegal in Texas and may even qualify as a terroristic threat. So what is a terroristic threat, exactly? Learn more below.
Texas Defines Terroristic Threats
In Texas, someone can be charged with a terroristic threat if they threaten another person or their property with an act of violence. Terroristic threats can be charged in cases where the intent of the person issuing threats is to:
- Cause a reaction to their threat by a volunteer agency or official that deal with emergencies
- Prevent or interrupt the use or occupation of a building, place of assembly, room, or any place the public has access to
- Place someone in fear of their lives or of serious bodily injury
- Cause interruption or impairment of public transportation or communications
- Place a substantial group of people or the public at large in fear of serious bodily injury
- Influence the activities or conduct of an agency or branch of the federal or state government, or a political subdivision of the state government
Penalties in Texas for Terroristic Threats
The charges associated with terroristic threats can range from a Class B misdemeanor all the way to a third-degree felony.
The actions that are taken and the intent of the accused influence what class of crime they are charged with. The penalties for terroristic threats in Texas are:
- Class B misdemeanor – Up to 6 months in jail and fines up to $2,000
- Class A misdemeanor – Up to one year in prison and fines up to $4,000
- State jail felony – As much as two years in a state jail and pay up to $10,000 in fines
- Third-degree felony – As much as 10 years in prison and fines up to $10,000
Texans’ right to vote is one of the most important things we have as Americans and exercising that right is taken seriously in the Lone Star State. If you’ve been accused of voter intimidation (or a terroristic threat), reach out to an experienced Texas attorney in order to understand how to best present your case.
About the Author:
Brandon Fulgham has an in-depth understanding of both Texas law and Texans themselves. Before practicing law here, he received his undergraduate degree from TCU and his law degree from South Texas College of Law in Houston. After graduation, he worked in District Attorneys’ offices as a prosecutor, building cases designed to put people behind bars. Now, he uses that knowledge to protect the rights of people in and around Fort Worth. He has been recognized for his work by Expertise (Best Criminal Defense Lawyers in Forth Worth and Best DUI Lawyers in Fort Worth, both 2020), The National Trial Lawyers, Fort Worth Magazine, and others.