After a federal lawsuit outlining allegations of discriminatory behavior against Black voters trying to cast their ballots at an in-person polling location in Beaumont, Texas, which is a little over an hour (by car) from Houston, a federal judge has ordered that any such behavior (as outlined in the complaint) stop.
The judge, a Trump pick named Michael Truncale, noted he wasn’t formally accepting the allegations about what was happening. His orders, rather, were proactive. Among other points of contention, the original lawsuit alleged that poll workers were making Black voters recite their address when casting a ballot, without mandating the same of white voters at the same polling place. “The Court GRANTS Plaintiffs’ request to prohibit all election judges, clerks, workers, volunteers, or watchers at the John Paul Davis Community Center from requesting or ordering any voters to publicly recite their addresses before allowing them to vote,” Truncale said. The judge also directed that these categories of election workers not situate themselves near voters where they could see the choices voters were making, responding to another allegation in the original lawsuit that poll workers followed Black voters in the polling place and, in at least one case, to the voting machine.
Truncale also ordered that election workers at the contested polling location make themselves available for any voter requiring assistance with putting their completed ballot into a scanner. The affected polling location is the John Paul Davis Community Center. In Texas, voters are deciding this week on high-profile races including a gubernatorial contest in which Democratic contender Beto O’Rourke is hoping to unseat incumbent Republican Greg Abbott. Abbott has faced criticism over issues like gun policy and abortion access. In Texas, otherwise eligible residents can now legally carry handguns without needing a permit, and abortion is illegal throughout all of pregnancy with rare exceptions. Performing an abortion is punishable by up to life in prison and hefty financial penalties under a felony ban the state enacted under Abbott, who’s seeking a third term.
The Texas case preceding Truncale’s emergency order was from a local chapter of the NAACP and an individual voter. The community center at the center of the lawsuit’s allegations serves “a predominantly Black community,” the voting rights organization Democracy Docket notes. The original case specifies that white poll workers were perpetrating the harassment driving the lawsuit. In cases in which Black voters were made to say their addresses, some of those affected were already checked in, per the court case’s claims. “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 filing said. The case alleged violations of the federal Voting Rights Act and the 14th and 15th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. Truncale acted very quickly, issuing his order on the same day plaintiffs filed their emergency motion for a temporary restraining order, which was on Monday.