A Disturbing Look at Voter Intimidation In Texas

Poll greeter Carmen Ayala gives an eyewitness account

At Jolt Action, a Texas-based organization that encourages civic engagement in the Latinx Community, Carmen Ayala heads Poder Quince, one of the most unique voter registration programs in the country. (Poder means power, and quince is short for quinceañera.) As Jolt’s Culture and Events Manager, Ayala and her team set up photo booths and voter registration tables at quinceañeras, which celebrate the 15th birthdays of Latinx girls. La quinceañeras sign cards pledging that they will vote when they turn 18, and during their speeches thanking their family and friends, they encourage their guests to register to vote. Though Poder Quince is on hiatus due to Covid, Jolt has registered voters at 50 quinceañeras since the program began in May 2019.

On the eve of the November election, though, Ayala has turned her attention elsewhere. Since early voting began in Texas on October 13, she has served as a poll greeter at several polling places that serve mostly Black and Brown communities in Dallas County. In this role, she has witnessed, firsthand, long lines and what she describes as voter intimidation.

The story that follows has been edited for length and clarity.

The Trump administration has shown that elections have consequences. The Latinx community has especially felt the consequences during this pandemic. Our people, including my own father, are essential workers who oftentimes don’t have health care. This is why it’s important for us to vote.

Poll greeters in Texas are allowed to stand 100 feet away from the polling place and hand out information about voting. I’ve been poll greeting every single day at several locations in Dallas where there is a large Latinx community. On the first two days of early voting, some voters waited over three hours to vote.

An older white man suddenly announced to the mostly Black and Brown voters that if they were not inside the building by 7 pm, when the polls closed, they would not be allowed to vote.

I’ve seen several disturbing incidents in Dallas. At 6:45 pm on the first day of early voting at Samuel Grand Recreation Center, there was a long line that wound outside of the building. An older white man suddenly announced to the mostly Black and Brown voters that if they were not inside the building by 7 p.m., when the polls closed, they would not be allowed to vote.

This information is false. As long as the voters are in line by 7 p.m., they are allowed to vote.

Some voters waiting in line, including a Latinx mother and her three children, began to leave. I explained in both Spanish and English that this man was wrong, and we reported this to the election judge who came outside and verified that as long as the voters were in line they could all vote. I wonder what would have happened if we had not been there to correct this misinformation.

In Texas, there are already so many obstacles to stop voters of color from voting. And most voters do not know all of the rules. If voters have already been waiting in line for an hour, and someone tells them that the polls are closing, they’ll leave. When these kinds of things happen, some voters get discouraged and don’t vote. Some people consider Texas a red state, but I consider Texas a nonvoting state because there are so many barriers to voting.

One of the Trump supporters with a MAGA hat was walking around and saying that the only place he sends people is to the morgue.

On Monday afternoon at the South Garland Branch Library location in Dallas, two Trump cars with huge flags were parked in the parking lot with a dozen or so unmasked Trump supporters milling about. Because they were stationed more than 100 feet from the polling place, they were allowed to be there.

The Trump supporters were loudly playing a recorded message from inside of their cars. It stated that Blacks and Latinos didn’t have to vote for Biden, they could vote for Trump. Because the line to vote went outside, voters could easily hear this message. One of the Trump supporters with a MAGA hat was walking around and saying that the only place he sends people is to the morgue. He wanted to talk to us poll greeters (there were four of us) and asked us why we supported Biden. We told them we were not here for conversations.

This kind of behavior is threatening to voters. The Trumpers in the parking lot of this polling place, along with the blaring propaganda, made the election feel as if it was taking place in the middle of a Trump rally. Eventually, a police officer made the Trump supporters turn down the volume of the recorded message. But when a Latinx father who had arrived with his two children to vote saw the Trump supporters, he decided to go back home and vote on another day.

And on this same day, at the same polling location, an older white woman pulled up her car and asked us if we were Christians, and if we believed in God. She said that Democrats tell mothers that they can kill their babies, and spoke terribly about the LGBTQIA+ and Muslim communities. These kinds of words and actions create an atmosphere of intimidation for voters. And this can deter them from voting.

This kind of behavior is serious. At Jolt, we register many young, first-time voters of color and we work hard to protect the voting rights of voters of color in Texas. Many of them are fearless and excited to vote. We don’t want them to ever feel intimidated when they are exercising their right.

It fuels me to know I’m doing this work and standing on the right side of history.

Journalist, critic & columnist at ZORA. Essay collection SOUTHBOUND (UGA Press) & debut novel THE PARTED EARTH (Hub City Press), spring ’21. anjalienjeti.com.

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