“They had no right to do this.” Officials in the clerk’s office, however, said that a number of voters were intimidated by the harassment and left without casting their ballots.
Charlotte Munson, Pine Bluff Deputy Clerk, reported that a Republican poll watcher walked behind her counter to photograph voter information she had pulled up on her computer screen. Under Arkansas state law, challenges can be made only after a voter has cast his or her ballot.
The idea is to use the legal right of candidates to place poll watchers at election sites as the cover for stationing political operatives who will challenge the credentials of likely Democratic voters, especially in minority neighborhoods where the overwhelming majority of those who cast ballots are expected to vote for the Democrats.
With control of both the House of Representatives and the Senate hanging on the distribution of a relatively small number of votes in a limited number of highly contested races, the Republicans calculate they can help shift the outcome by using bullying tactics to suppress the vote. For more than half of the twentieth century, the Democratic Party, which politically dominated the US South, intimidated black voters from participating in elections through a combination of Jim Crow laws and physical terror.
According to Democratic Party officials, on October 21 five Republican poll watchers showed up at the courthouse in heavily-Democratic Pine Bluff, Arkansas, a key district in the contest between incumbent Republican Senator Tim Hutchinson and Democratic candidate Attorney General Mark Pryor.
There are federal civil rights and election laws that make such practices a crime.
None of the Republican violators were detained or arrested.
In Michigan, state Republicans are planning to send several hundred “watchers” on Election Day to challenge voters from heavily Democratic precincts in urban and minority areas.
Chief Justice William Rehnquist, part of the majority on the US Supreme Court that handed the 2000 election to Bush, began his political career as a Republican lawyer enforcing literacy tests to keep Hispanics from voting in Arizona.
Poll watchers are barred by law from harassing voters.