AUSTIN — In an attempt to stave off the threat of a lawsuit, Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir has agreed to no longer block poll watchers from accessing the ballot counting room. The agreement goes into effect Nov. 11.
DeBeauvoir’s decision to sequester poll watchers inside of a “media room” during ballot counting led the Travis County Republican Party to file a petition with the Texas Supreme Court last weekend.
The petition asked the justices to order DeBeauvoir to comply with the Texas Election Code, which requires elections offices to allow watchers to sit or stand “conveniently close” to officials counting and tabulating ballots.
The agreement between DeBeauvoir and the TCRP requires the clerk to follow the terms of the agreement or face a lawsuit from the TCRP.
“Relators (TCRP) and Respondent (DeBeauvoir) agree poll watchers will be present inside the tabulation area of the central counting station to perform their duties,” the settlement stated.
The settlement also bans DeBeauvoir from placing “physical barriers” between the poll watchers and elections workers counting ballots.
The settlement also provides the clerk’s office with health protections related to the pandemic.
Poll watchers must wear masks inside the counting station and the clerk can add tape to the floor to mark six-feet of separation between elections workers and the poll watchers. Watchers can only move closer than six feet “to the extent necessary to view the screen and notate any irregularity or violation of law,” according to the settlement.
Poll watchers will only be permitted to ask questions of the “presiding judge,” inside the counting station.
DeBeauvoir must also ensure poll watchers can see all computer screens used in the counting and tabulation of ballots.
The settlement agreement does not expire unless overruled by contrary statutory provision or judicial action.” This means DeBeauvoir cannot place barriers between poll watchers and the counting room without risking a lawsuit in the future, according to the Nov. 11 settlement agreement.
“This is a good agreement that will protect that rights of legally appointed pollwatchers [sic] in all future elections in Travis County,” TCRP chairman Matt Mackowiak wrote in a Nov. 11 statement.
“This election cycle, we did not think our poll watchers had enough access to observe the process and perform their duties. We have worked with Travis County to solve that problem going forward. We appreciate not only the dedication of fellow Relator Martin Harry and the entire Republican Party of Texas Legal team for their work in resolving the substantive issues raised but want to thank Dana DeBeauvoir and the Travis County Elections legal team for their hard work in coming to this agreement,” Mackowiak wrote.
In the July run-off election, DeBeauvoir held poll watchers inside the same media room during ballot counting and tabulation. That move led multiple poll watchers to file a complaint with the Texas Secretary of State’s Office. On Sept. 2, the SOS sent the Texas Attorney General’s Office a request for a criminal investigation over the sequestration.
The complaint alleged DeBeauvoir and her office committed the crime of obstructing a poll watcher during the July 2020 run-off election. The crime is a Class A Misdemeanor in Texas and carries one year in jail and up to $4,000 in fines if convicted.
The attorney general would not confirm to KXAN whether it has opened its investigation into the July 2020 complaint. Poll watchers we interviewed for this series of reports said they were filing additional criminal complaints with the SOS to have obstruction allegations in the November 2020 election investigated, as well.
DeBeauvoir has not responded to our request for an interview or to comment on the settlement. DeBeauvoir has also not responded to requests to photograph the media room or the new arrangements resulting from the TCRP litigation filed last weekend.