Texas Supreme Court declines to intervene in Travis County poll watcher alleged ‘sequestration’

Texas

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Texas Supreme Court declined a request from the Travis County Republican Party to intervene in a case that alleges the county’s central counting station is violating state law by forcing poll watchers to observe ballot counting from a “media room.”

The court denied the party’s petition for a writ of mandamus five to four late Sunday. This comes after Attorney General Ken Paxton filed a brief in the state’s Supreme Court.

On Sept. 2, 2020 the TX Secretary of State’s Office sent the attorney general a letter requesting a “criminal investigation” into Travis County Clerk Dana DebEauvoir’s office’s handling of poll watchers during the July 2020 runoff election. (Credit: Travis County)

A KXAN investigation last week uncovered the “media room,” which poll watchers are corralled into and are unable to get close enough to hear and see the clerk’s office handling and counting ballots.

Paxton argues in a Nov. 8 court filing that poll watchers must be permitted to observe ballot counting by election officials, under the Texas Election Code. Holding watchers in a separate room “violates the Election Code,” the AG’s office wrote in the filing.

“The election laws passed by our Legislature were specifically designed to ensure integrity, security and transparency,” said a statement from Paxton. “Poll watchers are critical for increased confidence in election integrity and the prevention of fraud.”

Last week, a KXAN investigation showed allegations of obstruction that came from Republican poll watcher Jennifer Fleck, who was arrested inside the media room on Nov. 2 and charged with criminal trespassing after calling 911 to accuse the clerk of this violation.

Fleck was a candidate for Texas House District 47 and was forced into a runoff in July. Fleck lost the runoff to Justin Berry. Fleck filed a lawsuit contesting the results of the runoff.

That lawsuit contained allegations of violations of the Texas Election Code against the Travis County Clerk’s Office, including allegations that poll watchers were sequestered behind a locked door in a separate room at the Travis County Central Counting Station where they could not see ballot counting and did not have enough access to verify the integrity of the process.

The clerk’s office calls that room the “media room.” The clerk’s office does not allow cameras into the media room to record what happens on the other side of the window. Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir denied KXAN access to her media room last week after we found it inside the clerk’s Airport Boulevard offices.

Those same obstruction claims were made in a formal complaint to the Texas Secretary of State’s Office weeks before Fleck’s election contest was filed.

The Secretary of State’s Office reviewed the allegations and the poll watchers’ documentation supporting their claims and on Sept. 2, the SOS forwarded a formal request for a criminal investigation to the Texas Attorney General.

The attorney general would have jurisdiction to investigate and later prosecute such an offense.

A Nov. 8 statement from Paxton’s office said allegations of obstruction are supported by sworn affidavits from multiple poll watchers.

“Texas law provides for poll watchers as a procedural protection against irregularities or unlawful conduct,” Paxton said. “Watchers must be allowed to perform their lawful duty and verify the ballots are counted correctly—something they can’t do when stuck in a holding room.”

Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir has refuted claims that her media room has obstructed poll watchers’ right to participate in the electoral process.

KXAN has reached out for a response from DeBeauvoir and will update this story when we hear back.

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