That’s a complicated headline for this story.
Six teams of Justice Department officials will be dispatched to observe Election Day voting at 75 polling locations in Harris County as part of an investigation into allegations that the county failed to provide reasonable access to mobility-impaired voters.
Harris County will field its own teams on Election Day as part of an arrangement approved Thursday by U.S. District Judge Alfred H. Bennett.
Bennett, however, told county officials that he found it “deeply disturbing” that Justice Department observers saw a visibly armed county investigator with a badge filming an elderly African-American woman with a walker entering a polling place this week for early voting.
“That’s voter intimidation,” the judge said, ordering the Harris County Attorney’s Office to provide written notice explaining how it plans to avoid a repeat of the scenario.
The filming was meant to record the accessibility of the site, a county attorney said, explaining she was surprised to hear the investigator was in close proximity to voters and that his sidearm was visible.
The judge also asked whether there had been any complaints of ADA violations during early voting, which began Monday in Texas. Harris County officials said it had neither seen nor heard of any, but the Justice Department legal team said it knew of four complaints so far, in addition to the incident of the woman with the walker.
The details were revealed during a hearing Thursday in Houston in a Justice Department lawsuit accusing the county of civil violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act because it doesn’t provide appropriate parking, ramps, sidewalks, entry ways, voting space and other mandatory accommodations at voting sites.
The county says it has fielded no such complaints and denies its polling sites are out of compliance with ADA regulations.
“They have taken the position that there is a systemic problem,” said Laura Beckman Hedge of the Harris County Attorney’s Office. “We believe this is a fishing expedition.”
See here for the background. Basically, the Justice Department filed a lawsuit back in August that charged Harris County with not having sufficient access to polling places for disabled voters. They had previously notified the Harris County Clerk in 2014 of the problems they had identified, and filed the lawsuit after not receiving an answer that satisfied them in time. This was the first activity that I know of related to this lawsuit since then. Obviously, nothing is going to be resolved before this election, but it will be interesting to see what the Justice Department’s findings are afterwards, and how the county responds to them.