Poll watchers: There are some rules (and the DOJ will be watching, too)

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton — who, with his fellow Texas Republicans, has tried continually to suppress voter turnout among groups the GOP thinks will vote against them — on Monday issued an opinion warning election officials that “poll watchers” have certain rights and that if an election official tries to interfere with those rights, that official can face Class A misdemeanor charges, punishable by up to one year in jail and a $4,000 fine.

Election officials cannot block official poll watchers from observing and inspecting voting equipment or the interaction between voters and poll workers. Poll watchers also may accompany election officials as they deliver records to vote counters.

But as the Austin American-Stateman points out, those poll watchers have some very strict rules governing what they CAN’T do, too:

“State law also forbids poll watchers from speaking to voters.
“To serve, poll watchers must be assigned to a specific precinct and must present a certificate signed by the campaign or party official who appointed them. No more than two watchers can represent each political party or candidate at a polling site, and observers can serve only in the county in which they are registered to vote.
“The Texas Secretary of State’s office also warns poll watchers that they must stay silent on issues of voter identification.
“Under an order by a federal judge, Texans who do not have a government-issued photo ID can show other documents Tuesday — such as a bank statement or utility bill — if they fill out and sign a declaration indicating why they couldn’t acquire a government ID, such as a lack of transportation, disability or theft. Poll watchers and election workers cannot question the truthfulness of the declaration, the agency said.”

Paxton’s opinion came in response to a request filed back in September by Llano County D.A. Wiley McAfee, and amid expectations that there will certainly be “poll watchers” at some polling places following Donald Trump’s repeated claims that the election is rigged and urging his followers to “monitor” polling places to guard against voter fraud. Many non-Trumpettes, of course, understand that the Widespread Voter Fraud Boogeyman is about as real as aliens and Bigfoot, and believe that a more likely scenario is that alt-right white supremacist Trumpettes are going to show up to try and intimidate certain voters into not casting their ballots.

With all the accusations flying back and forth, U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced Monday that the U.S. Department of Justice will be deploying more than 500 people to 67 different jurisdictions in 28 states today to monitor polls during the general election, CBS News reports. Those 67 jurisdictions include Dallas County, Harris County and Waller County in Texas.

—  Tammye Nash

BREAKING: Transgender girl not a finalist for homecoming queen despite enough votes

SISTERLY SUPPORT | Andy Moreno, left, has her family — including sister Daisy Moreno, right — and her friends backing her up in her bid to be the 2010 homecoming queen at North Dallas High. (Tammye Nash/Dallas Voice)
Andy Moreno, left, and her sister Daisy Moreno

Trangender student Andy Moreno wasn’t among the three finalists for homecoming queen at North Dallas High School announced Monday, according to her sister, Daisy Moreno.

Daisy Moreno told Instant Tea that according to poll watchers and friends on the counting committee, Andy received more votes than at least one of the three finalists. However, based on the principal’s previous decision, school officials didn’t allow votes for Andy to count.

Another transgender youth who also identifies as female was nominated for homecoming king and won, Daisy Moreno said. The school allowed the other youth to run for king because she was born male. Students will choose the homecoming king and queen from among the finalists on Friday, Oct. 15.

Queer LiberAction is reportedly planning a protest of Andy’s exclusion from the ballot.

The Canadian Broadcasting Company saw the story about Andy’s homecoming bid on Dallas Voice’s website and interviewed her Monday afternoon. The report is scheduled to run on NPR in the United States.

It’s unclear whether Andy would have a winning case if she brought legal action against the school or the district, according to Ken Upton, a senior staff attorney at Lambda Legal in Dallas.

Upton said recent federal court rulings have supported students’ right to dress consistently with their gender identity in other contexts, but he couldn’t recall one that dealt specifically with homecoming. In Indiana, for example, a school district recently changed its policies and settled a case brought by a trans student who wasn’t allowed to wear female attire to the prom.

“In this type of a situation, there would probably be some federal arguments you could make,” Upton said. “It would depend a lot on the circumstances of the homecoming event, and whether it was truly just extracurricular or whether it was related to the curriculum of the school. But as a general rule, the federal law has been in some cases protective of students who kind of buck the gender norms or bend the molds and administrators don’t like it.

“I think it’s something we’re seeing more and more of, because students are increasingly becoming comfortable in their own skin in situations where five or 10 years ago, they would have been scared to death to be themselves,” he said.

Upton added that regardless of the legal implications, he doesn’t understand the school’s motivation.

“What’s the harm?” Upton said. “Especially in the context of proms or homecoming, I always wonder, what really is the objection? And that’s the question that I’ve never gotten a satisfactory answer to. You [the school district] might win a lawsuit, but why would you care, and why would you expend so much energy on something like this? You’ve got bigger problems.”

Online editor John Wright contributed to this article.

—  David Taffet