Latinos in Texas Prepare to Vote - and Protect Themselves - on Election Day

In preparation for Election Day, a right-wing extremist militia has been training for months. Clinton supporters are recruiting volunteers to go to the polls equipped with cameras to document any incidences of violence or harassment.

A U.S. citizen of Latino origin, Carlos Zamora displays a voter registration card by a taco truck in Houston, on September 29, 2016.
John L. Mone/ AP

DALLAS, TX – A few hours before the polls opened in Dallas, the Clinton campaign’s preparations for bringing Latino voters to the polls were almost finished.

Volunteers from the Texas Organizing Project have arranged for rides to bring Spanish-speaking voters to the polls on Tuesday. Latino turnout is expected to be unusually high this year, and the volunteers spent months going to door to door in Spanish-speaking neighborhoods.

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Meanwhile, Donald Trump supporters were working feverishly on social media to prepare for Election Day. The Republican candidate has warned of an attempt to steal the election and urged his supporters to serve as volunteer monitors at the polls.

At a website called Stop the Steal, run by Trump advisor and conservative activist Roger Stone, volunteers from across the country are signing up to do so. In Texas alone, 263 people have already promised to monitor the balloting.

Ginnifer Heard of Cedar Park, a Texas town where 20 percent of the residents are Latino, sought guidance from the organization.

A supporter of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton attends a Democratic National Convention watch party in San Antonio, Texas on July 26, 2016.
Eric Gay/AP

“I am interested in doing whatever I can to assure a fair election as I believe a fair election process (that is not rigged) will produce a Donald Trump Presidency in a landslide” she wrote on the website. “Please let me know what I can do to help stop election fraud at the polls.”

Other volunteers complained that the organizers weren’t giving them enough material and offered their own suggestions.

“Unable to find instruction here I have made a simple form up that include ‘Presidential Race Exit Polling’ at the top then blanks for date, time, location and your name,” wrote one.

“I am going to get a clip board. On the back of the clip board big and bold ‘Presidential Race Exit Polling’ and I plan to wear a hat with ‘Presidential Race Exit Polling’ on it. This is my plan unless instructed differently by Stop the Steal.”

The Oath Keepers, a right-wing extremist militia comprised of former members of the security forces, has been training for months in preparation for Election Day.

Many of its founders live in Texas, and the group announced that it would join the effort to prevent electoral fraud. 

A group called TOP at work in Dallas to get Latino voters to the polls on November 8, 2016.
Taly Krupkin

The founders say the group, established in 2009, has 30,000 dues-paying members, but experts on extremist organizations put the real figure lower. Nevertheless, one such expert, the Southern Poverty Law Center, is worried by the group’s growing strength, saying it is the fastest growing militia in the United States

Two days ago, Oath Keepers ran an online course for supporters around the country on how to set up neighborhood watch groups. Some supporters voiced fears of clashes on Election Day, and the group’s president, Stewart Rhodes, responded with the following advice. 

“Get trained up, fast,” he said. “Get geared up, fast, and stock up on food, water, fuel, medical, and spare batteries for all your electronics but especially your radios. Get your gear sorted out, organized, and ready to go. And then pray for the best even as you prepare for the worst.

“My advice for election day is to vote early (days ahead if you can) and then get home and stay home (if home is safe!).  Stay away from big cities and big crowds, and away from public places that may be targeted for terrorism. If you live in a big city that has the potential for civil unrest, violence, looting and arson, get away from it for a few days and don’t be there when it goes bad.” 

But the group also urged any supporters who didn’t feel their lives were in danger to get out and monitor the vote. In addition, it promised to send further instructions to its armed supporters a few hours before the polls open.

In a surprising new twist to an election that has frequently seen Russia accused of meddling in the campaign, even Russian officials have asked Texas for permission to monitor the polls.

Early voters wait in line at a voting location in Dallas, Texas on October 27, 2016.
Tony Gutierrez/AP

The Texas Tribune reported that Alexander K. Zakharov, Russia’s consul general in Houston, asked Texas Secretary of State Carlos Cascos last month for permission to send consular staffers to observe the balloting in Texas, “with the goal of studying the U.S. experience in organization of voting process.”

Cascos refused indignantly and even threatened to arrest any Russians found at polling stations.

While Trump supporters are worried about election fraud, Latino voters in Texas are worried about violence at the polls. The League of United Latin American Citizens, which was founded in Texas in the 1930s and is considered America’s oldest Latino advocacy group, announced that 5,000 volunteers throughout the state will transport voters to the polls. 

Jennifer Nunez, a LULAC volunteer from Dallas, said she hopes Election Day will pass peacefully, but said many Latino voters feel threatened. “It makes me angry,” she said. “Just let people express themselves at the polls. That is what America is known for. It’s just so sneaky. It isn’t right.

Activa, another group that has worked for months to register Latino voters in Dalllas, is also worried about its voters’ safety. It is recruiting volunteers to go to the polls equipped with cellphone cameras to document any incidences of violence or harassment. 

But other Dallas residents predict that violence will occur primarily in states that Hillary Clinton wins – something considered unlikely to happen in Texas. 

“Texas is a Republican state,” said Jeff, who studies at a Christian seminary in Dallas. “I think if anything happens, it will be in the states where Clinton wins, and Trump supporters will feel cheated. Here in Dallas, maybe there will be bar fights if Clinton supporters, as they celebrate tomorrow, egg the Trump supporters.” 

He decided to vote Trump after considerable agonizing, mainly because of faith-related issues like abortion. But he doesn’t expect his candidate to be the next president. He thinks Trump’s talk of a stolen election has alienated too many senior Republicans, who consequently won’t work to turn out the vote for him.

“It’s too bad Trump said that the election is rigged,” Jeff said. “I think we have a really fair system in place. Him saying it’s rigged is also a dig at all the Republican officials who are in charge of organizing the election, who take pride in doing their job.
 
“I think he just said it ‘cause he sees the polls, and knows in his heart that he is losing, and now he can’t backpedal on it; it’s too late,” he added. “I expect on election night he will hold a rally somewhere and announce that the election is rigged, but it will not matter.”