Voter Harassment Persists in Harris County

Republican lawyer allegedly causes problem in Third Ward.


With two hours left at the polls, the Houston polls have been quiet with at least one exception in Houston’s Third Ward, a historic black neighborhood.

This morning at about 9:30 a lawyer named Vivian King who is a candidate for a district judgeship said she heard complaints from voters who were being accosted outside the polling place by the alternative election judge, a Republican lawyer named Carmen Cuneo.

King drove to the polling place, a community center behind St. Mary’s Catholic Church, where blacks have been voting without incident for the last fifteen years. King said Cuneo was trying to tell voters they had to fill in a form before they could vote. “She even harassed Quanell X,” King said, with a measure of surprise.

Quanell is a well-known civic activist and leader of the New Black Panthers. He was in the parking lot, immaculately dressed as usual, and very calm though indigant.

St. Mary’s was his precinct voting place, he said, and Cuneo confronted him asking, why he was there.

Quanell said he asked her, “What are you doing questioning me? I’m here to cast my vote.”

The long time precinct judge, Billie Smith, became so exasperated with Cuneo’s behavior she phoned a constable and had Cuneo escorted out. Cuneo returned a couple of hours later with Republican lawyers and a poll-watcher’s certificate allowing her to sit quietly and watch the election.

The chair of the Harris County Democrats, Gerald Birnberg, said he was surprised, too, that an alternate election judge would confront Quanell about his right to vote. But there wasn’t any law against her coming back as a poll watcher. As for the threat of hundreds of tea party poll watchers disrupting the election, Birnberg said, it has been a routine day.

With the exception of the Quanell X incident, he said “We’ve seen nothing out of the ordinary.”

The Harris County Republican Party did not return phone calls about the incident.