Republicans have passed laws or are pushing bills undermining voting by mail in many states—and now they’re getting ready to make in-person voting harder, too. At least if you live in a heavily Black, Latino, or Asian neighborhood.

Giving partisan poll watchers more power to disrupt voting is another trend in the tsunami of Republican voter suppression bills coming out this year, following Donald Trump’s refusal to believe that he could have lost fair and square. And in case there’s any question of whose votes are being targeted by efforts to send aggressive poll watchers bound by few rules into voting locationsa leaked video of a Republican poll watcher training in Harris County, Texas, makes it absolutely clear.

“This is where the fraud is occurring,” a county Republican official said as he used a laser pointer to indicate Black, Latino, and Asian neighborhoods. As a precinct chair in the whiter parts of Harris County, he was looking for people “to have the confidence and courage” to go to those neighborhoods and keep an eye on the voters there. Translation: harass, disrupt, intimidate.

Texas Republicans are moving forward with a bill that would allow partisan poll watchers to take video of people voting, as well as making it more difficult for election officials to remove disruptive poll watchers. In 2020, Harris County poll workers reported 44 incidents of inappropriate behavior by poll watchers, so this is not a hypothetical.

“If you have a situation, for example, where people who are poll workers do not have the ability to throw out anybody at the polls who is being disruptive or anyone at the polls who is intimidating voters, that’s essentially authorizing voter intimidation,” as the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law’s Jon Greenbaum put it.

The voter suppression bill recently passed in Florida allows one partisan poll watcher per candidate on the ballot while votes are inspected, and doesn’t require that large crowd of poll watchers to keep any distance from the election workers. That measure creates “very grave security risks,” according to Mark Earley, the vice president of the Florida Supervisors of Elections.

In Michigan, Republicans have a bill allowing poll watchers to sit close enough to read poll books and other election records—so they’d be able to see the names and addresses of voters as they come in. Then, if the partisan poll watcher claimed “a good reason,” they could challenge a voter’s eligibility. “A good reason.” How very specific and carefully limited a provision. And this comes in the state where Republican poll watchers became viciously abusive to election workers during the counting of absentee ballots. 

”The behavior in the room changed dramatically in the afternoon: The rage in the room from Republican challengers was nothing like I had ever experienced in my life,” one election worker wrote. According to another, “Republicans were challenging everything at the two tables I could see. When the ballot envelope was opened, they would say they couldn’t see it clearly. When the next envelope was opened, they made the same complaint. They were objecting to every single step down the line for no good reason.”

That was in an effort to change the count of votes already cast. But the clear goal of the proposed Republican bills on poll workers is to affect what votes get cast.

There’s a long history to the Republican use of poll watchers to intimidate voters. They send armies—literally, Donald Trump called for an “army” of poll watchers—of entitled white people into Black and brown neighborhoods with the mindset that voting by the people in those neighborhoods is illegitimate, to look for excuses to challenge any given vote while scaring potential voters with their very presence. Decades ago, Republican efforts on poll watching were so abusive that in 1982 the courts limited the Republican National Committee’s poll-watching activities in a consent decree that was lifted only in 2018.

If you can’t win over the voters, keep them from voting. It’s the Republican way.

Another Republican strategy for winning elections: Make voter intimidation legal 1