Juanita Barnes, an assistant election judge for a polling place in North Houston, was charged with assault on Tuesday after making racist comments to a black voter and bumping into her, police say.
According to the Houston Chronicle, Barnes approached a voter named Rolanda Anthony after Anthony was having trouble with a dispute over her accurate address. Anthony was told that she had to fill out a form to clear up the matter, and that’s when Barnes told her it was illegal to change her address on election day.
Barnes, a 69-year-old Houston resident, said to Anthony, “If I were to wear my blackface make up, maybe you would understand what I’m telling you.”
Here’s what you need to know:
Anthony Posted About Her Experience in a Facebook Post: ‘I Was Racially Profiled and Disrespected’
In a Facebook post, Anthony detailed her experience with Barnes, saying that Barnes was “relentless”, following Anthony around the polling place and “getting in her face.” Anthony did confirm that she was able to vote, after all of the drama.
Anthony said that she continued to walk away, and that when Anthony threatened to call the police, Barnes replied that the police would arrest her because she is black. Barnes was eventually separated from Anthony by the presiding election judge. The Houston Chronicle reported that at least one of the poll workers quit in protest in response to Barnes’ actions.
The Harris County Sheriff’s Office tweeted, “A deputy investigating a disturbance this morning at the polling location located at 10399 Veterans Memorial issued a Class C misdemeanor citation for assault to a female assistant election judge who allegedly bumped a female voter during an argument.” Sheriff Ed Gonzalez added in his own tweet, “Voters and poll workers should feel safe from harm while participating in our democratic process. We will not tolerate any form of violence or intimidation at the polls.”
Barnes was an assistant election judge in Harris County Precinct 1012. Photos posted to Facebook by E.A. Deckard showed Barnes talking to Harris County deputies and then leaving the polling place after being removed from duty.
You can read Anthony’s full Facebook post below:
Good morning. I’ve just had to call the sheriff’s at my voting location. I was racially profiled and disrespected, then threatened by a white lady working at the CHURCH where I’m voting. This lady questioned my residency. When I explained that the address is completely correct, she told them to check it again because it couldn’t be. When I finally challenged her she declared, maybe if I wore my black face make up today you’d be able to understand me. After her atrocious statement I walked away, she was relentless she followed me throughout the voting location and got in my face not one but two times finally I had enough and said I’m calling the police. She had the audacity to say I’m white they’ll arrest you and charge you with a crime not me, haven’t you seen the news.
Voter Intimidation Is Against the Law, & Can Lead to Up to a Year in Jail
“I feel like my vote today is more important than ever,” Anthony told the Houston Chronicle. “I think it’s really ridiculous and I think her purpose was to prevent me from voting. She did it egregiously. She did it because she wanted to prove that she had some kind of white supremacy over me. She did that purposely and intentionally to intimidate me but I will not be intimidated,” she added.
Deckard, a pastor in the Houston area, went to the polling place after hearing about the dispute. He told the newspaper, “I ask that anyone who experiences any problems at the polls today, be they black, white or brown, continue to wait and cast their vote.” Anthony added, “Yeah, go vote. I don’t care who you vote for. Don’t let anything stop you from voting. Your vote matters. It’s your right so use it.”
Voter intimidation is technically prohibited by federal law, but it can often be hard to define or prove in a court of law. The New York Times reports that the law is defined as any act of an individual that works to “intimidate, threaten, or coerce,” and that it can lead to up to a year of jail time.
To report any instance of voter intimidation, you can call 866-OUR-VOTE, which is administered by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. They also have lines available for Spanish-speaking, Arabic-speaking and Asian-American voters.