Ft. Bend Co officials allege polling place issues, racist attacks
Photo by Brynn Anderson/AP.

The Defender was contacted recently about allegations regarding voting irregularities in Fort Bend County. The Defender spoke with Ft. Bend County Judge KP George and Chief Deputy for Fort Bend County Precinct Two Constable’s Office Roderick Garner about those allegations and additional disturbing election-related reports.

DEFENDER: Can you share the report about alleged voting place issues?

CHIEF RODERICK GARNER: Yesterday (Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2022), we had a poll worker that was out there working. Just like most poll workers, they are vying for a party or a candidate, specifically, on both sides, Republican or Democrat. So, she had made a comment that Sunday ships are several voters walking out of the voting area with a ballot in their hands. So, the issue is that those ballots have to be placed into another machine in order to be counted. And there was no one at that machine to direct the voters.

DEFENDER: So, you’re saying that folk who went in to vote, they go into vote, then they’re supposed to be directed to another machine. You go to another machine, and there’s supposed to be someone there that lets you know, this is the final step in the process. You’re saying there wasn’t anyone at that final step?

GARNER: There was no one at that final step. And the issue was brought to the attention of the election judge. The election judge, and I know this because he even told me, he said, “Well, look, there are directions on the machines, and if we’re shorthanded, then the people should know how to just place those ballots in the machine without our guidance.” And I told him, “Well, everywhere else, every place that I’ve seen, there’s been someone there who would direct you to place your ballot into the counter after you voted and received your ballot back that displays who you voted for. So, this incident culminated in the poll worker, she went back in (Wednesday), and she was not in the voting area, but in the common area. However, she was looking into the voting area. And according to her, the election judge came on and told her she had to leave. Now, understand that this is the Sienna Annex, and there are several offices in that building that serve the public. There’s the tax collector’s office, county clerk’s office, district clerk’s office, DA’s office. The sheriff’s department has a substation there. Our office has a satellite office there. And, there are other agencies and affiliates that are there conducting business.

DEFENDER: Just to be clear, you’re saying she had every right to be in that space?

GARNER: Oh, absolutely. She was not wearing anything that indicated that she was from a party or a particular candidate. She was dressed in regular street attire. Now, [the election judge] said that she was looking into the voting area. Well, the voting area is open; has access doors that were not closed, of course, because they’re letting people in. So, they were open. She could, in plain view, see, I guess, activity. And she said she saw someone coming out with a ballot and she was like, “No, no, no. You’ve got to place that in the machine.” [The election judge] came out, chastised her, told her she needed to leave, she was not allowed to be in that space and escorted her to the door. He said she tried to stop by putting her foot in the door. She says he pushed her out of the door.

I noticed this incident when he came out with her to where she was standing initially, like where all the other supporters and candidates were. I saw that he was upset and I was on the other side of the parking lot. So, I walked over to see what was going on, and he began to tell me his side. And she was trying to tell me her side. So, I said, “Okay, everybody calm down. Sir, she’s here now. She won’t come back in. You go ahead and do your job because your job is for the election.” He was angry. He yelled a few things and he went back in. And when I noticed he was doing something with his key, I said, “I hope he’s not locking the door.” Sure enough, about five people came through. I encouraged them to go vote, and they stopped at the door. There’s a hundred-foot line that we [candidates] can’t cross. So, I yelled, “Hey, what’s going on?” “We can’t get in.” I said, “What do you mean?” They said, “The door is locked.” Now, this is during an open election. He locked the door.

DEFENDER: That’s gotta be against the law.

GARNER: It is. Absolutely it is. It’s against federal law. A deputy that works for my office was getting off work, so it had to be right around four o’clock. So, there’s three hours left [for early voting]. So, [the deputy] is getting off work and I stopped him. I said, “Hey, I need you to go open that door because it’s not seven o’clock.” He said, “Well, it’s open.” I said, “No, that man, the election judge, locked it.” So, he went, opened the door, and the election judge came back out and said, “I was gonna let people in. I didn’t want that lady to come back in here.” And [the deputy who unlocked the door] said, “Well, that’s fine, but why didn’t you come get me?” [The election judge] said, “Well, I’m the election judge. I didn’t have to come get you. I’m the election judge.” [The deputy] said, “Well, that was beyond your authority at that point. You should have come to get me.”

[The deputy] said, “Why did you lock the door?” He said, “I will let people in. And then if she came, she couldn’t get in because it’d be locked.” [The deputy] said, “Well, these five people were here and they were trying to get in.” [The election judge] said, “Oh, I had gone back into the election room to tell the people in there that I would be out here holding the door.” “Well, look, you can’t do that. You have to leave these doors open,” the deputy told him. He said, “Fine. Well, keep her outta here.” And that was a big to-do. So, as a result, because I am a law enforcement official, I made sure that I contacted the DA’s office and an investigator. The nature of the investigation or the outcome has not yet been determined. And I wouldn’t be privileged to that anyway. But, I think that was the proper thing to do.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: The Defender was unable to contact the election judge involved or the Ft. Bend DA’s office.]

DEFENDER: Judge, I received reports that you and your family have been receiving threats. Is that correct? And if so, can you share something about that?

KP GEORGE: Absolutely. And, it all pretty much started with COVID. And now, I’ve been stopped at parking lots at least a couple of times. Now, I go out for official duties with some kind of security with me. It is heartbreaking for me because it’s the community I grew up, not grew up, but the last 23 years of my life I spent in Sugarland and surrounding areas. Now I have to worry about, “Hey, where is my firearm?” And I make sure I keep it with me and all that stuff. It’s first of all heartbreaking to begin with. When the election started, maybe a couple of months now, constantly, it is an issue of people going on commenting. You could look it up. It is all recorded, and it is all there. They’re saying, “You’re not from here. Go back to your country. We built this country” and “You’re a carpet bagger” or “Take your family to go back to wherever you come from.” And it is constantly, constantly happening, in our face or somebody on social media.

DEFENDER: So, people are confronting you when you’re out and about. Is that what you’re saying?

KP GEORGE: And I just wanted to say this. It only happened a few times. It didn’t happen to me personally somebody talking to me the last few weeks or a month, but it happened before.

DEFENDER: And the vast majority or all of these attacks have been about your heritage? Is that what you’re saying?

KP GEORGE: Yes. According to them, I’m an immigrant and I don’t belong here. That’s what they’re saying. And, also it’s interesting, many cases didn’t say, “I am a democrat” or I “didn’t do my job.” They were solely focused on, “You’re not from here and my candidate is from here, and he deserved to be the county chair,” and those kinds of comments. And I put it out there and news media picked it up a month ago. This is all documented. They write all this bad stuff and at the end, in a number of cases, they come and tag my opponent’s website, “This is the person who needs to be elected to run the county or in that office” kinda thing.

And many, many really disturbing or heartbreaking comments and things of that nature. And then, as you all know, they went into a barrage of issue attacking, removing your signs. And I lost at least 25 to 30 of my street signs. And then they vandalized in the sense they graffiti my signs. Not just mine. Many democratic signs they spray painted with black paint. And some of them, they cut it down and it is all different parts of the county. So that it is pretty much organized, it looks like. And then they printed negative comments about me on a yard sign and put it next to my sign. And it doesn’t even identify who it is.

I let it go, all of that, because I need to focus on, uh, campaigning and I need to focus on winning. But, I always said this, Fort Bend is the most ethnically diverse county in the country, and this is not who we are. From day one, I realized we need to live together. We need to live in harmony. And that’s why I started celebrating at the courthouse. First time, 186 years right now, Fort Bend County is in existence, I started two years ago, African American Heritage Month and Hispanic Heritage Month, Juneteenth celebrations, Islamic Heritage Month and Diwala and other Indian festivals. All that stuff simply I did it because I wanna make sure we are celebrating our diversity so that we could send a good message to our children to live in harmony. So, that’s what I’ve always been doing. And [individuals attacking George with negative comments] are not liking it. They’re angry and upset. But, once again, I repeat, this is not what Fort Bend County is. This is not who we are. And, news media reached out, I believe it was Channel 13, reached out to my opponent about commenting on this. And he said, “This is the typical left wing propaganda; playing a race card.” That’s what he said. He could have said, “Hey, I don’t stand for this. This is not who we are.” But he didn’t say that.

DEFENDER: So, the folk who are directing these attacks against you, whether online or in person, do you have any idea they’re party affiliation or race?

KP GEORGE: I don’t know who exactly they are, but I have an idea. But it is not fair. I am talking about what I feel or what I think, which is not fair to, if I’m wrong about that, that’s not fair to that person or that group. But I have an idea. But I don’t know. I honestly don’t know for sure who they are. But I know that they exist and some of the stuff is coming out. Some of them are on Facebook and fake IDs. Some of these people are not [using] fake IDs. Somebody posted saying that “We need to remove every one of KP George’s signs because you don’t belong here.” And one guy, he lives in Fulshear, said, “I will come and help you.”

Sir, 70% of Fort Bend County looks like you, Chief Garner and me. And this is happening in a county like that. It is heartbreaking what kind of values we are setting. And one guy who is running against me, he wanted to be the top elected official in Fort Bend County, he cannot even denounce racism. That’s troubling. To answer your question, I really don’t know exactly to show you, “Hey, this person did it or this person did it.” But I know that it’s somewhat organized because where people are putting their negative signs printed next to my sign throughout the county. Some places I put some signs last week. The next day I saw this little sign sitting next to it. That means they’re driving around the county and looking where my signs are and putting up these negative signs. That’s gotta be organized.

It’s all heartbreaking to me. It is not good for our children and not good for our society. But unfortunately, all these social media elements just came up, and they feel like they could say whatever they wanted to say. We block walk and some of our people face, I don’t want to say it on the record; they’re bad words. I’m not going to work for that. I will leave it that way. Usually, when you block walk, when you talk to people, they don’t use that kind of expression. They say, “I’m not voting for you” or “I’m not supporting you.” That’s fine. That’s a democracy. But this time they’re specifically using bad words to my poor workers sometimes. And this morning, actually, one of my cousins was block walking in my neighborhood, and one guy literally came out and said absolutely bad, bad words about me. So, this is constantly happening.

DEFENDER: Chief Garner, you told me about this incident at a voting location. You got both sides of the story. What are you hoping comes from this story coming to light? We don’t know the whole thing, but we’ve heard what you say. What do you hope happens?

GARNER: Well, I’m not looking for someone to be wrongfully held accountable. But I think that part of the issue starts with the fact that we had plenty of election judges. A lot of them, most of them were replaced. Most of the judges were replaced, with not bipartisan, but with Republican judges at these polling locations, primarily because it is written that, my understanding that the governor’s race will determine how those positions can be delineated. They’re not necessarily done that way all the time, but this time for sure, there’s been a wholesale change of election judges, many of them for the first time ever. When you had judges who had done it for 20, 30 years, you [now] have judges who have never done it and are placed in that position, which is probably as unfair to that particular judge. But also, you’re going to have a few that are there for the purpose of skewing things.

KP GEORGE: Can I add something there? Sure. One example is the Missouri City Visitors Center, the City Hall. There was a judge for 32-plus years. He was the election judge there. A gentleman, one of the nicest, wonderful people, he knows what he’s doing, fair and everything. He’s replaced this time. Thirty-two years.

DEFENDER: So, who’s doing the replacing? And it sounds like what you’re saying is it’s part being new to the job, but also potentially just being very biased towards one particular party, these, these election judges. Is that what you’re saying?

KP GEORGE: Absolutely.

GARNER: Absolutely. And, I think that this is a systemic issue. I think it comes from the fact that Fort Bend County became blue (Democratic-leaning). Fort Bend County, through just hard work, through diversity, became blue. And it’s disingenuous to talk and to express the diversity of the county and then turn around and do whatever you can to bring the leadership back to what you prefer it to be from days of old. If you really wanna embrace the diversity, I’ll tell anyone, look at the party. Look at the party platform. Look at the party just from the composites, and you’ll see that the Democratic composite looks like Fort Bend County: white, Black, Brown, every ethnicity, religious background, socioeconomic status, even preference of marriage. I mean, you have just about everyone represented on a democratic composite where you see the photos of all the candidates. And then you look at the other side and you don’t see the diversity. And that’s just plain and simple, particularly with the judges. So, we need to be more forthcoming about it, and we need to call it out. I thank the county judge because he’s always called it for what it is. There’s times where our county judge could have just taken an easy road and said, “Well, no, I’m not gonna worry about it. I’m not gonna do that. I’m not gonna say anything. I don’t wanna ruffle feathers.” But he calls it out. And that’s what you have to do. He’s a Christian man, and he knows that you’re called for a purpose. That purpose is not always easy.

DEFENDER: What is the danger of that behavior continuing to go unchecked?

KP GEORGE: Very simple. We’re gonna lose our democracy. We are going to lose our freedom. And it is already orchestrated. This changing of all the election judges who got 32, 34 years in doing it, and removing that person and putting somebody new, coming from one party, and to remove a judge who was from the other party. And this is all an orchestrated effort. This is all a planned effort of voter suppression and they don’t want everybody voting. And you and I know who they don’t want voting. When people of all colors came together and they decided to elect people in 2018, I become the first person of any color to become the county judge of Fort Bend County. And they don’t like that. And this is “their power” and according to them, I don’t belong there. And we made changes. When you go to our courthouse today, you will see a South Asian judge and numerous African American judges and numerous Caucasian judges and Hispanic judges. You will see them sitting there. So that reflects the identity and diversity of Fort Bend County. But “they” want it to go back, and that’s where the good old days are. And we cannot allow that.

We all know that. Because that’s the reason why our slogan in Fort Bend County is #MovingFortBendForward. And I tell you, the danger, it scares me when I hear, when I see what is going on around me and around the nation. It scares me. Not for me, it scares me about our children and their future. And freedom, we always talk about freedom is not free. And I’m a man, but sometimes I feel like sitting down and crying because I get beaten up all the time at every level, not because I didn’t do my job. I did. Fort Bend County is doing exceptionally well. We are the most vaccinated county today in the state of Texas. We are prosperous. We are healthiest, and all this good stuff happening, simply because I don’t look like that. And, I know I’m preaching to the choir here. Sometimes when I talk to African Americans, I complain about this, and some of my friends say, “Oh, really? You feel it? We have been talking about it 250 years now.” I just wanted to say, I feel it. I feel it. And, I am afraid our freedom is going to be lost if we don’t act.

GARNER: We are surrounded by diversity, and that is a good thing. Fortune 500 companies always say that diversity is what makes their companies thrive. It’s because you have a different process of thought. You have a different angle or perspective of an issue. If everyone is 6’2,” 55 years old and white, they’re gonna have a similar perspective. And it’s hard to come to a diversified conclusion or to solve an issue. The issue that I see is that we have the people, we have enough constituents, enough voters to keep Fort Bend moving forward. We just have to show up and vote. And if you don’t vote, like my dad always says, you can’t complain. There are a lot of middle-of-the-road contemporary Republicans that don’t agree with me or don’t agree with some of my ideas or whatever, and that’s great because that is what makes the country better when you can sharpen iron with iron; when you can disagree through diplomacy. I think the issue is that we have these fringe ones that take over the conversation.