Texas GOP recruiting 'army' to fight voter fraud in largely minority areas of Houston

Texas Republicans are working to recruit a “army” of 10,000 poll workers and watchers to fight voter fraud in Houston, leaked video of a Harris County Republican Party presentation reveals.

“We’re trying to build an army here — 10,000 people in Harris County,” a man who identifies himself as an official with the county Republican Party said in the video, released by advocacy group Common Cause Texas.

The official said he is seeking volunteers from the suburbs where he lives “that will have the confidence and courage to come down here in these areas,” he said, pointing to Houston’s diverse urban center on a map of voting precincts.

“This is where the problems occur,” he said. “If we don’t do that, this fraud down here is really going to continue.”

Common Cause Texas said the presentation, which is dated March 10, was circulated online by the Harris County Republican Party.

“The impetus for releasing right now is there are some bills in the legislature that seek to empower poll watchers in some really scary ways, and also at the same time, take away the power of the presiding judge at the poll site from being able to remove a disruptive poll watcher,” said Anthony Gutierrez, executive director of Common Cause Texas. The group blurred out the Republican official's name from his presentation for his privacy.

Harris County GOP Chair Cindy Siegel confirmed in a statement to NBC News that the program aims to recruit "an army of volunteers" throughout the county as a way "to engage voters for the whole ballot, top to bottom, and ensure every legal vote is counted.” Siegel also called Common Cause "a radical leftist group that is blatantly mischaracterizing a grassroots election worker recruitment video in a shameful effort to bully and intimidate Republicans."

Former President Donald Trump's repeated falsehoods that the election was stolen from him has inspired an avalanche of election-related bills nationwide, and Republicans in Texas have advanced several measures aimed at fighting voter fraud. Several of the bills appear to focus on how Harris County ran their elections last year, banning the overnight and drive-thru early voting options offered there.

Two restrictive election bills, Senate Bill 7 and House Bill 6, are advancing through the Texas legislature and would give partisan poll watchers the power to videotape potential wrongdoing. The legislation would make it a crime to obstruct a poll watcher's view, and election workers would be barred from removing them from a polling site. Advocates fear such power would allow poll watchers to intimidate voters.

Corporations recently began publicly pressuring states including Texas not to pass legislation that makes it harder to vote — with American Airlines and tech billionaire Michael Dell speaking out about those two bills — but Texas Republicans have pushed back angrily.

By all accounts, the 2020 election was secure and the results were accurate. Trump's attorney general, William Barr, said there was no evidence of widespread voter fraud, and Trump's legal efforts to overturn the results failed in courtrooms around the country.

Still, almost two-thirds of Republicans believe that President Joe Biden did not legitimately win the 2020 election, even as more than six-in-10 Americans overall believe he won fair and square, according to a Monmouth University poll released last month.

This video signals that efforts to fight fraud are brewing within the party's rank and file, too.

"The language being used in the video was one of the most alarming things, when you think about the rhetoric that led to the insurrection at the capitol," Gutierrez said. "These are the same dog whistles I’m hearing in this video."

Gutierrez said he is encouraging supporters to pressure businesses, in addition to legislators.

"We’re definitely hopeful that the video, and just putting a real face and sounds to what the suppression is going to look like in practice, helps get a lot more leaders and business to speak out against the bill," he said.

In the video, the Republican official said he hopes to build a standing “election integrity brigade” instead of recruiting before each election. The county GOP aims to recruit and train 2,500 people by October 2021, growing to reach the full 10,000 volunteers by September 2022 by means of the existing precinct chairs and "military partnerships," the official said.