As we approach the 2012 election, every indication is that we will see an unprecedented use of voter challenges in an effort to suppress minority voting. True the Vote is a tea party based organization that aims to recruit one million poll watchers around the country this November, to challenge minority voters under the color of protecting the electoral process against vote impersonation fraud — notwithstanding overwhelming factual evidence showing that in-person voting voter impersonation fraud is all but non-existent.
True the Vote representatives say they want to make the experience of voting “like driving [while black, through a white suburbia neighborhood,] and seeing the police following you.
Organization leaders are allegedly prepared to promote extralegal, but not necessarily illegal, measures to exploit election laws in several 2012 battleground states to challenge minority Democratic voters. (click on the map for details)
Bullies at the Ballot Box, a new report released jointly by Demos and Common Cause, reviews election laws of ten battleground states — Colorado, Florida, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas and Virginia — that might be exploited to suppress the vote.
Thirty-nine states allow private citizens to challenge voters at the polls. Of the thirty-nine states where anyone can challenge voters' eligibility to vote inside polling places, only fifteen of them require the challengers to prove that the person they’re challenging isn’t an eligible voter. Which means that in twenty-four states poll watchers can wage all kinds of frivolous extralegal, but not necessarily illegal, mischief to exploit election laws, with accusations — that a voter is an “illegal alien,” or that they are using a dead person’s identity to vote — to burden if not intimidate voters and slow traffic flow through buy polling places.
In states with "voter challenge" laws, the poll watcher's intended roll to guarantee fair elections can be abused and used for racial profiling for no other reason than having a Latino surname or dark skin color. In those states, people can make up a reason to challenge a voter’s rights without any evidence backing them up, and do so with impunity. A new report from the Brennan Center for Justice, “Voter Challengers” details that troublesome history while spelling out just how problematic such poll-watching activities can be, especially when administered by hyper-partisan and racially insensitive groups like True the Vote.
True the Vote, and their many allies, often cite voter fraud as the reason for militarizing the polls, but countless studies have shown that their claims of massive in-person voting voter fraud are nothing more than lies, as detailed in this News 21 investigation. That creates a real danger that voters and election officials will face misguided and overzealous True the Vote poll greeter and poll watcher volunteers, who will take the law into their own hands to target minority voters and election officials — outside and inside polling places.
The Houston-based True the Vote group, an offshoot of the King Street Patriots tea party organization, says it is focused on non-partisan, ballot security issues. But the group has partnered or affiliated itself with far right candidates, elected officials, and elections administrators solely from the Republican Party.
The group promotes allegations that Democratic voters and election officials — particularly African Americans and Hispanics — are engaged in wholesale in-person voting voter impersonation fraud.
The group works with hard-line conservative organizations that have helped push the Republican Party to the far right; Groups like Koch brothers’ SuperPAC Americans For Prosperity, and the Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity’s “Citizen Watchdog” group, a right wing group that teaches tea party members how to function as right wing citizen journalists.
Catherine Engelbrecht is the founder of both the King Street Patriots and True the Vote, in that order, and only months apart. Name and IRS status appear to be all that differentiates the two groups. The former, a 501c(4), is a Tea Party group that lobbies for conservative issues, chiefly election reform; the latter is a 501c(3) that takes a hands-on approach to counter minority-driven voter fraud.
The 2008 ACORN “scandal,” where ACORN was found with thousands of falsified voter registration forms, is partially what inspired Engelbrecht to form the King Street Patriots. Even though no fraudulent votes were cast, Engelbrecht’s King Street Patriots lionized the ACORN tale and used it as a mobilizing tool to recruit hundreds of volunteers for 2009 Election Day poll watching, mostly in black and Latino districts. The Patriots came out of that experience convinced that Democratic election workers in Harris County, Texas were letting non-citizens vote and enabling fraud.
“There were people being allowed to vote without showing any identification, people who’d say, ‘I don’t know who to vote for,’ at which point an election judge would jump up, escort them to the voting booth, dial in the vote, and tell the voter to ‘press here,’ ” Engelbrecht told The American Spectator.
Only a handful of fraud cases were tried after the election, and none led to full convictions. Still, the King Street Patriots spun off as “True the Vote” and came out again for the 2010 elections with more recruits — showing up at African American and Latino polling places — which generated widespread complains of voter intimidation.
True the Vote’s lawyer, Kelly Shackelford of the Christian right wing organization Liberty Institute, based in Plano, Texas, explained away the intimidation complaints this way: “Poll watchers show up for the first time and [the poll watchers are] a different color than them and they just don’t like that.”
Engelbrecht’s network put together a list of 22 ideas for electoral reform in Texas, based on its unsubstantiated allegations of fraud at the polls. A new photo ID law was primary on the list. It was an idea that had been circulating in the state since at least 2007, but Engelbrecht’s Tea Party network lobbied Republican leaders hard. When the 2010 elections brought a wave of Tea Party-backed legislators into the state’s House of Representatives, True the Vote’s agenda became top priority. A third of True the Vote’s reform ideas became law, including the voter ID mandate.
The voter ID provision was recently blocked by the U.S. Department of Justice when the state failed to prove that it would not have discriminatory impacts on people of color, setting up a likely Supreme Court battle over the Voting Rights Act. That’s a critical example of the way in which the True the Vote/King Street Patriots network has moved the voting discussion over the past three years. As the Texas Democratic Party recently declared, “Many of the Republican policies being pushed around the country today which seek to make democracy less accessible were originated by Texas Republicans like the King Street Patriots.”
As part of Voting Rights Watch 2012, Brentin Mock has tracked True the Vote’s efforts to build a network and recruit 2012 Election Day volunteers.
Earlier this year, Texas Democratic Party general counsel Chad Dunn questioned their grassroots status, saying,
"Nobody gets to know what they are doing. They are the one and only political operation in Texas that isn't disclosing its donors."
Apparently, True the Vote organizers, like GOP presidential candidate George Romney, and the rest of the Republican Party, will not let their misguided campaign against non-existent voter impersonation fraud be dictated to by fact-checkers.