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Posts tagged "True The Vote"


Right Wing Extremists Sending Poll Watchers To Tuesday's MS Runoff

Poll watchers in Democratic precincts in Mississippi? What could possibly go wrong with that? But that is exactly what will happen on Tuesday for the runoff between Thad Cochran and Chris McDaniel.

New York Times:

As Senator Thad Cochran, the veteran Republican, fights for his political life in Mississippi by taking the unexpected step of courting black Democrats, conservative organizations working to defeat him are planning to deploy poll watchers to monitor his campaign’s turnout operation in Tuesday’s runoff election.

Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II, president of the Senate Conservatives Fund, a political action committee that has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars backing Mr. Cochran’s Tea Party opponent, State Senator Chris McDaniel, said in an interview on Sunday that his group was joining with Freedom Works and the Tea Party Patriots in a “voter integrity project” in Mississippi.

The groups will deploy observers in areas where Mr. Cochran is recruiting Democrats, Mr. Cuccinelli said. J. Christian Adams, a former Justice Department official and conservative commentator who said he was advising the effort, described the watchers as “election observers,” mostly Mississippi residents, who will be trained to “observe whether the law is being followed.”

read more

h/t: Miranda Blue at RWW

Activists fighting to keep a draconian anti-immigrant ordinance in a Nebraska town reportedly have a new ally: the “voter fraud” alarmists at True The Vote.

In 2010, voters in Fremont, Nebraska passed an ordinance barring landlords from renting to undocumented immigrants and requiring employers to check new employee’s immigration status. (The employment provision exempted the town’s largest employers, two meatpacking plants just outside of city limits.) Behind the law was Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who has made a name for himself by peddling anti-immigrant and voter suppression measures to communities across the country.

Last summer, a federal appeals court upheld the law but a city councilmember has introduced a ballot referendum to repeal parts of the law. This has angered proponents of the law, who have set up a group called “Our Vote Should Count” and gathered support from the national nativist group FAIR ( a former Kobach employer) and True the Vote, according to the Fremont Tribune :

Our Vote Should Count enlisted the help of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, the Tea Party Patriots, True The Vote, and other national organizations, including a Washington, D.C.-based analyst and an Omaha media consultant, to put together a media campaign that will use social media, print media, flyers and canvassing to get out their message.

While we’re not surprised to see FAIR inserting itself into the Fremont debate, True the Vote’s involvement is more startling. After all, the Texas-based group claims that its support for voter suppression measures and zealous chasing of “voter fraud” in black and Latino neighborhoods has nothing to do with racial animosity. The group’s reported involvement in the Fremont effort paints a different picture.

Supporters of the Fremont ordinance don’t exactly hide that they are motivated by suspicion of the town’s growing Hispanic population – whether documented or not. One Vote Should count shared this graphic on its Facebook page, which warns that “Fremont is a sanctuary city” because its “Hispanic population TRIPLED! in 10 years”:

In November, Harpers author Ted Genoways visited a town meeting about the ordinance and found racial tensions running high, as one woman railed against “Spanish in my schools” and a Latina resident, a third-generation American, recalled a man screaming at her to “go back to Mexico.”

An Our Vote Should Count spokesman, after warning of the increase in the “non-white population” in local schools, told the Fremont Tribune that the real racists were undocumented immigrants:

Enforcing the ordinance is not about targeting a race, he said.

“There are two levels of racism here. One is a set of racists who will use illegal people for their own profit, and that is being done actively. The other racism is people who knowingly break the law to come here for their own profit,” he said.

Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that True the Vote has started working with Kobach and FAIR. After all, just this week, the group convinced Ohio to sign on to a faulty voting-rolls purge system that Kobach runs.

Update, from RWW:

UPDATE: The Fremont Tribune reported that the group True the Vote was involved in the Fremont initiative. True the Vote tells us that they had no involvement in the measure and are seeking a retraction from the Tribune. We have removed True the Vote from our our story. -

h/t: Miranda Blue at RWW

Following other far-right attacks on comprehensive immigration reform, True the Vote, a Tea Party group purporting to combat voter fraud, is now rallying against the Senate’s immigration bill. In a fundraising email to supporters, True the Vote founder Catherine Engelbrecht warned that the bill presents a “golden opportunity” to allow “millions of newly legalized immigrants” to “undermine our electoral system.”

In reality, immigrants who become legal under the bill would have to wait 14 years to gain citizenship and the accompanying right to vote. However, True the Vote’s unfounded suspicion that minorities voting is inherently illegal is nothing new. Despite the group’s stated intention of fighting in-person voter fraud, an exceedingly rare phenomenon, the legislation they advocate for, such as voter ID, limited voter registration, and voter purges, has been found time and again to target minorities’ voting rights. In the last election cycle alone, the Justice Department blocked 4 supposedly anti-voter fraud laws in 3 states because they would clearly make it harder for minorities to vote. Florida and Colorado also threatened to purge suspected non-citizens — most of whom were Latino — from their voter rolls if the individuals could not prove their citizenship in time. Florida found a single non-citizen voter from Canada, and Colorado ultimately gave up after confirming citizenship for the vast majority of suspected non-citizens.

Even though citizens have the right to vote regardless of origin or language, anti-immigrant lawmakers have also pushed for legislation targeting non-English speaking voters.

h/t: Aviva Shen at Think Progress Immigration

One of the more stunning developments following President Obama’s re-election has been the number of ardent Republicans who have confessed that they believed the anti-Democratic propaganda from Fox News—and got so much wrong as a result.

The voting rights part of this fact-averse bubble had many dimensions: from who is and isn’t registered to vote, to when and where people wanted to vote, to what a voter must do at the polls to get a ballot, to how voter lists are updated—and who can be trusted to oversee the process.

What follows are 10 lies the Right pedaled during the 2012 campaign. Some GOP partisans, like this Nevada group, are already trying to resurrect some of these fake issues. You can be sure you’ll see more as states and Congress look at 2012’s biggest problems, such as people having to wait hours and hours to vote.

1. Non-Citizen Multitudes On Voter Rolls

Florida’s Tea Party Gov. Rick Scott was the worst offender, falsely claiming that there were 180,000 or more non-citizens listed on Florida’s voter rolls. It turned out that Scott and his hand-picked state election chief found 198 non-citizens among Florida’s 11 million voters before backpedaling from the claim. But other Republican top state election officials, in Colorado, Michigan and New Mexico, made the same claim in 2012 in an attempt to scare off legal non-white voters. This line was picked up by other GOP partisans who bought dozens of billboardsin communities of color in several swing states listing the penalty for illegal voting. The billboards came down after strong protests from civil rights groups.

2. Partisan Election Officials Are Trustworthy

Florida’s Rick Scott and Secretary of State Ken Detzner, Ohio Secretary of State John Husted, Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler, Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson and a handful of other Republicans overseeing their state’s elections are only the latest partisans who have abused their constitutional office by tilting voting rules to give an advantage to their party. We saw the same thing in Ohio in 2004, when Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell followed Florida’s Katherine Harris from 2000. Both Republicans made many decisions that hurt Democrats and elected—and then re-elected—George W. Bush.

This conflict of interest is one of the biggest problems with American elections. But there are more fair-minded ways to oversee voting, such as in Wisconsin where an independent board of retired judges runs and referees that state’s elections. And it should be noted that in Florida this year, many county-level election supervisors (who are elected) pushed back on Gov. Scott’s edicts. That’s because they see their job as serving the public rather than being partisan activists.  

3. Dead People Are Voting (For Democrats)

This propaganda line came after the Pew Center on the States issued a reportshowing that 1.8 million dead people were on state voter roles. Some in GOP circles went nuts, saying dead people would be voting for Democrats. Some newspapers also ran with the “dead voters” angle, revealing that they have little knowledge of the fact that voter rolls are maintained in an ongoing manner and how local officials take many steps to update their rolls (as people register, move and die).

4. Tougher Voter ID Laws Are Needed

Voter ID laws have been on the books for years. You need to show ID to register to vote. New voters must show an ID to get a ballot. And established voters sign in at the polls (or sign their names on mail-in ballots) under penalty of perjury. But those precedents have not stopped GOP-controlled legislatures from enactingnew laws requiring voters to show a specific form of state photo ID to get a ballot. The GOP’s big rationale is that they’re fighting voter impersonation fraud—the claim someone else is voting under another’s name. Of course, their real agenda is preventing likely Democrats in key cohorts—young people, urban residents without driver’s licenses, poor people, etc—from voting.

What the 2012 election showed was that the biggest perpetuators of fraudulent voter registration schemes were Republicans, notably Nathan Sproul, a political consultant who was hired by several state Republican Parties to register voters. Sproul’s workers had a bad habit of throwing out forms from Democrats. State parties were forced to fire him after police opened investigations. This isn’t to say that there were no cases of Democrats tinkering with registrations. But almost all of the cases reported in 2012 involved the GOP’s consultants or lone actors. No one found registration fraud on a scale affecting thousands of votes, let alone hundreds.

5. Tougher Voter ID Laws Protect Minorities 

This absurd line was pedaled by two of the Right’s biggest voting propagandists, former Bush Administration Department of Justice attorney Hans von Spakovsky (now with the Heritage Foundation) and National Review columnist John Fund. They made this claim in their new book, Who’s Counting: How Fraudsters and Bureaucrats Put Your Vote At Risk, in media commentaries, and at recruiting sessions for right-wing voter vigilante groups that obsess over the specter of illegal voters.

Von Spakovsky said that minority turnout in Georgia went up after it adopted a tougher voter ID law—a claim that handily overlooks how its Latino population has surged in recent years. But more to the point, tougher voter ID laws have given GOP groups a pathway to racially profile voters.

6. Federal Voting Rights Act Is Obsolete

This claim is really outrageous against the backdrop of all the race-based tactics the GOP used to try to defeat President Obama. In lawsuits still unfolding in federal court—and at the U.S. Supreme Court—Republican lawyers are arguing that the U.S. is now a post-racial society, which means that Civil Rights Era laws such as the federal Voting Rights Act are no longer needed.

This year, the two authorities under the Voting Rights Act—Justice Department and a federal appeals court in Washington—found that the new voter ID laws in Texas and South Carolina were racially discriminatory, preventing them from taking effect. The Washington court found that Texas’ congressional and state redistricting plan also was discriminatory—and rejected it. And the Justice Department was part of litigation in Florida over that state’s efforts to curb registration drives and limit early voting, all because the GOP-led measures disproportionately would impact those state’s minority voters.

Moreover, while some Republicans in the 16 states that are all or partly regulated by the Voting Rights Act—such as Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott—have led the attack on the Voting Rights Act and accused the Obama Justice Department of rampant partisan manipulation of the law, other Republicans in those same states have proposed changes in election law and procedures that have been approved by the Justice Department. So the GOP dislikes the law when it blocks their agenda but likes it when it doesn’t.   

7. Early Voting Is Not Wanted or Needed

This was another absurd claim that was made by top Republican election officials in Florida and Ohio—and was the subject of litigation that, at least in Ohio’scase, lasted until just days before the presidential election. Both Florida and Ohio saw efforts by Republicans, in their legislatures and by their secretaries of state, to limit weekend voting options in the final weeks of the 2012 election. In Ohio, a federal judge was so incensed by Secretary of State John Husted’s intransigence that at one point he ordered Husted to appear in his courtroom to personally explain why he ignored court orders.

In Florida, the GOP-controlled legislature has purposely limited the number of early voting locations—which was also a problem in 2008—and then tried to cut back on the total number of hours of weekend voting in 2012. After litigation led by voting rights groups, the state slightly adjusted the early voting schedule. However, these political decisions were directly responsible for the hours-long lines in both swing states this year.

8. Obama Disenfranschised Overseas Military Voters  

Another aspect of the Ohio litigation over early voting was the claim by Republicans and Fox News that the Obama campaign’s lawsuit to preserve early voting on the final weekend before Election Day disenfranschised overseas military voters. This lie was based on very twisted logic—if you could even call it that. Until 2011, all Ohioans could vote on the weekend before Election Day. But Ohio’s GOP-controlled Legislature passed a law that only allowed for overseas military members and their families to vote on that final weekend in November 2012. The Obama campaign sued, saying that did not treat all Ohio voters equally under the law.

Various Fox News on-air hosts said that Obama was seeking to prevent members of the military and their families from voting in the presidential election, a multi-dimensional untruth and smear. If anything, the Obama campaign lawsuit—which was victorious—would allow all Ohioans, at home and overseas, to have more voting options. (Ohio, like all states, gives troops overseas more time to return their ballots because of mail and delivery delays).

9. One Million GOP Poll Watchers Are Coming

The GOP’s voter vigilante squad, led by the new group, True the Vote, claimed that it would train and send 1 million polling place observers to swing states to be on the lookout for anything resembling (to them) voter fraud and to stop illegal voting. That didn’t happen. There was no invasion of Republican voting posses descending on thousands of local precincts in swing states.

True the Vote is not going away, but it needs to be seen for what it is—the front guard of the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party. Indeed, just as many Tea Partiers elected to the House in 2010 were unseated in 2012, this Republican cadre’s outsized claims should not be taken seriously.    

10. Obama Will Steal The Election Electronically

The Republican National Committee made this claim in letters to a half-dozen top state election officials in swing states one week before Election Day. A top RNC lawyer cited isolated problems with paperless voting machines as a sign that Democrats were poised to electronically flip votes from Romney to Obama to steal the election. State election directors in Nevada and North Carolina responded with forceful letters, saying the RNC’s concerns and theory was unsupported by facts and vote-counting procedures.

Of course, what the RNC was doing was seeking to undermine the public’s confidence in a process that was headed toward re-electing Obama.

h/t: Steven Rosenfeld at AlterNet

On Tuesday, Tea Party group True the Vote will dispatch poll watchers throughout the country to challenge voters’ rights as they cast their ballots. True the Vote often insists it is a nonpartisan organization simply concerned with election integrity. It has even applied for non-profit status, which would exempt them from taxes. But a new email to True the Vote volunteers in Illinois shows that the organization is recruiting poll watchers specifically for one candidate — Rep. Joe Walsh (R-IL).

Illinois categorizes poll watchers as either partisan or nonpartisan. Presumably, True the Vote poll watchers will be posing as nonpartisan so as to not endanger their pending non-profit status. Yet this email to volunteers suggests they are recruiting partisan poll watchers for the Walsh campaign — in blatant defiance of their claim of nonpartisanship.

This isn’t the first time the group has provided illegal aid to a campaign. A judge ruled in March that poll watchers deployed by True the Vote in Texas’ 2010 election amounted to an illegal campaign contribution to the Republican Party. After Tuesday, it will be hard to see how True the Vote can keep up the nonpartisan facade.

h/t: Aviva Shen at Think Progress Election


Tea Party Group To Profile and Target Latinos At The Polls

Conservative blogs and news media are all buzzing about a team of international election monitors coming to observe the presidential elections in November. The observers are arriving at the invitation of the State Department and the behest of a number of civil rights organizations, including the NAACP, ACLU, and others.

The latter groups’ call for an international team to keep an eye on the U.S. elections focuses particularly on states that have enacted strict voter I.D. laws and other curtailing of voting rights. An NAACP delegation visited the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland in September to bring attention to the issue. The NAACP’s move, and the idea of foreign presence in the U.S. to observe elections, has infuriated many on the right.

The response at the state-level is varying. Alabama Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard is, in protest of the monitors’ presence preparing legislation to have all poll watchers in Alabama hold U.S. citizenship. “It’s bad enough that Alabama remains trapped under the provisions of the Voting Rights Act,” Hubbard said “So we certainly don’t need anyone from the United Nations coming into our state and meddling in our elections, as well.”

Catherine Engelbrecht of True the Vote appeared on Fox News on Monday claiming that the monitors’ presence was actually intended to prevent and discourage U.S. voters from exercising their rights. Fox’s Megyn Kelly readily agreed, stressing the left-leaning nature of the civil rights groups, seemingly unaware of the State Department’s role in inviting the monitors. It’s worth mentioning that True the Vote, itself a Tea Party group voter suppression effort, is currently under investigation for possible criminal conspiracy.

What none of these commentators mention is that this is neither an unprecedented event nor particularly worrisome. The Organization for Security and Cooperation (OSCE) is a group of over fifty countries in North America, Europe, and Central Asia committed to security and strengthening democracy. Counter to many of the exclamatory statements by the right-wing, the OSCE is not a part of the United Nations, but instead is loosely affiliated with the global organization.

Also, counter to conservatives, the monitors have no mandate to interfere in the elections. 

H/T: Hayes Brown at Think Progress Security

Washington, DC (Oct. 5, 2012)—Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, Ranking Member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, sent a letter to Catherine Engelbrecht, President and Founder of True the Vote, requesting documents relating to the group’s “horrendous record” of filing inaccurate voter registration challenges across the country.

“At some point, an effort to challenge voter registrations by the thousands without any legitimate basis may be evidence of illegal voter suppression,” wrote Cummings. “If these efforts are intentional, politically-motivated, and widespread across multiple states, they could amount to a criminal conspiracy to deny legitimate voters their constitutional rights.”

Cummings’ letter details how numerous groups affiliated with True the Vote are engaging in a coordinated campaign to challenge legitimate voters across the country, including in Ohio, Wisconsin, North Carolina, and Maryland, although local and state election officials have repeatedly determined that these challenges are baseless.

Protecting the freedom to vote for all eligible Americans is of fundamental importance in a democracy founded upon the consent of the governed. One of the most serious threats to the protection of that essential right is the increase in organized efforts, led by groups such as the Tea Party affiliated True the Vote and others, to challenge voters’ eligibility at the polls and through pre-election challenges. Eligible Americans have a civic duty to vote, and government at the federal, state, and local level has a responsibility to protect voters from illegal interference and intimidation. 

As we approach the 2012 elections, every indication is that we will see an unprecedented use of voter challenges. Organizers of True the Vote claim their goal is to train one million poll watchers to challenge and confront other Americans as they go to the polls in November. They say they want to make the experience of voting “like driving and seeing the police following you.”1 There is a real danger that voters will face overzealous volunteers who take the law into their own hands to target voters they deem suspect. But there is no place for bullies at the ballot box. 

Even in states with clear legal boundaries for challengers and poll watchers, too often these boundaries are crossed. Laws intended to ensure voting integrity are instead used to make it harder for eligible citizens to vote – particularly those in communities of color. Moreover, the laws of many states states fall short when it comes to preventing improper voter caging and challenges. This should concern anyone who wants a fair election with a legitimate result that reflects the choices of all eligible Americans.

Clear rules that protect voters from improper removal from the rolls by voter caging and challenging, as well as from intimidating behavior at the polls, can help prevent interference with voter rights. This report describes the threat posed by potential voter challenges in the 2012 elections, and assesses the extent to which ten key states — Colorado, Florida, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas and Virginia — are prepared to protect the rights of eligible voters to cast a ballot in the face of such challenges. The ten states examined here include states where races are expected to be competitive, which makes voters in those states particularly vulnerable to challenges. We also survey states where a history of aggressive voter challenge programs in recent elections threatened to intimidate voters or interfere with their access to the ballot.


This report first provides background on the current threat of overly aggressive voter challenge tactics and the history of such efforts in previous elections. The report then details what is permissible and legal when it comes to challenging a voter’s eligibility, both before and on Election Day and inside and outside the polling place. We analyze laws in ten states governing:

  • The process for challenging a registered voter’s right to vote before Election Day and the use of voter caging lists;
  • The process for challenging a registered voter’s right to vote on Election Day;
  • The behavior of poll watchers or observers at the polls on Election Day; and
  • Protections for voters against intimidation, outside and inside the polls.

The report measures the extent to which each state’s laws protects voters’ rights in these areas, and assesses them in a set of comparative charts as satisfactory, mixed, or unsatisfactory. Each section includes recommendations for best practices in each of the areas we examine.2


In examining the ten states’ laws governing challenges to voters’ right to vote before Election Day, including the use of voter lists created through caging or other unreliable practices, we find Colorado, Nevada, and Ohio are satisfactory, North Carolina and Texas are mixed, and Florida, Missouri, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Virginia - five out of the ten states - unsatisfactory.3

In assessing these states’ laws governing challenges to voter’s right to vote on Election Day, and procedures for determining those challenges, we find that while some of the ten states have practices that protect voters’ rights, other states need improvement.4

  • Texas does not allow for any voter challenges on Election Day, and Ohio only allows challenges by election officials; Colorado, New Hampshire, and North Carolina also have satisfactory protections for voters from improper Election Day challenges.
  • Missouri, Nevada, and Virginia have laws that are mixed, with some provisions that protect voters’ rights but also room for improvement.
  • Florida and Pennsylvania have laws with unsatisfactory protections to guard against inappropriate Election Day challenges to voter eligibility.

Our analysis of these states’ laws governing poll watchers or observers and their conduct at the polls shows they are also mixed in the extent to which they protect voters’ rights. The laws of Colorado, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, and Virginia are satisfactory; Florida, Missouri, and New Hampshire are mixed. However, Pennsylvania and Texas allow behavior by poll observers or poll watchers that could endanger voting rights.5

We also summarize these states’ laws protecting voters from intimidation, both outside and inside the polls. State and federal laws barring intimidation of voters can be used to protect voters from harassment.6 However, the efficacy of these protections depends on robust enforcement by election administrators and law enforcement officials.

We call upon election administrators and officials with the Department of Justice to take steps in advance of and during the elections to protect voters from bullying at the ballot box. Our intent is to help minimize the level of activity that moves from positive civic engagement to voter intimidation and suppression. There must be zero tolerance for bullying behavior that stands between an eligible voter and her ballot. 


Caging – the practice of compiling a list of voters based on returned mail for the purpose of challenging their eligibility to vote. A caging list is compiled by conducting a mass-mailing and collecting the names of voters where the mail was returned. Lists may also be built by comparing different databases. Although many caging lists contain inaccuracies or are based on unreliable data, the list is often used to purge voters from registration rolls, or to challenge voters’ eligibility. 

Challenge – a formal assertion that a person is not eligible to vote. Depending on the state, challenges may be made during a pre-election period or made in person on Election Day. States vary in terms of who may challenge a voter’s eligibility and the process for determining a voter’s eligibility once it is challenged. The potential for abusing voter challenges is high, particularly where organized groups seek electoral gain. 

Challenger – anyone who challenges a voter’s eligibility to vote, whether on or before Election Day. Many states allow any registered voter in the appropriate jurisdiction to serve as a challenger, whereas other states have specific criteria and an official process for designating challengers.

Deceptive practices – the intentional dissemination of false or misleading information about the voting process in order to prevent an eligible voter from casting a ballot, such as by providing misinformation about when or where to vote.

Electioneering – the act of campaigning for a particular candidate, issue, or party. Most states prohibit electioneering on Election Day in the area near the entrance to the polling place.

Poll watcher – a person, generally appointed by a candidate or a political party, authorized to observe the implementation of Election Day procedures at a polling place. In some jurisdictions, poll watchers are referred to as poll monitors or observers. States have different rules governing what these individuals can and can’t do inside the polling place.

Provisional ballot – a ballot used to record a vote when election officials cannot determine a voter’s eligibility or qualifications to vote on Election Day. A provisional ballot will be counted only if the voter’s eligibility or qualifications are verified within a prescribed time after Election Day, through a process that may vary from state to state. In some states, individuals who are challenged on Election Day may be required to use provisional ballots. Provisional ballots often are not counted.

Purging – when done properly, purging is the process of removing dead or ineligible voters from the voter roll so as to comply with the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA). Sometimes, purging leads to eligible voters being improperly removed from the registration rolls, for instance by using caging lists to remove names based on flawed data and inaccurate procedures. 

Voter intimidation – the use of threats, coercion, harassment or other improper tactics to interfere with the free exercise of the right to vote.  Violence or the threat of violence is universally recognized as illegal forms of voter intimidation. There are significant differences across states as to which forms of non-physical voter confrontation and challenges rise to the level of intimidation or are otherwise unlawful. Many states prohibit private citizens or poll watchers from confronting or challenging voters within the polling place and/or making video, audio, and photographic recordings of voters within or around the polling place, or, more generally, from interfering with the proper conduct of the election.


Elections in America should be free, fair, and accessible. Eligible Americans should not have to overcome burdensome barriers to cast their ballots. Unfortunately voters in recent elections have encountered wrongful challenges and intimidation as partisan groups have launched organized efforts in key battleground states and targeted counties. Given the high stakes, voter challenges also are expected to be a major tool used by partisans in the November 2012 elections.

Unwarranted challenges to voters’ eligibility can lead to problems at the polls for everyone seeking to cast a ballot by depleting resources, distracting election administrators and leading to longer lines for voters. Such activities present a real danger to the fair administration of elections and to the fundamental freedom to vote.

Wrongful Challenges and Intimidation in 2012: Reasons for Concern

Although voter challenges have been used for decades by partisans seeking electoral advantage,7 a new threat emerged in 2010 when an organized and well-funded Texas-based organization with defined partisan interests, the King Street Patriots, through its project True the Vote, was observed intimidating voters at multiple polling locations serving communities of color during early voting in Harris County.8 Members of this Tea Party-affiliated group reportedly interfered with voters — allegedly watching them vote, “hovering over” voters, blocking lines, and engaging in confrontational conversations with election workers.9 Under Texas law, poll watchers are not allowed even to speak to a voter.

These activities have not been limited to Texas. 

In a 2011 special election in Massachusetts, a Tea Party group was reported to have harassed Latino voters and others at the polls in Southbridge, Massachusetts. The Southbridge town clerk protested these actions, reporting that targeted voters left saying, “I’ll never vote again,” while a retired judge witnessed “citizens coming from their voting experience shaken or in tears.”10

In the June 2012 Wisconsin recall election, many students reported being challenged by True the Vote poll watchers, as the organization even mocked the students on Twitter.11The Wisconsin Government Accountability Board issued a statement saying “in recent elections we have received disturbing reports and complaints about unacceptable, illegal behavior by observers. Voters expect a calm setting in which to exercise their right to vote.”12

Now active in 30 states, True the Vote has made it clear that it intends to ratchet up its activities in 2012.13 The group is coordinating efforts throughout the country to purge the voter rolls, issue citizen challenges to registrations based on its own criteria and recruit poll watchers for Election Day. At its annual 2012 conference, leadership of the group announced that it “anticipates training 1 million poll watchers around the country for this year’s election.”14 In itself the training of poll watchers might not be worrisome, but the inflammatory language used to inspire this group of volunteer activists makes it so.

For instance, True the Vote’s founder, Catherine Engelbrecht, has said “we see again with this administration … it’s just stunning the assault on our elections that we’re watching gain steam with every passing day, so we found ourselves to be unwittingly on the front lines of an issue that I think will be the inflection point for this election.”15 A reporter attending True the Vote’s Colorado State Summit described how one speaker told the crowd that “they should enjoy bullying liberals because they were doing God’s work. ‘Your opposition are cartoon characters. They are. They are fun to beat up. They are fun to humiliate,’ he intoned. ‘You are on the side of the angels. And these people are just frauds, charlatans and liars.’”16

King Street Patriots has sponsored sweeping and unsubstantiated claims questioning the legitimacy of democratic participation by low-income persons and communities of color. For example, in 2011, King Street Patriots hosted a $100 plate dinner featuring Matthew Vadum, who has penned articles opining that it is un-American to register the poor to vote, writing, “how else can you justify a law that mandates that welfare recipients be given — be encouraged — to vote when they’re there in the cheese line picking up their check?…You shouldn’t be encouraging people to destroy the country, you shouldn’t be encouraging people to vote themselves benefits from the government.”17 Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch, a close partner of True the Vote, said “I fear the Obama gang is setting themselves up to steal the election” with the “illegal alien vote”18 and also accused the president of wanting “to register the food stamp army to vote for him.”19 In a letter sent to “Friends” this August he wrote “[a]s the scope of the Left’s efforts to corrupt and steal the 2012 elections become even more clear, it is absolutely vital that lawful voters like you and thousands of other patriots have the tools at hand to blow the whistle on voter fraud.”20 With comments about the “illegal alien vote” and “the food stamp army,” King Street Patriots and their allies have created a climate of fear that voter fraud is rampant in minority precincts and used that fear to justify their discriminatory targeting of poll-watching efforts – again, without evidence to support the targeting.21

As recently as July 31, 2012, True the Vote reportedly mailed letters to 160 counties alleging that they were not compliant with the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) for failing to conduct voter registration list maintenance programs in advance of the November elections.22 A True the Vote spokesperson stated that the organization did not “expect these [notices] to go ignored” and that it “expects the counties to take proper action to clean their voter rolls well before Election Day in November.”23 True the Vote demanded proof of compliance with their demand for vote-cleaning prior to the election otherwise they would commence litigation.24

There is nothing wrong with wanting accurate voter rolls. However, True the Vote’s notices are at odds with the very statute they claim to be enforcing, because the NVRA requires that any general list maintenance program resulting in the systematic removal of names of ineligible voters must be completed no later than 90 days before Election Day.25 The reason such list maintenance programs must be completed at least 90 days before the election is to ensure that removal notices do not confuse eligible voters about their registration status so soon before an election. To be clear, election officials in the counties where True the Vote “expects to take proper action … well before Election Day in November” would violate the NVRA should they conduct a purge within 90 days of the election.26

The repeated use of caging in recent election cycles, the emergence of private groups that organized to target communities of color for voter challenges in 2010, the avowed plans of the King Street Patriots and True the Vote to massively expand these activities in 2012, and the high stakes of the upcoming presidential election, all provide clear warning that pre-election and polling place challenges may see unprecedented use in this election year. No matter who is organizing or leading the charge, it is important that all participants understand the rules and respect the right of all Americans to vote free of intimidation or obstruction.


Right now, there are only five states that have strict photo voter ID laws. Six more states have flexible photo ID laws that allow for a broader range of acceptable identification than the strict states. And then there are 19 states that require some non-photo form of ID to vote. But if you live in Illinois, where there is no voter ID law at all, you might be alarmed to find out on Election Day that you still may have to produce ID to vote. Reason being, it is one of 24 states where your voting rights can be challenged by a poll watcher — any random person, really, who happens to be at your polling place — even if the watcher doesn’t have any evidence that you actually need to be challenged. And if you are challenged in Illinois, you have to produce two forms of ID to prove that you’re eligible to vote.

Last month, we published a story on a Tea Party group called True the Vote, which trades in voter ID law advocacy, voter registration challenges and poll watcher trainings. Challenging people who may have illegally registered to vote, and training people to observe poll activity are innocuous activities, but only when divorced from their racial history in the U.S. 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.

Still, 39 states allow private citizens to challenge voters at the polls. According to the Brennan study, election officials in those states are “under immense time pressure to decide challenges quickly in order to avoid voting delays.” True the Vote is aware of this, but they put it differently, saying at a recent poll watcher training that election officials are “under immense pressure to do the wrong thing” — namely let undocumented immigrants vote, and let people vote multiple times.

Scarier, of the 39 states that allow random people to challenge voters inside polling places, only 15 of them require the challengers to prove that the person they’re challenging isn’t an eligible voter. Which means in 24 states people can wage all kinds of frivolous accusations — that a person is an “illegal alien,” or that they are using a dead person’s identity to vote — to burden if not intimidate voters. In these states, the poll challenger statutes can be abused and used for racial profiling, when not sending a chill effect to others who might be vulnerable for no other reason than having a Latino surname.

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. It’s the same as when people drum up charges of voter fraud to pass voter ID bills and go unpunished when it’s revealed that no such fraud exists. You can’t fabricate a police report by saying you were mugged if you weren’t; you can’t file a false claim saying you lost possessions in a disaster. In both cases, you face jail and fines for bearing false witness, but not if you fabricate voter fraud or voter ineligibility in many states.

The Brennan report points out that South Carolina and Virginia allow people to challenge voters even if it’s nothing but a whim. Consider that both South Carolina and Virginia both have passed voter ID laws. In South Carolina, that law is currently being challenged in a federal court, where it was discovered that the law’s author Rep. Alan Clemmons made racist comments about black voters in an email while discussing how to pass the legislation.

Both states have strong True the Vote connections. In South Carolina, a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, Cibby Krell, is a True the Vote volunteer with the Spartanburg Tea Party. In Virginia, the Virginia Voters Alliance is a group that trains Tea Party groups in challenging voters while pressuring Virginia election officials to engage in reckless purging processes.

These poll “challenging” and “watching” operations are not race-neutral. The nation has a history of white people taunting and haunting black and Latino voters that goes back centuries. Much of this racial history is recounted in Brennan’s “Voter Challengers” report, which tells how states like Florida, Ohio, Texas and Virginia created poll watcher rules precisely to suppress black and women voters, and also to enforce voting laws that disenfranchised these groups.

Keep that in mind when you read about the Code Red USA project, which rallies Tea Partiers from around the country to join a “conservative army” that will infiltrate battleground states in November for voter registration and “election integrity” efforts. Code Red says it has “partnered with True The Vote to maintain election integrity by training volunteers to be poll watchers and combat voter fraud.” Get ready to tumble. 

h/t: Brentin Mock at The Nation

True The Vote, a “voter education” organization that claims (on its Website) to be non-partisan is – in fact – a Right Wing, Tea Party inspired group designed to spread distortion and disinformation about alleged widespread “voter fraud” in America (despite all empirical evidence to the contrary).  Once again for the Far Right, facts don’t matter.  If you can spin a conspiratorial narrative to convince uneducated Fox News watchers that the Left is out to steal the election through millions of “dead voters” and voter rolls in hundreds of counties that actually exceed the number of eligible voters…then by all means lie and distort the truth!

In fact, over a given four-year (or even two-year span) between national elections, millions of people actually die in America.  It is a wild stretch, however, to conclude that these deceased Americans are somehow mysteriously replaced at the polls by people assuming their identities and casting illegal ballots.  There is simply no statistical evidence, indictments or prosecutions to support this bizarre conspiracy theory.

In fact, the majority of these deceased voters are elderly; so that means…to effectively carry out this “voter fraud” scheme, the perpetrator(s) would also need to be elderly, in order to impersonate the voter at the polls, as the deceased voter’s personal information is a matter of record at the polling place (i.e., name, address, date-of-birth, party affiliation, etc.)

In May, 2012 The Nation magazine published a chilling account of the “True The Vote” organization and reported on one of their training/voter education seminars, now being held nationwide. These “seminars” are – in fact - right-wing screeds, railing against Democrats, liberals, the “Lame-Stream Media,” and any and all credible voting rights groups perceived as “liberal”… including the Obama Department of Justice.  The writer titles his article:  ‘True the Vote’ Still Out To Screw The Vote, and for good reason. 

Talking Points Memo (TPM) has recently reported that citizen groups like True The Vote have sprung up arising from right-wing (Fox “News”) exposes of ACORN, the now defunct voter registration group that generated voter registration abuse charges in the 2008 presidential election.  Despite the scandal, which led to ACORN’s demise, there was no impact in actual voter fraud at the polls resulting from their “phantom voter” registrations

I recommend readers visit the King Street Patriots’ Facebook Page in order to learn more about their voter suppression/intimidation efforts and to perhaps express/post your own opinions regarding their alarming, racist-tinged agenda.  Note their reference to “liberals” below and to their constant “patriot” self-labelling throughout their site and Facebook Page…sending a clear message that they view anyone with differing political/social viewpoints as “unpatriotic!”

This is their avowed mission statement:   

It is in the same spirit that King Street Patriots has launched its efforts to battle the most brazen attempt by liberals in the last fifty years to further an agenda which Patriots considers diametrically opposed to the welfare of all Americans. King Street Patriots is committed to:

  • Freedom
  • Capitalism
  • American Exceptionalism
  • Constitutional Governance
  • Civic Duty                                             


Right-Wing groups are gearing up for the 2012 Election and stepping up voter suppression and intimidation tactics to complement their mega-wealthy SuperPAC’s attempts to blitz the airwaves with lies and distortions to defeat President Obama.  They are promising to “train” upwards of half-a-million conservative polling place “observers” in their efforts in November!

That’s the “King Street Patriots” and “True The Vote” for you.

H/T: Jack Watkins at

Bill Ouren, True the Vote’s national elections coordinator, is presenting before a group of about 50 recruits in Boca Raton, Fla. He stands beneath a banner bearing his organization’s name, alongside that of the Koch brothers’ SuperPAC Americans For Prosperity, and the Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity’s “Citizen Watchdog,” a rightwing group that teaches people how to become “investigative” journalists. He’s telling the story of how True the Vote grew from a small posse in Harris County, Texas, in 2009, to a deployed army of over 1,000 poll watchers across most of the state the following year. Ouren brags that the 2010 recruits reported “over 800 individual incidences of voter … irregularities.”

Irregularities is not a common term in the True the Vote vocab. Usually, it’s just called fraud. Seeing that the wording change has brought confusion to some of his audience’s faces, Ouren offers an explanation. “I use the word ‘irregularities’ because we don’t know if people did it intentionally or if they just didn’t know better.” That kind of logic isn’t normal for the group either, so he immediately adds, “So for those people who say voter and election fraud doesn’t exist, I’ve got 806 answers to that. It absolutely does in one election.”

Ouren and Americans for Prosperity gathered these recruits in Boca Raton in July to instruct them on how they could become “empowered” vessels for True the Vote’s poll watcher program. True the Vote is most widely known for its advocacy of restrictive photo voter ID laws. But while that might garner headlines, the group’s real focus is on policing the act of voting itself. As Ouren declared during the group’s national summit in April, and repeated again in Boca Raton, his recruits’ job is chiefly to make voters feel like they’re “driving and seeing the police following you.” He aims to recruit one million poll watchers around the country.

That’s an ambitious goal, and it’s easy to conclude Ouren’s eyes are bigger than his organizing stomach. But when you consider all of the eyes in True the Vote’s rapidly growing network, the goal may not be so far-fetched.

True the Vote’s emergence wasn’t an isolated event. Its rapid rise occurred in harmony with hundreds of other Tea Party groups across the nation, dozens of which exist in Texas alone and many of which have been “empowered” by True the Vote for “election integrity” kibitzing. It has plugged itself into an existing infrastructure of influential far right organizations hellbent on criminalizing abortion, banishing gun control, repealing the Affordable Care Act—and now, on intimidating would-be voters.

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 election workers in Harris County were letting non-citizens vote and enabling fraud. 

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—bulkier with more recruits, again at black and Latino polling places. A local Houston newscast noticed the bulge in poll observers and reported, “As the number of poll watchers have increased, so have the number of complaints.” A video True the Vote circulated at the time contained doctored photos of black people falsely pictured as advocating for voter fraud.

True The Vote's reach in America

The electoral reforms True the Vote pushed, and the High Court fight they spawned, would have never become law if not for the relationships the group built with Texas elected officials and election administrators. As far back as early 2010, the group was hosting events in a mall office that drew county clerks, state legislators, members of Congress and a wide net of Tea Party and Patriot groups across the state. (Read a list of them and see their pictures here.)

These relationships with elected officials are perhaps the most troubling ones in the impressive national network that True the Vote has since built. The group claims non-partisanship, which is an important assertion to avoid legal entanglement. But that’s dubious given its affiliations and activities.

True the Vote often explains to recruits that they can’t dispatch them at polls in many states; they can only offer training. In Florida, for instance, the political parties and their candidates must select and place poll watchers. So if a volunteer wants to be considered by the parties for Election Day, “we can help facilitate those connections,” Engelbrecht told recruits at the Americans for Prosperity summit in Boca Raton.

Such facilitation means relationships with people in government. That was apparent at True the Vote’s national summit this year, when Republican Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart, who helps manage elections, was asked to stand and given applause. He’s been a regular at True the Vote events since their inception. Also in attendance were True the Vote regulars U.S. Rep. Ted Poe, infamous for quoting a Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizardon the House floor in 2007, and state Rep. Jim Murphy, both Republicans. Gov. Rick Perry wasn’t present, but he wrote a letter of congratulations to Engelbrecht saying he looks “forward to working with you and True the Vote in the coming weeks and months ahead.”

A year before the conference, Gov. Perry was the guest speaker when the King Street Patriots opened their new headquarters, an upgrade from their mall office. The King Street Patriots were working so closely with the Republican Party—hosting fundraisers and providing resources for their candidates—that a judge ruled this year that the group’s electioneering violated its 501c4 status and declared them a political action committee.

But the relationship with the Republican Party goes beyond Texas.

At a Heritage Foundation-sponsored panel in July, Engelbrecht shared the stage with Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach and Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler, both of whom are involved in a multi-state program Kobach created for purging voters using dubious methods. Under the Interstate Cross Check Project, 15 states (not including Texas) have been enlisted to share voter registration data under the premise that they will root out “non-citizen” voters. It’s an outgrowth of Kobach’s Secure and Fair Elections [SAFE] law, one of the strictest voter ID laws passed in 2011, particularly for its requirement that voters show proof of their citizenship when they first register. It was fueled by claims that felons, dead people and “illegal aliens” were voting and stealing elections. There is scant evidence for any of those claims. But Engelbrecht told the Heritage crowd that Kobach’s SAFE was “the model” the rest of the nation should follow.

Englebrecht’s Heritage Foundation panel was actually a rogue’s gallery of election administrators. The same week of the panel, Colorado’s Gessler tried to force local elected officials to accept changes to poll monitoring and canvassing rules; the locals protested loudly. At the panel Gessler, who’s embroiled in lawsuits over a directive to county clerks not to mail ballots to people who skipped the 2010 elections, said he is busy checking databases for “illegal immigrants” on ICE holds, and asserted he found 185 of them were registered to vote.

This is how True the Vote has been building its poll-watching army: recruiting from one far-right confab after another.

Ouren has a five-point recruitment strategy: Plan. Mobilize. Train. Deploy. Follow-up. Election workers, poll judges, clerks, machine operators and other elections staff are “under immense pressure to do the wrong thing,” Ouren told recruits at the Boca Raton training. “Your monitoring gives them cover to do the right thing.”

Recruits sign up at True the Vote’s website for online trainings and gain access to voter registration lists in their counties. They look through the lists for names to submit to election officials for purging. This process isplaying out now in Tampa, where True the Vote’s reputation for voter intimidation has followed the RNC to a state already notorious for reckless purging. Come Election Day, they’ll deploy to the polls.

There have, however, been ample complaints about True the Vote intimidating voters. During Wisconsin’s recall election, students complained that True the Vote volunteers harassed them. The group’s regional director Erin Anderson told me the charges were false, but acknowledged that they couldn’t account for every volunteer they had in the state. “We had an online training, but a lot of people participated in it,” said Anderson. “We know who they are but we don’t know where they ended up.”

Of course, if there’s doubt that True the Vote’s zealous promotion of poll monitoring is about more than “election integrity,” suspicions are confirmed every time Tom Fritton of Judicial Watch speaks to the recruits. At least twice he’s been a featured guest at True the Vote events and both times he’s delivered the same message: “We are concerned that Obama’s people want to be able to steal the election in 2012” with the “illegal alien vote” and a “food stamp army.”

Judicial Watch is crusading to force states to carry out voter-roll purges like the one that has subjected Florida to multiple lawsuits. Together with Judicial Watch, True the Vote formed the 2012 Election Integrity Project, launched in February at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). Through the Election Integrity Project, the group has sued to allow Florida’s purge program to commence, and has sent letters threatening lawsuits in Indiana and Ohio to do the same.

CPAC, meanwhile, rewarded True the Vote’s efforts in 2011 with one of its highest honors, the Ronald Reagan Award, which no doubt ingratiated them with even more activists on the political far right.

All of this further betrays the idea that True the Vote is a nonpartisan organization with an agenda that won’t harm the civil rights of African American and immigrant voters. “Their organization knows they broke the law in 2010 by coordinating with only one political party while enjoying nonprofit status,” says Rebecca Acuna, communications director of the Texas Democratic Party.

h/t: Colorlines