True the Vote is one of the most influential groups working to make it harder to vote by pushing for restrictive voter ID laws and launching challenges against people it thinks might be ineligible to vote, tactics which are supposedly directed at preventing voter impersonation fraud and double voting — crimes that in reality are exceedingly rare.
In order to cover up the fact that voter ID laws keep many times more people from the polls than the miniscule number of voter impersonation cases that they might prevent, groups like TTV try to conflate in-person voter fraud — the only thing actually targeted by voter ID laws — with faulty voter registration and with rare but persistent kinds of small-scale voter fraud by elected officials that they have no intention of actually combating.
A great example of this happened yesterday, when TTV reprinted a short blog post by former Bush Justice Department official and conservative activist J. Christian Adams linking to a story about “Three PA Elected Officials Charged With Voter Fraud.”
Adams offers his commentary, implying that this story proves that the numerous studies discrediting the voter ID push are just wrong:
I am curious to see if this barely reported case of voter fraud ever makes it onto one of the ‘academic’ studies purporting to demonstrate very little voter fraud. Those studies are characterized by false negatives.
A quick look at the story in question, however, shows that what happened in Pennsylvania has nothing to do with voter ID or any so-called “voter integrity” laws that Adams and TTV are promoting.
Pennsylvania requires that people requesting an absentee ballot provide a reason, which can be “illness or physical disability” that makes the voter “unable to attend his/her polling place or to operate a voting machine.” Those voters must also provide a copy of their photo ID.
The case that Adams and TTV are touting is that of three township supervisors who were charged with violating election laws in 2011, two for helping 13 elderly voters to apply for and fill out absentee ballots , despite the fact that all were physically able to go to the polls on Election Day and were thus ineligible to obtain absentee ballots in Pennsylvania. One of the supervisors is charged with helping an eligible absentee voter fill out a ballot but failing to report that he had assisted the voter.
None of this would have been prevented by a voter ID requirement. Instead, this is an instance of, at best, a misunderstanding and at worst, public officials using their insider influence to tinker with ballots.
If it’s the latter, all sorts of laws are currently on the books to prevent such instances of election fraud. But it is not something that so-called “voter integrity” activists have shown any interest in addressing, perhaps because it’s already against the law and policed. As the Brennan Center wrote in a 2007 report, such conduct “has been an issue since Senators wore togas” and is a completely separate issue from the kind of supposed fraud that groups like True The Vote claim to be fixing with suppressive voting restrictions.
It is extremely rare for individuals to vote multiple times, vote as someone else, or vote despite knowing that they are ineligible. These rare occurrences, however, are often conflated with other forms of election irregularities or misconduct, under the misleading and overbroad label of “voter fraud.” Some of these other irregularities result from honest mistakes by election officials or voters, such as confusion as to whether a particular person is actually eligible to vote. Some irregularities result from technological glitches, whether sinister or benign: for example, voting machines may record inaccurate tallies. And some involve fraud or intentional misconduct perpetrated by actors other than individual voters: for example, flyers may spread misinformation about the proper locations or procedures for voting; thugs may be dispatched to intimidate voters at the polls; missing ballot boxes may mysteriously reappear. These more common forms of misconduct are simply not addressed by the supposed “anti-fraud” measures generally proposed.
h/t: Miranda Blue at RWW
This weekend, the Dallas Morning News ran a long investigative piece exposing for the first time an armed raid that state Attorney General Greg Abbott’s office ordered on a Houston voter registration operation, Houston Votes, back in 2010. The aftermath played out like ACORN in miniature: Despite the fact that nobody at Houston Votes was charged with any wrongdoing, the organization folded under the pressure of Abbott’s investigation.
The story provides an interesting look at the mechanics of the GOP’s obsessive search for certain types of extraordinarily rare voter fraud in order to justify extreme measures making it harder to cast a ballot. And it also stars two people who have since become familiar names in the national effort to make it more difficult to vote: Abbott, who is now the GOP nominee for governor of Texas, and Catherine Engelbrecht, who now runs the national group True the Vote, but who got her start running a Texas Tea Party group called King Street Patriots.
The raid on Houston Votes was part of a larger campaign by Abbott to uncover what he calls an “epidemic” of voter fraud, in an apparent effort to build support for a restrictive Voter ID law in Texas. Abbott’s campaign hasn’t exactly been a success: According to MSNBC’s Zach Roth, “over the 13 years of Abbott’s tenure, his office can only cite two fraudulent votes that might have been stopped by the ID law.” In the meantime, Abbott’s effort has resulted in some strangely zealous prosecutions, including those of a group of Tea Party activists who tried to cast protest votes in a resident-less utility district.
Dallas Morning News reporter James Drew explains how a racially charged speech by Engelbrecht led to Abbot’s investigation of and raid on Houston Votes:
On an overcast Monday afternoon, officers in bulletproof vests swept into a house on Houston’s north side. The armed deputies and agents served a search warrant. They carted away computers, hard drives and documents.
The raid targeted a voter registration group called Houston Votes, which was accused of election fraud. It was initiated by investigators for Attorney General Greg Abbott. His aides say he is duty-bound to preserve the integrity of the ballot box.
His critics, however, say that what Abbott has really sought to preserve is the power of the Republican Party in Texas. They accuse him of political partisanship, targeting key Democratic voting blocs, especially minorities and the poor, in ways that make it harder for them to vote, or for their votes to count.
A close examination of the Houston Votes case reveals the consequences when an elected official pursues hotly contested allegations of election fraud.
The investigation was closed one year after the raid, with no charges filed. But for Houston Votes, the damage was done. Its funding dried up, and its efforts to register more low-income voters ended. Its records and office equipment never were returned. Instead, under a 2013 court order obtained by Abbott’s office, they were destroyed.
Fred Lewis formed Texans Together in 2006.
The nonprofit community organizing group used volunteers to register voters in 2008 under the name Houston Votes. It registered only about 6,000 people that year.
For the next big election, in 2010, Lewis wanted to register 100,000 new voters in Harris County. He knew he couldn’t hit that number with volunteers. Houston Votes decided to use paid workers.
By that summer, Houston Votes had come to the attention of the King Street Patriots, a Houston-based tea party group. At the group’s regular meeting in Houston, its leader, Catherine Engelbrecht, talked about the New Black Panther Party. She then played a Fox news clip of an unidentified black man saying: “We have to exterminate white people off the face of the planet.”
The clip was 5 years old. It came from a forum in Washington about media coverage of Hurricane Katrina. But after the clip ended, Engelbrecht showed a picture of a house in Houston. She said it was the office of the New Black Panthers, at Main and Dowling streets.
Dowling Street is infamous for a 1970 gun battle between police officers and African-American militants, one of whom was killed.
“Houston has a new neighbor,” Engelbrecht said. She added that a person outside the house appeared to be an employee of Houston Votes.
The house shown on the screen was the office of Houston Votes. It had nothing to do with the New Black Panther Party. And it was about 9 miles from Dowling Street.
Two weeks later, the King Street Patriots held another meeting. Paul Bettencourt, the former Harris County tax assessor-collector, was a guest speaker.
He said Houston Votes was worse at registering voters than ACORN, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now. Dozens of ACORN employees across the nation were convicted of voter registration fraud.
The next day, Bettencourt’s successor as tax assessor-collector, fellow Republican Leo Vasquez, held a news conference.
“The integrity of the voter roll of Harris County, Texas, appears to be under an organized and systematic attack by the group operating under the name ‘Houston Votes,’” he said.
Houston Votes had submitted about 25,000 voter registration applications. Vasquez said many were duplicates, or already registered. Only 7,193 were “apparently new voters,” he said.
Houston Votes later pointed to public records showing that at the time of the news conference, about 21,000 of the 25,000 who applied to register were already validated by the county and pending final approval by the secretary of state. Among those 21,000, the state had already given final approval to 7,193.
Vasquez announced he was referring the matter for “investigation and possible prosecution” to the Texas secretary of state and the Harris County district attorney.
The secretary of state, who advises local election officials on election laws, forwarded Vasquez’s information to the attorney general’s office on Sept. 14, 2010.
Abbott’s office opened a criminal investigation soon after.
h/t: Miranda Blue at RWW
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.
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.”
In a fundraising email today, the voter-fraud mavens at True the Vote claim that a proposed bipartisan update to the Voting Rights Act is in fact a “move toward race-based segregation” that would “exclude millions of Americans from the full protection of the law — based solely on the color of their skin” and “turn our elections over to Eric Holder and Barack Obama.”
The Voting Rights Amendment Act is a bipartisan bill that would replace the formula that determines which areas are subject to Justice Department preclearance for changes in their voting laws. The previous formula was struck down by the Supreme Court last year, although the rest of the law remained.
The proposed formula, like its predecessor, would require states and counties with a history of voting restrictions targeting minority voters to obtain preclearance from the Justice Department before changing their voting laws. The preclearance provision, enacted to stop rampant Jim-Crow-era racial discrimination at the polls has for decades helped stem attempts to disenfranchise minority voters.
But according to True the Vote founder Catherine Engelbrecht, the very fact that the Voting Rights Act and the proposed coverage update are meant to stop racial discrimination at the polls means that they are the product of “race baiters” who want to “divide voters into color blocks for partisan gain” and “move toward race-based segregation.”
I’m sending you this message on the most urgent of topics!
Congress is considering a bill that could ultimately turn our elections over to Eric Holder and Barack Obama.
The bill is HR 3899. Bill sponsors have named it the Voting Rights Amendment Act, but we’re calling it what it really is- the Voting Rights Segregation Act. If it is not stopped, HR 3899 will fundamentally and intentionally change American elections into race-reliant battlefields where, for the first time in our history, the United States would EXCLUDE millions of Americans from the full protection of the law – based solely on the color of their skin.
HR 3899 also targets five states that will immediately be put under the authority of Holder’s Dept of Justice, requiring that they pre-clear election activities with Holder’s DOJ, effective immediately upon passage of the bill! The currently targeted states are Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Georgia and North Carolina. The Bill also gives Eric Holder the exclusive right to target other states for any reason he sees fit, including the passage and implementation of photo Voter ID laws.
This Country has gone through too much and come too far to now watch silently as the professional race baiters in Congress, like Reps. Jim Sensenbrenner and Sheila Jackson Lee, divide voters into color blocks for partisan gain.
Will you please help support True the Vote’s effort to kill this terrible race based bill?
Earlier this week True the Vote led a group of pro-liberty election integrity organizations in requesting GOP House Majority Leader Eric Cantor to meet with our organizations to discuss the reasons this bill is an ill advised move toward race-based segregation. Last night, Cantor’s constituents let him know what they thought of his position on HR 3899- by voting him out of office. But make no mistake, the battle for HR 3899 is far from won.
h/t: Miranda Blue at RWW
[updated] True The Vote Works With Anti-Immigrant Groups To Push Draconian Nebraska Ordinance | Right Wing Watch
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
Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted (R), one of the nation’s most notorious vote suppressors, has agreed to join an error-riddled multi-state voter purge database. The move comes as part of a settlement with voter-suppression groups who sued the state to force it to remove names from its voter rolls.
The Interstate Voter Crosscheck Program aims to make sure that voters do not participate in elections in more than one state at a time. More than two dozen states submit their voter registration lists to the system and can check to make sure voters are not also registered in a different state. Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach (R), best known for his anti-immigrant efforts, oversees the program. So far, the system has mostly been embraced by Republican officeholders concerned about the largely-mythical problem of “voter fraud.”
But the problem is that the list relies on state lists that are not very accurate and generates a lot of errors. After Virginia joined the system, the state’s board of elections (under then-Gov. Bob McDonnell (R)) sent a list of names to local voter registrars of alleged out-of-state voters. Though the board said it had determined each of the people on the list had registered to vote in a different state since their last voting activity or registration in the Old Dominion, local registrars found that to be often not true. Chesterfield County Registrar Lawrence C. Haake III (R) found a 17 percent error rate in his preliminary review of the list. The voter registrars for the City of Chesapeake, Arlington County, and Fairfax County — three of the ten largest jurisdictions in Virginia — each estimated at least a 9 to 10 percent error rate in the lists they received. Many of the people flagged as out-of-state voters had registered to vote in Virginia more recently than in the other state — and some had moved out of state and later moved back.
The Ohio lawsuit was filed by Judicial Watch and True the Vote . Both groups have been active in fear-mongering on the “voter fraud” issue and have pushed states to take steps to make voting more difficult. Husted, who agreed to the groups’ demands in an out-of-court settlement, spent most of 2012 working to suppress Ohio voter participation by attempting to cut early voting options, supporting partisan legislative gerrymandering, and working tothrow-out legally cast provisional ballots.
Ohio’s Republican-controlled legislature is currently considering legislation to make it harder still to vote in the state. Proposals include reducing the number of absentee-voting days by six, preventing newly registered voters from voting the day they register, and requiring voters to present certain types of photo identification when casting a ballot.
A secret audio tape of a May 8th meeting of the conservative group “Groundswell” (a total nightmare amalgamation of creatures mostly bearing Southern drawls, birther conspiracy beliefs and a reliable paranoia of being persecuted) shows the group using their collective power (media, sleeping with SCOTUS, money, evangelical base/money, GOP Congressional aides) to pressure elected Republicans into making something out of the now debunked Benhazi scandal.
They want a special committee or else.
If they don’t get it, they warned Speaker Boehner (R-OH) and Obama fake scandal manufacturer Darrell Issa (R-CA), the two could face a loss of support and financial backing.
Birther Frank Gaffney made it clear on the tape that he told the puppets to play ball or else! He told the group that he had reminded Boehner and Issa that their donors are getting restless (aka, deliver us an Obama scandal or your PAC gets it), “I’m somewhat encouraged that they’re taking this thing very much to heart and we really impressed upon them that there’s a lot of restiveness on the part of folks like us, and some of their donors as a matter of fact, about what — what’s happening here.”
Jerry Boykin of the Family Research Council told the group of conspirators that in their secret meeting the night before, Speaker Boehner warned them that the media would see this as an attempt to bring down the Obama administration (gee, ya think?). But, have no fear, patriots, “We got an ugly baby here and it’s going to get ugly today. We are not backing away from our call for a special committee with subpoena power… We’re not backing away from a special committee, but we kinda have a pledge from Issa and the Speaker.”
The tape of the meeting was published on Crooks and Liars by Karoli, who writes that the source wished to remain anonymous. The meeting was led by Catherine Engelbrecht, a founder of True the Vote. True the Vote is the organization found guilty of illegally aiding Republicans by operating like a PAC instead of a non-profit, and the very same organization trotted out by Darrell Issa and the media as just one example of Obama’s IRS picking on conservatives. Naturally, that wasn’t true, but it didn’t stop the media or the Republicans from running wild with their fictional accusations.
Among those present at this meeting were Ginni Thomas (wife of sitting Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas), former Republican Representative Allen West and of course, Stephen Bannon of Breitbart News, who was on hand to instruct everyone how to handle the talking points (keep repeating that you are just interested in the “TRUTH”).
Voter Suppression Group True The Vote Fearmongers Over Immigration Reform: "It Will Allow ‘Millions’ To Vote"
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.
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.
Tea Party Group And Republican Campaign Coordinating To Supply Illinois With ‘Nonpartisan’ Poll Watchers
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.
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.
Cummings Launches Investigation of “True the Vote”; Raises Questions about Conservative Group’s Campaign to Challenge Legitimate Voters | Congressman Elijah Cummings
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.
Bullies At The Ballot Box: Protecting The Freedom To Vote Against Wrongful Challenges And Intimidation
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.