Aug 24, 2012 No Comments ›› Chuck Biscuits
Excerpted From The Nation: 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.
These alliances have helped expand True the Vote’s range of influence over election activities. Today it boasts having trainees in 35 states, people who’ll spot “irregularities” and chalk them up as “fraud” and then use that tally to justify new voting restrictions. As one strategy, the group buys voter rolls from states and counties, then disseminates the lists to thousands of largely unsupervised volunteers, who are urged to submit to election officials names from the rolls that may be improperly registered.
The group has involved itself in every high-stakes electoral drama this year, from the Wisconsin governor recall election to Florida’s controversial “non-citizen” purging. True the Vote now turns its attention to the main event this fall, gearing up for an Election Day showdown that its leaders hope will establish voter fraud, rather than voter suppression as a dire threat to democracy.
Building an Election Day Army
Near the end of June, President Obama was in Colorado Springs checking on the destruction caused by wildfires. Not far away, in downtown Denver, was a gathering of folks who wouldn’t be confused for Obama’s fans. At the Western Conservative Summit, over a thousand conservative Christian activists assembled to hear from speakers like Glenn Beck, NRA president Wayne LaPierre, and Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, who joked about Obama avoiding her at the airport.
The convener of the summit, the Centennial Institute, is a department of Colorado Christian University, a school that blends traditional biblical philosophies with the principles of limited government and free markets. One of the speakers was James Robison, a Texas televangelist who believes the 1 percent are victims of a “type of racism.” Robinson yelled at the audience that they “better learn the language of the poor, or they will destroy our prosperity.”
True the Vote was a “partner organization” of the summit, along with their affiliates Colorado Voter Protection, with whom they shared a table to recruit volunteers. They held an “election integrity happy hour” at a bar not far from the Christian Summit where attendees could have a free drink and learn how to become “citizen-volunteers.”
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 is playing 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.
“We ask anyone and everyone who serves under True The Vote” to write down everything they see that looks funny, funky, fraudulent, Ouren told recruits. “If something doesn’t go right, document it.” Gather those incident reports, he urged, and they’ll be given to legislators or used for lawsuits. “You create the record that debunks so much of the nonsense that says that there is no such thing as voter election fraud.”
This was the strategy that worked in Texas, that helped pass a voter ID law and set up a showdown over the Voting Rights Act, even though none of what they documented actually amounted to voter fraud.
Expert after expert has refuted assertions of widespread voter fraud. In Florida, only 10 cases of a non-citizens who may have voted have been found, according to University of Florida elections expert Dan Smith. Colorado’s Gesssler regularly sells stories about masses of people double-voting and literally dying to commit fraud—so much that even their corpses vote. But a News21 investigation found just 16 cases of double voting or voter impersonation since 2000 in Colorado, and just one conviction in 2008.