True the Vote

Thanks to commenter Burns for this piece on a legal theory that could be used to protect voters from True the Vote:

In an ostensible hunt for voter fraud, a Tea Party group, True the Vote, descends on a largely minority precinct and combs the registration records for the slightest misspelling or address error. It uses this information to challenge voters at the polls, and though almost every challenge is baseless, the arguments and delays frustrate those in line and reduce turnout. . . .

In 2009 and 2010, for example, the group focused on the Houston Congressional district represented by Sheila Jackson Lee, a black Democrat. After poring over the records for five months, True the Vote came up with a list of 500 names it considered suspicious and challenged them with election authorities. Officials put these voters on “suspense,” requiring additional proof of address, but in most cases voters had simply changed addresses. That didn’t stop the group from sending dozens of white “poll watchers” to precincts in the district during the 2010 elections, deliberately creating friction with black voters.

And here’s the legal theory:

When I mentioned these concerns to University of Toronto Law Professor Simon Stern, he noted the following by email:
The editorial describes a scenario that appears to fall under 42 USC § 1985(3). As the editorial explains, True the Vote identifies “largely minority precinct[s] and combs the registration records for the slightest misspelling or address error.” These details are used “to challenge voters at the polls” so as to “frustrate those in line and reduce turnout.” Section 1985(3) addresses conspiracies that use “force, intimidation, or threat” to attempt to stop “any citizen who is lawfully entitled to vote.”
A series of confrontations at the polls, choreographed to take place in minority precincts, and ostensibly based on the voter’s eligibility, fits within the core of this provision (as the editorial explains, one of the group’s leaders hopes that their “poll watchers” will make the targeted voters feel as if they are “driving and seeing the police following you”). Where the group, rather than acting directly, seeks to have election officials challenge these voters, this conduct falls within another provision in section 1985(3), which prohibits conspiracies aimed at “depriving, either directly or indirectly, any person or class of persons of the equal protection of the laws.” Both forms of voter intimidation are aimed at creating the kind of irreparable injury that justifies a preliminary injunction.

You’re going to hear “both sides do it” on this issue and that’s not true, so I thought I’d compare what voter protection lawyers and others actually do on the ground in Ohio with what True the Vote has done in past elections in Texas and Massachusetts:

This is True the Vote:

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.
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

And this is what voter protection volunteers do in Ohio:

The lead voter protection people in each county are Ohio lawyers, and we formally “enter” at each polling place. The process in Ohio requires the voter protection volunteer to hand an entry signed by a judge to the top poll worker  at each polling place. We’re then sworn in with an oath that is not unlike the oath that poll workers take.  If we (or any volunteer who is working with us) were to harass voters or poll workers, the person who submitted the entry would have to answer for that behavior. In my case, I would have to answer for it immediately, because I live here and I practice here. I’m easy to find after Election Day. I make my living here, so it’s unlikely I’d be harassing voters or poll workers 3 miles away from the law office.

I have never approached a voter at a polling place. What I do is check in, sit quietly and watch and listen. What I’m looking for in Ohio is a voter turned away or given a provisional ballot. If I believe the voter is being turned away or given a provisional ballot in error, based on the rules in Ohio, I approach the presiding judge and ask him or her to explain and if there is no valid reason for the refusal or provisional ballot, I ask that the lead poll worker intervene and correct the problem. If the problem isn’t fixed, I walk outside to the parking lot and call the Board of Elections.

I have yet to see a poll worker acting maliciously. The biggest problem we run into is “belt and suspenders” poll workers. These are poll workers who are not well-trained or confident in their understanding of the process so they restrict voting in excess of the rules: ask for two (or more!) pieces of ID, make a judgment call based on, I don’t know, their “gut”, shunt the voter to a provisional ballot “to be on the safe side”, things like that.

Compare what I’ve described with True The Vote, who descend on a minority precinct and “make the targeted voters feel as if they are ‘driving and seeing the police following you.’

If you’re harassed or intimidated by poorly trained conservative activists in or around a polling place report that first to poll workers then to election board staff and then to a police agency. I’m fairly confident True The Vote are going to wear out their welcome in Ohio polling places quickly, because voters and poll workers are well-intentioned and simply trying to get the job done. But vote. Don’t let them succeed in their goal, which is stopping certain targeted groups of citizens from voting.

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65 replies
  1. 1
    Svensker says:

    I am continually gobsmacked at how innocent I am. Just can’t believe that people do this — especially not in an organized fashion. That’s awful!

  2. 2
    schrodinger's cat says:

    True the Vote, what does that even mean, isn’t English supposed to be their first language?

  3. 3
    burnspbesq says:

    Jeez, these fuckers are shameless.

    If it hasn’t done so yet, the Ohio Democratic Party needs to move to intervene.

  4. 4
    BGinCHI says:

    @schrodinger’s cat: They should have gone with Dick the Vote.

    Or even Screw the Voters.

  5. 5
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @schrodinger’s cat: Truing is something one does to a wheel that is out of balance or wobbly.

  6. 6
    Andrey says:

    @schrodinger’s cat: True is a valid verb. “to make level, square, balanced, or concentric : bring or restore to a desired mechanical accuracy or form [true up a board] [true up an engine cylinder]”

  7. 7
    rlrr says:

    @schrodinger’s cat:

    “No bum that can’t speak poifect English oughta stay in this country…oughta be de-exported the hell outta here!”
    — Archie Bunker

  8. 8
    jenn says:

    Thanks for the info, Kay! I don’t actually expect any shenanigans where I vote, but I may put the BoE phone number on my cell just in case!

  9. 9
    Culture of Truth says:

    Blue The Vote

  10. 10
    BGinCHI says:

    @Omnes Omnibus: Jesus, if they find out Wobblies are voting all hell is going to break loose.

  11. 11
    Raven says:

    @Andrey: True dat

  12. 12
    Kay says:


    They’re fairly aggressive. The Party chair, Chris Redfern, is a jerk (IMO!) but he’s also really combative when one needs that sort of attitude.

  13. 13
    Hill Dweller says:

    Maddow has been really good covering True the Vote. She did a segment last week on their attempts to get 30,000 names thrown off the voter rolls in North Carolina, but after weeks of combing over the names, the NC Board of Elections found no fraud nor dead people voting.

  14. 14

    @Hill Dweller:

    The NC True the Vote spokesdickhead was on my local radio station last night, self righteously claiming that they had identified 30,000 suspected dead people on the voting rolls. There was absolutely no evidence whatsoever that any of these suspected dead people had ever voted, nor that they would in the future but that didn’t matter because shut up that’s why.

    ETA: after the funeral of a loved one I am sure that the first thing the relatives think about is popping down to the board of elections and telling them to remove the dead loved one from the voter rolls – NOT.

  15. 15
    Kay says:


    I don’t think it can hurt to check your registration. The staff people at the Board of Elections are going to be much better trained and more experienced than any poll worker. In my experience they just want a smooth election. Their nightmare is a contested result or pissed off voters. Like everyone else, they’re doing a job.

  16. 16
    Ash Can says:

    Great reporting from Kay, as always. This information needs to be disseminated far and wide, and people need to be on the lookout everywhere for these shitheels on election day.

  17. 17
    schrodinger's cat says:

    @Omnes Omnibus: @Andrey:
    OK I stand corrected. It did not make sense to me at the first blush.

  18. 18
    kindness says:

    Good for you in Ohio Kay. I think it all will depend on the attitude the local officials have. In Texas at the local level you’ll probably get more help than if you bump it to the State level as at that point they are all Republicans.

  19. 19
    ThatLeftTurnInABQ says:

    How does this not result in violence? The cycle of harrasment, counter-harrasment, intimidation, threats, shoving, punches thrown and then who knows what from there seems well nigh irresistable.

  20. 20
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @BGinCHI: They probably don’t even know about the IWW.

  21. 21
    JoyfulA says:

    The latest on PA Voter IDs, now simplified because Jim Cramer’s father couldn’t get a birth certificate:

  22. 22
    BGinCHI says:

    @Omnes Omnibus: I always wonder what it would be like to teach some of these people about history and what actually existing communists/socialists (even anarchists) in America looked like.

    We used to have a very strong strain of these ideas in our everyday life and now the right acts like it’s all new or alien. Morans.

  23. 23
    Steve says:

    Well thank goodness they’re not black like those two guys from the New Black Panther Party, or we’d have a problem.

  24. 24
    nemesis says:

    Ummm, the blahs are quite accustomed to this kind of bullshit. Folks wont be frustrated to leave the polls. They will be even more determined to vote.

    TTV claims to have 1,000,000 volunteers on the ground for Nov 6th. If each TTV asshole can eliminate two-four votes from being counted, they can win.

  25. 25
    artem1s says:


    The Party chair, Chris Redfern, is a jerk (IMO!) but he’s also really combative when one needs that sort of attitude.

    yea, Chris is a jerk, but he’s our jerk and I’ve always kinda liked his in-your-face style. Didn’t he even raise money around some idiot thing he said in public once? Can’t remember the circumstance but it was pretty much Chris saying out loud what the rest of us were thinking.

  26. 26
    priscianusjr says:

    @schrodinger’s cat
    True the Vote, what does that even mean, isn’t English supposed to be their first language?

    They are TRUE assholes, but it’s not because of their English:

    transitive verb. trued, tru·ing or true·ing, trues
    To position (something) so as to make it balanced, level, or square: trued up the long planks.

  27. 27
    Gustopher says:

    We really need to fund poorly trained Black Panther Poll Watchers in suburbs.

    “A chicken in every pot, and a scary blah man watching every ignorant cracker vote” or something.

  28. 28


    TTV claims to have 1,000,000 volunteers on the ground for Nov 6th. If each TTV asshole can eliminate two-four votes from being counted, they can win.

    I can claim to have a ten inch dick but that don’t make it so either.

    We should start calling these people what they are: The Klan.

  29. 29
    cmorenc says:

    In North Carolina, unless you are a precinct election official (i.e. a representative of the Board of Elections) OR a registered voter from the precinct in question, you CANNOT challenge the eligibility of other voters at that precinct. This helps cut down the opportunities for organizations like “True the Vote” to post poll workers with hundreds-long lists of potential voters identified as potential challenges, especially in minority precincts. This of course doesn’t guarantee they won’t be able to find someone with the requisite bona fides in some precincts, but OTOH it makes it lots tougher to find them in lots of precincts.

  30. 30
    bjacques says:

    Since Screw the Vote are stupid enough to announce ahead of time they’re going to target minority districts, then it behooves poll watchers to contact in advance the local police, especially if they’re on good terms. If any of these clowns persist in their antics, the sight of cops bundling them into the squad car ought to provide an entertaining and edifying spectacle.

    It’s almost a shame StV aren’t also guarding heavily Republican precincts against “those” voters. You could encourage black and Hispanic voters you know who have ironclad credentials but are stuck in red districts to troll StV goons by showing up looking poor and playing dumb, thus holding up the line for obvious Republicans waiting to vote. However, organizing that probably would fall under conspiracy laws.

  31. 31
    trollhattan says:

    FTW, your internets are on the way.

  32. 32
    trollhattan says:

    BTW, this is how it’s done.

    Gov. Jerry Brown today [092412] signed legislation allowing residents to register to vote up until and on Election Day, though the provision will not be implemented at least until 2014.
    “Voting – the sacred right of every citizen – should be simple and convenient,” the Democratic governor said in a prepared statement. “While other states try to restrict voters with new laws that burden the process, California allows voters to register online – and even on Election Day.”
    Assembly Bill 1436, by Assemblyman Mike Feuer, D-Los Angeles, was contested along partisan lines, with Democrats saying it would encourage more voter participation and Republicans saying it would encourage fraud.

    Emphasis added.

  33. 33
    Another Halocene Human says:

    @bjacques: Then they would get carted away in squad cars–remember HL Gates, Jr.? So… no.

  34. 34
    Another Halocene Human says:

    RE: Screw with Voters–where are George Soros, Amnesty International, and UN election monitors when you need them?

  35. 35
    gelfling545 says:

    @Steve:” two guys from who are the New Black Panther Party”

  36. 36
    General Stuck says:


    Jeez, these fuckers are shameless.

    Remember, this is the party that invaded a country based on lies, tortured prisoners via a national policy with infrastructure to conduct that torture for anyone they wanted. These are the people who just said fuck it to FISA and put GWB as the sole arbiter of who he could eavesdrop on. And about a thousand other lawless acts that ran the gambit.

    They may be shameless, but they are not overconfident they can get away with about anything, and dare the dems and America to stop them. With voter suppression mostly as small potatoes compared to any number of other recent major felonies with no consequences. Then there is the minority rights they have abused to the hilt, and even threatened to not pay the national debt.

    Since it is likely nothing much will get done when Obama is reelected, my vote is to launch a legal reckoning on these felonious and seditious motherfuckers, like has never occurred in this country.

  37. 37
    Kay says:


    Romney had to pay for a banner ad on the front page of the Toledo Blade today to promote his rally Wednesday.

    Snicker, snicker :)

    I bet he’s a wreck. He chose a big hall for a Wednesday rally. The people who work for him are morons.

  38. 38
    Thoughtcrime says:


    Romney had to pay for a banner ad on the front page of the Toledo Blade today to promote his rally Wednesday.

    Oh. Who’s being naive, Kay?

    Romney campaign manager Rich Beeson said that the campaign’s internal polling shows a much closer race in Ohio than the public polls suggest, according to a BuzzFeed story Tuesday. On Tuesday, a Washington Post poll showed Romney trailing Obama by 8 points in Ohio.

  39. 39
    Barbara says:

    My local precinct polling captain used to work for the Voting Rights section of the Department of Justice. When I did election protection in 2008 I felt more than a little gratuitous — more like, in awe of how hard he worked to make sure everyone could vote, even if he had to direct them to a different polling place.

    I am not sure what I am going to do this year — it really felt like a waste of time!

  40. 40
    General Stuck says:


    Oh. Who’s being naive, Kay?

    WTF you talking about?

  41. 41

    @The Other Chuck: There goes that fantasy. Thanks.

    Chris is a bit confrontational, no? In 2008, the polling place where I was assigned was interesting because the McCain people tended to hover over the poll workers and try to shunt voters to provisional ballots. Then I’d ask for a detailed explanation, which I’d request correction for if it was erroneous, and call the BoE if that didn’t happen. As Kay described she did, though I’m sure she was more efficient.

    What struck me was how “directing” the other side’s folks were – it seemed like they sort of watched for people they thought shouldn’t be voting and double checked almost. Of course the checkers in never came alone throughout the day either – always 3-5, male, wearing dark suits and shades, in black SUVs. I wish I were making that up.

  42. 42
    Allen says:

    Jeez, this makes glad to live in Oregon. Vote by mail y’all.

  43. 43


    The people who work for him are morons.

    It is impressive just how much so, isn’t it?

  44. 44
    karen says:

    So is True the Vote armed at these friendly confrontations, since guns can be carried into anywhere?

  45. 45
    karen says:

    So is True the Vote armed at these friendly confrontations, since guns can be carried into anywhere?

  46. 46
    Allen says:

    And at the risk of beating a dead equid, this really puts last night’s MNF in perspective, doesn’t it.

  47. 47
    trollhattan says:

    UNLIMITED CORPORATE CASH, you go back to bed right now. Don’t make me come up there, do you hear me?!?

  48. 48
    Felinious Wench says:

    This is why I’m a poll watcher in Houston. These assholes hit the 3rd, 4th, and 5th wards (inner city minorities, esp. black and hispanic voters). If this 5 ft tall white girl can get in their Tea Party faces, anyone can.

  49. 49
    eyelessgame says:

    I know it’s been asked before, but – how does voter fraud work?

    I mean, there’s supposed to be a major problem with in-person voter fraud, hence all these laws about having an ID.

    How would it work, exactly? Suppose you wanted to commit vote fraud on the day of the election… and you were going to do it in such a way that an ID law would prevent it. What would you do? What’s the procedure for commiting the sort of vote fraud that an ID law would protect against?

    Since vote fraud is against the law and comes with severe penalties, and since basically no one is ever caught doing it, it has to be an almost foolproof process. So what’s the process? What’s the easy way of committing voter fraud that (a) everyone who tries today gets away with, and (b) is stopped by a voter ID law?

  50. 50
    trollhattan says:

    While on parole after release from the maximum-security wing, and taking time from robbin’ and drug-dealin’ duties, you steal/forge an ID, obtain and fill out a voter registration form to some real but not-yours address, receive your voting materials at said address, select your candidates and decide yes/no votes on each proposition or ballot measure, then either a. mail in your by-mail ballot or b. go to your assigned polling place on election day where you 1. sign in, 2. get your ballot, 3. transfer your votes from the sample ballot to the actual ballot (or voting machine) and 4. celebrate your successful fraud by spending the fifty George Soros just gave you.

    Or something like that.

  51. 51
    bjacques says:

    @Another Halocene Human: I’m not talking about being confrontational or yelling about rights. Just acting a little stupid or hard of hearing, then showing the correct ID and collecting the ballot. The idea is to slow down the works and troll the StV guys without being obvious enough to give them and excuse to call the cops.

    There are probably better uses for that energy, but, ttill, could be fun.

  52. 52
    John M. Burt says:

    Once again, I thank FSM for Oregon’s by-mail voting system.

  53. 53
    SuzieC says:


    Their campaign is incompetent. I’m a diehard Dem contributor and activist, yet I got a call inviting me to a Romney rally tomorrow morning in Westerville, OH. They can’t identify their voters or even potential supporters.

  54. 54
    Joel says:

    @Thoughtcrime: Um, it’s the Romney campaign’s job to keep enthusiasm high and donors in line. Did you expect his campaign manager to come out and say, “Okay, we’re fucked. Might as well stay home, folks”.

  55. 55
    Scott says:

    @karen: Now that would be amusing: a bunch of black guys with concealed weapons permits pinned to their shirts.

  56. 56
    Roberto says:

    @Svensker: I vote in Sheila Jackson Lee’s precinct. My neighborhood is fairly diverse, with a slight tilt towards Latino, followed by African-American, and Anglos (as we call ’em down here) coming in at a cozy 3rd. I happen to be Anglo, by the way. The poll watchers stuck out like sore thumbs, not because they were tight-ass suburban gated-community white folk but because they were all huddled on folding chairs in a corner and looked downright terrified, like they might not make it back to their lilywhite barrios alive. If anything, all my neighbors and I went out of our way to be extra polite to them, the way one would with a young child who has wet himself out of fear. I could be wrong but I suspect a polite reception would be the last thing I and my neighbors would receive if we showed up in Romney-Ryan land questioning their honesty.

  57. 57
    Real American says:


    “Sure, all the polls show us losing, but we have our own poll showing us winning, so there!”

    Did you know that, if you take all the polls and add +10 points for Romney, he wins? Victory is all but assured!

  58. 58
    Patricia Kayden says:

    Thanks for the post, Kay. What exactly is the Democratic party doing about this obvious voter intimidation? Voter protection volunteers (such as yourself) sound like they’re doing a great job, but if people are being intimidated and leaving the polling places in tears, something more needs to be done. DOJ intervention? More laws? Enforcement of existing laws? More exposure of True the Vote and other similar organizations?

    Are we going to see blood flow on November 6th? Violence at the polls with racist T’Baggers trying to block Blacks from voting? This is sickening.

  59. 59
    Patricia says:

    @Felinious Wench:

    I’m a Texan in a blood-red precinct. So I doubt I’ll see any Screw The Vote people at my polling place. But if I do, what are they allowed to do and not do? What can I tell people in areas more likely to be infested by these parasites? I’m having a hard time finding info on voters’ rights. At this point I’m ready to pop a vein if one of those people even looks at me sideways. Can you help?

    Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, care for the sick and visit the imprisoned.

  60. 60
    Plantsmantx says:

    @Patricia Kayden:

    Violence? I doubt it. Too many poor black people tend to treat any white person who acts like an authority figure as if they are one.

  61. 61
    peggy says:

    @Patricia Kayden:
    The solution is what every Dem campaign always does every year- have volunteer poll watchers at every precinct. Non-lawyer volunteers who act just like Kay armed with a cell phone. If you live in a swing state see about volunteering.

  62. 62
    TTT says:

    As utterly vile and criminal as Ku The Vote is, and notwithstanding that they should all die in car fires, the very fact that we are having this conversation is proof of wingnut weakness.

    They know they can’t win.

    So they’ve piled all their resources into cheating.

    We can finish off Ku The Vote this year. It is their last chance to even come close. If we win, they lose everything.

    As Kos said: “Break their backs, crush their spirits.”

  63. 63
    Patricia Kayden says:

    @peggy: Fortunately, I live in Maryland. Romneybot should be asked about these tactics at one of the debates. The Repubs should be embarassed about the lengths they are going to just to suppress the minority vote.

  64. 64
    JR in WV says:

    Here in West Virginia, no one is allowed in a polling place but poll workers and voters at that precinct, in fact no one is allowed closer than 300 feet from a polling place.

    I think allowing various groups of assorted activists into a polling place is wrong – not party observers, but a self-appointed vote patrol. Here in WV there are volunteer poll workers at every precinct from both parties, which works well if there are only the two parties.

    We also have early voting starting in mid-October.

  65. 65

    @The Other Chuck:

    I can claim to have a ten inch dick but that don’t make it so either.

    Exactly. Typical GOP bluff and bluster.

    We should start calling these people what they are: The Klan.


    By the way: Now that word’s got out in Minnesota about how much the voter suppression amendment to the state constitution would cost — Kittson County alone would have to shell out $160 for every man, woman and child, and these wouldn’t be one-time costs either, as Max Hailperin showed at Bluestem Prairie — it’s dropped from 80% support in May to 52% last week, and since constitutional amendments need at least 50% support to pass, it’s on very thin ice right now.

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