One of the first sights to greet attendees of the True the Vote national summit was the face of Martin Luther King Jr. printed above the quote, “PEACE if possible. TRUTH at all costs,” on T-shirts for sale in the hotel lobby. Of course, King didn’t say those words; the quote is from Martin Luther, the German theologian, who predates King by about four centuries. But that was beside the point for True the Vote members, who gathered in Houston on a late April weekend to rally against a darker “truth” that only they seemed privy to: an epidemic of voter fraud that has taken over the American electoral system.
A spinoff of the King Street Patriots Texas Tea Party, a group that gained notoriety during the 2008 and 2010 elections for harassing and intimidating Houston voters, True the Vote supports the voter ID laws championed by ALEC and other right-wing groups. But its primary role in the effort to suppress the vote will be manifest on election day. By then, True the Vote hopes to have trained a million poll watchers around the country to crack down on voter fraud—people voting on behalf of dead citizens, undocumented immigrants attempting to vote and people voting twice.
It is an article of faith among True the Vote members that such cases are legion and marred recent elections in Texas, for example. But as the San Antonio Express reported, “fewer than five ‘illegal voting’ complaints involving voter impersonations were filed with the Texas Attorney General’s Office from the 2008 and 2010 general elections in which more than 13 million voters participated.” Nationwide, the prevalence of voter fraud is also freakonomically low; in 2007, after a five-year effort to prosecute voter fraud, George W. Bush’s Justice Department reported just 120 charges and eighty-six convictions.
This lack of evidence, however, didn’t seem to disturb True the Vote’s national elections coordinator Bill Ouren, who one day hopes to have at least two sets of poll watchers at every polling station in America. At the summit, Ouren described how voters should feel while under the gaze of True the Vote observers: “Like driving and seeing the police following you.”
In his presentation, Ouren outlined the distinction between official election workers and poll watchers—and then gave guidance about how to blur such lines. He encouraged activists to “build relationships with election administrators” and their party leaders because “they control access to the vote.” He then asked Harris County poll workers and watchers in the audience to stand; almost half the room did. Ouren also singled out Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart for a round of applause.