On November 2, GOP and Tea Party election observers will be coming to a polling center near you. Although Republicans cry "voter fraud" almost every year, this election is unique in that the GOP now has an army of Tea Party foot soldiers to man the polls.
Numerous reports have documented how state GOP chapters, local Tea Party groups and organizations like Americans for Prosperity are mobilizing across the country—holding training sessions and posting instructional videos on their websites about how to challenge suspicious voters. But the right’s concern about widespread voter fraud has virtually no basis in empirical reality; a 2007 study by the Brennan Center for Justice found that "an American is more likely to get struck by lightning than impersonate another voter at the polls."
Yet many conservatives believe that voter fraud is all the rage among progressives. Fox News commentator Michelle Malkin announced recently that "We are all voter fraud police now." The 600 people who attended California’s Central Valley Tea Party coalition meeting on August 5 were urged to join an "Army of Republican Poll Watchers" because (according to their website) "it’s not just Bosnia that needs election observers to keep voter fraud in check."
The act of voter challenging, however, is problematic for many reasons. It not only creates long lines at polling centers but also disenfranchises and intimidates legitimate voters. Below is a list of the most egregious attempts of so-called "voter integrity" campaigns:
• The Minnesota-based group Election Integrity Watch—a coalition of conservative organizations that includes the Northstar Tea Party Patriots and the Minnesota Majority—aired an ad that essentially puts a $500 bounty on the head of a fraudulent voter. The ad features a Mafioso named "Vinnie" who tells listeners to "fuggedabout" cheating at the polls because Election Integrity Watch has trained thousands of poll watchers and surveillance teams. An announcer then concludes the air-spot stating that rewards of up to $500 are being offered.
• In a Brennan Center briefing that served as a preview of voting problems to come, Wendy Weiser, deputy director of their Democracy Program, discussed documents found on the Michigan State GOP website that details the GOP’s plan of operations on election day. (The Brennan Center saved copies of the slideshow in case it was taken off of the website.) The power point details plans to send 3,666 challengers to the seventeen counties that poll less than 35 percent Republican.
• "We know illegals are voting and that the Democrats are not above doing whatever it takes to win… legal or otherwise," says the North Phoenix Tea Party’s website. This level of absolute certainty might lead to some racially fueled intimidation at the polls.
• Milwaukee community groups protested large billboards that had been placed around the city that displayed pictures of people behind bars under the caption "We Voted Illegally" on the merits of voter intimidation. There is no evidence that one particular group sponsored the signs.
• An instructional video on the Houston-based King Street Patriots website shows a picture of an African-American woman at a 2000 Gore-Lieberman recount rally carrying a sign that reads: "I only got to vote once." It has since been discovered that the photo was doctored from a sign that read: "Don’t Mess with Our Vote."
• A recent Mother Jones article discusses how the Illinois state GOP has banded with the Illinois Republican Renaissance to create an "election fraud prevention task force." But that’s not all. An audio recording of Republican candidate Mark Kirk—who is vying for Obama’s old seat in the US Senate—was leaked online. In this tape, Kirk says that he has funded the largest voter integrity program that will make use of "lawyers and other people that will be deployed in key, vulnerable precincts, for example, South and West sides of Chicago, Rockford, Metro East, where the other side might be tempted to jigger the numbers somewhat." These are all areas with a large African-American populations.
• The organization One Wisconsin Now (see Sarah Posner "Inside the Wisconsin Right’s Voter Suppression Scheme") has accused the Republican Party in Wisconsin along with Americans for Prosperity and local Tea Party groups of plotting to carry out the illegal practice of "voter caging." They have provided documentation and audio files on their website. Voter caging is when non-forwardable, official-looking mail is sent to registered voters. If it is returned to the sender, the letter can be used to challenge a voter on Election Day with claims that the address is not valid. This usually targets students and members of the military.
• Conservative polling security has even gone mobile. American Majority Action created the nation’s first mobile application to help "identify, report and track suspected incidents of voter fraud and intimidation." The application automatically opens up the smartphone’s camera so that "concerned citizens" can document an event of fraud and fill out a report immediately. The app is free and compatible with iPhone, Blackberry and Droid.
Challenged voters are encouraged to call the Election Protection hotline at 1-866-OUR-VOTE. Many who find their vote challenged also have the right to cast a "provisional ballot."