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Going Undercover at the GOP's Voter Vigilante Project to Disrupt the Nov. Election

The Republican True the Vote project is a well-funded scheme with training sessions for activists across the country. Will it work?

I was nervous getting onto the flight to Denver. Since 2004, I have been a national radio producer, investigative reporter, author and consultant—writing about how elections are won, lost, bungled and improved, with a big focus on voter registration. But I had never snuck into a meeting of right-wing voting vigilantes who are the frontline of a national voter suppression strategy, and where the main speaker was a man whose new book I’d aggressively debunked days before, in an AlterNet article lauded by a leading election law blog and Washington Post. The meeting was a state summit organized by a group called True The Vote. The author was John Fund, who absurdly claims that more than 1,000 felons voted illegally in Minnesota in 2008, sending Democrat Al Franken to the U.S. Senate, where he was the final vote that passed Obama's health care reform.

I didn’t want to be outed or bullied. I support citizen activism and was intrigued, even if I knew I was heading into the heart of the GOP election fraud brigade at the Colorado summit. On the plane, I wondered why many of the right-wing activists I hoped to meet in Denver believe as they do—eyeing almost all phases of the voting process with suspicion and mistaking errors as political conspiracies. The group’s Web site was very thin, but as knowledgeable people told me, they had big money behind them and were organizing on a scale that recalled the early days of the Christian Coalition.  

The next day, Saturday, August 18, I got up early, ate quickly and took my props—a copy of Fund’s 2004 book, Stealing Elections, one of the first Republican tirades to make outsized and false claims that Democrats were involved in vast conspiracies to illegally vote, and a blog post saying the summit was open to walk-ins. I looked like I was going golfing and headed for the Sheraton conference center. A few minutes before 9, I got in line behind a manicured middle-aged man wearing an Americans for Prosperity T-shirt, the group founded and still funded by the Koch Brothers, and a few retirees, all white, and asked if they any room left. They nodded. When time came for pay, a perky woman at the welcome desk asked my name for a badge. Next to her sat Fund, selling and signing his book . I quickly replied, “Steve Rose,” what my friends call me. No one blinked. Then I bought the book for $20. He signed, “Keep Fighting. John Fund.”

Once inside, the meeting began with the Pledge of Allegiance, a prayer “for truth in America” in Jesus’ name, and then some of the most incredible tirades against liberals I’d ever heard, including Fund’s messianic exhortation to work against all those who “bear false witness,” which, ironically, is exactly what he and True the Vote does.

Voting Vigilante

True the Vote is a voting vigilante group that never should have grown past its Texas cowboy-meets-Tea Party justice roots. Its top leaders have a jaunty, string ‘em up, guilty-until-proven-innocent mindset. They represent the most extreme views on the Right when it comes to voting—that the process is filled with corruption that is bound to be exploited by local political bosses and machines, which, of course, are Democratic. Where liberals see that a third of all eligible voters in America do not vote and want to make the process more accessible, the Right believes to do so would mean the end of America as they know it. They think it’s patriotic to be self-appointed judges, juries and if necessary, citizen police, to stop what they believe is rampant illegal voting. This purview goes far beyond today’s fights over voter ID .