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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?

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Her war stories continued. They were low-rent compared to later speakers, who described a full-throated U.S. Justice Department conspiracy to ignore discrimination against white voters, or Fund telling people that they should enjoy bullying liberals because they were doing God’s work. “Your opposition are cartoon characters. They are. They are fun to beat up. They are fun to humiliate,” he intoned. “You are on the side of the angels. And these people are just frauds, charlatans and liars.”

Propaganda and Internet Tools

True the Vote’s response to the problems it perceives is ambitious. It’s also incredibly error-prone, according to its track record thus far in 2012. The group’s pre-Election Day focus is not just about training poll observers—people who’ll watch how voters are checked in and speak up if they don’t like what they think they see. They’re also focused on voter registration rolls, trying to identify, weed out, challenge and remove people who they believe are illegal or phantom voters. This is where things get dicey.

Drawing on the power of Internet organizing and Tea Party networks, they’ve developed an infrastructure where they "crowd-source" analysis of voter registration records, using software and vetting standards they created. True the Vote will take various state databases, starting with voter registration lists (which are always in flux as people register, move and die), driver’s license databases and jury lists, and look for inconsistencies. If they don’t like the way a person’s signature varies from form to form, it is flagged as suspicious. If they see that too many voters are registered at an address, it is flagged. If a driver’s license has a different address than a voter registration form, it is flagged. Their research team then seeks to turn over these names to county or state officials, who they urge to investigate—and, of course, remove ineligible voters from the rolls.

Mark Antill, their national research director, explained that they developed the software to first identify addresses with the most registrants attached to them. “When you find 80 people [registered] at an empty lot, you push a button and all 80 people get challenged,” he told the room. “When you vote once, and some guy votes twice, that is an issue.”

If the local election officials do not remove names from voter lists (and there are detailed federal laws that mostly bar voter purges within 90 days of an upcoming federal election, and require that names be left on voter lists to ensure that nobody is disenfranchised) then True the Vote wants those offices to take other steps. Antill said Colorado will send a postcard to the voter in question saying he must present proof before getting a ballot this fall; or that he can’t vote by mail until he shows up with documents at a polling place. (He did not say where they got the legal authority to do that, and I didn’t want to be too pushy. But in a state where 70 percent of people vote by mail, and 10 percent vote early, that hurdle could easily prevent infirm elderly people from voting.)

True the Vote’s Texas adversaries have seen these tactics before. “They are challenging new voter applications as they come in. They are challenging registrations that already exist on the rolls,” said Houston’s Haver. “They believe it’s grounds for a challenge if you have six people living at a household on a registration form.” Angle said, “They couldn’t operate in Texas or anywhere else unless they had officials supporting them.”

That is exactly what they have in Texas, Colorado, Florida, Ohio, Kansas and a handful of other states. At the Denver summit, Colorado’s Deputy Attorney General Cynthia Coffman fully backed their agenda. So did Secretary of State Scott Gessler, who told attendees “you will be demonized, called a racist and a vote suppressor” but encourged them to soldier on.