Election 2016

Even Republicans Are Ridiculing These Texas-Based Right-Wing Voting Vigilantes

Republican stalwarts have had enough of True The Vote's silly, paranoid allegations.

Photo Credit: Creative Commons / Gage Skidmore

True The Vote, the Texas-based Republican voting vigilante posse, is facing what may be its biggest public shaming ever following a race-baiting witch hunt in Mississippi after its Tea Party candidate lost in the U.S. Senate Republican primary.

True The Vote’s outsized accusations of double voting and ballot tampering stem from the surpising behavior of black voters from Jackson, the state capital region, who apparently responded to shrewd entreaties by Senator Thad Cochran to vote for him in this year’s GOP primary—instead of following their usual habit of supporting Democrats. True The Vote sued in Mississippi’s northern federal court district, far from Jackson, alleging all sorts of nefarious illegal voting, and protesting that the only way they could uncover the truth was if local election officials released confidential voter file records.

The response by Republicans inside and outside Mississippi has been astounding. The first federal judge to see their suit, appointed by President George W. Bush, said it was a poorly argued, innuendo-filled complaint filed in the wrong court. Mississippi’s longtime Republican Secretary of State, who True The Vote incorrectly sued because their claims concern county election boards, called it an “incoherent” and “politically motivated” mess from out-of-state meddlers. The state’s GOP chairman compared True The Vote’s claims to an issue of the Onion, the satirical magazine, and Ann Coulter, the bile-spewing columnist, called their effort a “paranoid frenzy.”  

None of this has stopped the group from rewriting and refiling its lawsuit in the more appropriate federal court venue—its latest tactic. But it’s notable that such a long line of conservative Republicans have slammed True The Vote’s so-called election integrity operation.

U.S. District Court Judge Michael Mills was appointed by Bush after being on Mississippi’s Supreme Court and serving as a state legislator. His decision, issued Monday, said that True The Vote sued in the wrong federal district, had claims that were sensational and unsupported, didn’t seek any emergency relief as might be expected, and that they mistakenly sued Mississippi's secretary of state. Take a look at how he mocks their claims:

“That brings the court to the fact that, standing issues aside, plaintiffs’ vote dilution claim fails to assert a coherent theory of liability against either of the two defendants in this case. The vote dilution claim is ostensibly based upon the Equal Protection Clause, but the complaint wholly fails to allege facts detailing what role either defendant had in bringing about any double voting which may have occurred in the Republican and Democratic primary elections. The complaint describes, in vague and conclusory terms, how certain plaintiffs 'perceived,' from their review of poll books, that certain individuals may have voted in both the Democratic and Republican primary elections. Even assuming that the plaintiffs’ perceptions in this regard are accurate, however, the fact remains that defendants cannot be held liable for acts of double voting by private individuals which it did not cause to occur.”

True The Vote is upset, of course, that Tea Party favorite Chris McDaniels was outsmarted by Senator Cochran’s successful appeal to some Democrats. But it's worth nothing that as it was bumbling its early legal moves, some of the counties True The Vote accused of irregularities were conducting recounts. And guess what: in some, Cochran emerged with more votes.

Meanwhile, Mississippi’s top election official, Republican Secretary of State Delbert Houseman, has had enough with their antics. He departed from his normally tight-lipped public persona and unloaded on them.

“The federal court has indicated the case against the state of Mississippi was ill-conceived, incoherent, misguided, poorly drafted, filed in the wrong court and probably politically motivated,” he said on Tuesday. "We are hopeful the state of Mississippi, and its taxpayers who are footing the bill, will quickly be dismissed from this litigation.”

Then, after hearing that True The Vote had refiled its lawsuit in the federal district in Jackson, Houseman slammed them for seeking protected confidential information in voter files that are used to confirm people’s identities. Moreover, he said these voter files were maintained by county election boards, not by his office.   

“The state still does not have the records requested by the re-filed lawsuit and should be dismissed,” he said. “The Mississippi Legislature enacted a law to protect your birth date and social security number from public dissemination. This out-of-state company wants your birth date or wants you, the taxpayer, to pay the redacting and copying for them. Your locally elected Circuit Clerks are following the law.”

The assault by Mississippi’s mainstream Republicans didn’t stop there. On Wednesday night, commenting on the refiled suit, State Republican Party Chairman Joe Nosef, said, "My initial reaction is I thought it was a headline from the Onion. Now I see how this group has earned their awful reputation.”

And even GOP scold Ann Coulter is bashing True The Vote in her column, which runs in Jackson’s daily newspaper.

“McDaniel’s passionate supporters think that a moment of crisis for the country is a good time to treat control of the Senate as if it's a prom queen election,” she wrote. “A lot of McDaniel’s supporters looked like clowns and nuts—such as on the night of the first primary, when some of his staff got themselves locked in the courthouse, where they had gone, in a paranoid frenzy, to ‘check the ballots.’

“Most appallingly, a McDaniel supporter, with the help of three others, was caught sneaking into Cochran’s wife's nursing home to take photographs of the poor Alzheimer’s-ridden woman. The ringleader of this cruelty-to-dementia-patients campaign has now committed suicide.”

If the GOP’s voting vigilantes were concerned about real election administration issues that affect vote counts, they might look at the shockingly old paperless electronic voting machinery in states like Virginia, which rely on Windows 2000 operating systems and where no recount is even possible. These systems have been known to lose large blocks of votes, via faulty memory cards, and that is one overlooked explanation for the surprising loss by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor last month.

But, hey, a Tea Party guy won there—so in True The Vote’s world, that’s not a problem.  

Steven Rosenfeld covers national political issues for AlterNet, including America's democracy and voting rights. He is the author of several books on elections and the co-author of Who Controls Our Schools: How Billionaire-Sponsored Privatization Is Destroying Democracy and the Charter School Industry (AlterNet eBook, 2016).

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