Liberal and conservative groups are mobilizing armies of poll watchers to battle over the enforcement of voter ID laws on Election Day. The Democratic Party has more to lose if turnout is low on Nov. 4. Liberals want to ensure that the young, black and Latino voters who form a key part of the party’s electoral base are not kept from the polls. Conservatives insist that they just want to uphold the integrity of the electoral process by making sure that all votes cast are legitimate. The Democratic National Committee (DNC) has state directors stationed across the country for its Voter Expansion Project. They help train poll workers, and work with local election officials to clarify how laws will be implemented. “This has been a really big effort,” DNC spokesman Michael Czin said.
A conservative group filed a lawsuit in federal court Tuesday challenging the outcome of the bitter Mississippi GOP Senate primary, saying that investigators should take more time to determine whether election laws have been broken and whether illegal ballots were cast. True The Vote, which bills itself as the nation’s leading voters’ rights and election integrity organization, said that it had no choice but to file a lawsuit after the Mississippi secretary of state and Mississippi GOP refused to respond to requests to review possible “double-voting” in the state’s primary, where Sen. Thad Cochran was declared the winner over tea party-backed state Sen. Chris McDaniel. The group said the outcome could have been diluted by some of the votes cast and said it could be in violation of the Equal Protection Clause under the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution.
A conservative group claiming it was targeted by the Internal Revenue Service stole the show at a congressional hearing on Thursday when it veered off topic and accused top panel Democrat Rep. Elijah Cummings of harassment. Catherine Engelbrecht, president of True the Vote, complained that Cummings, ranking member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee “sent letters to True the Vote, demanding much of the same information the IRS had requested” after she filed for nonprofit status and then “would appear on cable news and publicly defame me and my organization.” Democrats called it outrageous that Republicans gave the group a platform to attack a member, and even some Republicans tried to change the subject back to the IRS controversy itself.
Teresa Sharp is fifty-three years old and has lived in a modest single-family house on Millsdale Street, in a suburb of Cincinnati, for nearly thirty-three years. A lifelong Democrat, she has voted in every Presidential election since she turned eighteen. So she was agitated when an official summons from the Hamilton County Board of Elections arrived in the mail last month. Hamilton County, which includes Cincinnati, is one of the most populous regions of the most fiercely contested state in the 2012 election. No Republican candidate has ever won the Presidency without carrying Ohio, and recent polls show Barack Obama and Mitt Romney almost even in the state. Every vote may matter, including those cast by the seven members of the Sharp family—Teresa, her husband, four grown children, and an elderly aunt—living in the Millsdale Street house. The letter, which cited arcane legal statutes and was printed on government letterhead, was dated September 4th. “You are hereby notified that your right to vote has been challenged by a qualified elector,” it said. “The Hamilton County Board of Elections has scheduled a hearing regarding your right to vote on Monday, September 10th, 2012, at 8:30 a.m. . . . You have the right to appear and testify, call witnesses and be represented by counsel.” “My first thought was, Oh, no!” Sharp, who is African-American, said. “They ain’t messing with us poor black folks! Who is challenging my right to vote?”
A volunteer network started by Tea Party members in Texas has taken steps to verify the addresses of college students in Huntsville, prompting local Democrats to cry foul. True the Vote last month sent a fax to Oakwood University, a historically black Seventh-day Adventist college in Huntsville, to verify the addresses of more than 120 students who are registered voters. The list included names alongside dates of birth. “I’m outraged about this,” said Clete Wetli, chairman of the Madison County Democratic party. Wetli on Friday said True the Vote is “aligned with the far right and Tea Party activists” and is using “fear and suppression” to attempt to influence elections.
Anyone listening to Catherine Engelbrecht for any length of time is likely to be convinced that voter fraud is one of the most insidious evils the nation faces. The articulate and passionate founder of True the Vote, a Houston-based tea party organization dedicated to strengthening laws against voter fraud, has convinced several state legislatures of the need for voters to show photo identification at the polling place. But after three years of national attention – and much success – opponents are pushing back. Courts have struck down, limited or delayed recently enacted voter ID laws, including in Texas. Election officials in several states, including the swing states of Ohio and North Carolina, have rejected many of the challenges that True the Vote volunteers have provided, usually on grounds of paltry evidence.