The afternoon before early voting began in the 2010 midterm elections, a crowd of people gathered in the offices of a Houston Tea Party group called the King Street Patriots. They soon formed a line that snaked out the door of the Patriots’ crumbling storefront and down the block, past the neighboring tattoo parlor. The volunteers, all of whom had been trained by the Patriots to work as poll watchers, had come to collect their polling-place assignments. As they waited, the group’s chief trainer, Alan Vera—a mustachioed former Army ranger who likens poll observers to commandos who “jump out of airplanes” and “blow things up”—walked the line, shaking hands. As he would later recall, he then launched into a drill-sergeant routine. “Are you ready?” “We’re ready!” “Strength and honor! Remember your mission! Your mission is the vote!” The next day, King Street Patriots—many of them aging white suburbanites—poured into polling places in heavily black and Hispanic neighborhoods around Houston, looking for signs of voter fraud. Reports of problems at the polls soon began surfacing in the Harris County attorney’s office and on the local news. The focus of these reports was not fraud, however, but alleged voter intimidation. Among other things, poll observers were accused of hovering over voters, blocking lines of people who were trying to cast ballots, and, in the words of Assistant County Attorney Terry O’Rourke, “getting into election workers’ faces.”
The Patriots’ alleged activities touched off a furor. The county attorney’s office, which received some 50 complaints of voter intimidation, launched an investigation. The head of the local chapter of the New Black Panthers went on TV to warn that the group would “not tolerate any intimidation.” The Texas Democratic Party blasted the Patriots for what it called “1960s style” tactics and filed a lawsuit challenging the group’s tax-exempt status. Undaunted, the group’s founder, a suburban soccer mom and small-business owner named Catherine Engelbrecht, addressed a boisterous crowd at the group’s headquarters the next week. “The nation is ready for something like this,” she said. In the months that followed, she began laying out plans to recruit and train 1 million poll watchers around the country by Election Day 2012.
Full Article: The Ballot Cops – Mariah Blake – The Atlantic.