Tea Party Group Builds ‘Poll Watcher’ Network To Discourage Voting, Create False Record Of Voter Fraud

Since 2009, a Tea Party organization called True the Vote has been stoking the recently ignited fervor for voter purges and voter ID requirements currently winding their way through state courts. The Houston-based group has involved itself in every major election in the past three years, purporting to defend election integrity from widespread voter fraud.

Wisconsin’s election to recall Gov. Scott Walker (R) was the most recent test drive for True the Vote’s vote suppression project. During the June recall election, a voting hotline received numerous calls from college students claiming True the Vote “poll observers” challenged their right to vote. These poll observers exploited a provision in the state’s new GOP-sponsored voter ID law to claim it was illegal for students home for the summer to vote in local precincts if they had been home for less than 28 days. Others were hassled for proof of residency.

Minority voters in Wisconsin also reported harassment by True the Vote’s white poll watchers, who took notes and watched as the predominantly black line of voters cast their ballots. When Walker survived the recall election, True the Vote congratulated their poll watchers on “a victory of their own making.”

Prior to their efforts in Wisconsin, a judge ruled that their use of poll watchers in Texas’ 2010 elections amounted to an illegal contribution to the Republican Party.


Now, Colorlines reports, True the Vote is planning to take this localized strategy national in November. A major component of this effort will be gathering “evidence” to assist the group’s longer term work to enact voter ID laws and other legislation addressing the nearly nonexistent problem of in-person voter fraud.

As it is more likely that a person will be struck by lightning than that they will commit in-person voter fraud, proponents of voter ID laws have had trouble coming up with enough fraud examples to justify potentially disenfranchising hundreds of thousands of low-income and minority voters. True the Vote is hoping to change that by policing elections with untrained poll watchers heavily recruited from Tea Party events. These poll watchers will record common irregularities like mismatched addresses, typos, or dual registration errors as “fraud” to create the false impression that voting restrictions are justified:

As one strategy, the group buys voter rolls from states and counties, then disseminates the lists to thousands of largely unsupervised volunteers, who are urged to submit to election officials names from the rolls that may be improperly registered.[…] True the Vote encourages recruits to “build relationships with election administrators” because “they control the access to the vote,” as [elections coordinator] Ouren told a gathering in Houston. In 2010, the group was able to get a list of voter registration data from Republican Harris County registrar Leo Vasquez, who reportedly refused the same to the Democratic Party, for which the party sued. When the King Street Patriots submitted to him their list of fraudulent actions they claimed to see at the polls, Vasquez accepted them without verification and held a press conference with Engelbrecht asserting Harris County polls were “under a systemic and organized attack.”

As ThinkProgress has documented, these purge lists are often riddled with errors and frequently disenfranchise legitimate voters. But volunteer voter purges are just one part of the multi-pronged strategy True the Vote will use, in the courts and at the polls, to influence the November election — and, if they can, every election to come.