By Jon Cassidy and Kenric Ward | Watchdog.org
A watchdog group that scrutinizes voter rolls and sends observers to polling stations is under attack from a group of elected Democratic officials making unsupported accusations of criminal activity.
All 10 Democratic members of the state Ohio Senate sent a letter Wednesday to Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted accusing True the Vote and its affiliate, the Ohio Voter Integrity Project, of employing “questionable, and possibly illegal, methods to combat the ‘problem’” of voter fraud.
The senators argue that poll observers could be prosecuted under an Ohio law that prohibits “loiter[ing] in or about a registration or polling place during registration or the casting and counting of ballots so as to hinder, delay, or interfere with the conduct of the registration or election.”
A spokesman for Husted told Watchdog.org late Wednesday, “There are safeguards in place and under Ohio law rules that guard against voter intimidation. We will hold accountable anyone who is guilty of it.”
The letter comes as a coalition of left-wing groups has sent threatening letters to election-watch groups and local officials around the country, accusing True the Vote and others of suppressing voting rights and violating laws.
Targeting the Houston-based True the Vote organization, groups ranging from the AFL-CIO to the NAACP and ACLU warn that legal action will be taken if their demands are not met.
The coordinated campaign was triggered by a seven-page letter sent by U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md. Using official stationery of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, the Democrat demanded that True the Vote president Catherine Engelbrecht produce “a list of all individual voter registration challenges by state, county and precinct … including correspondence and determinations by election officials.”
Engelbrecht said that Cummings’ “second-hand” criticism was “inaccurate, misleading and unfair.”
“Responsible citizens exercising powers under Section 8 (of the National Voter Registration Act) have every right, and we would argue, a civil obligation, to assist the electoral process” by bringing information of vote irregularities to the attention of election officials.
The letter from the Ohio lawmakers contradicts itself. The lawmakers accuse poll observers of making so many “baseless” challenges at the polls that lines grow long and voters turn away.
But the senators write that “Ohio law allows only election officials to challenge voters on Election Day; all other challenges must be completed 20 days before the election,” and they quote True the Vote’s own material making a similar point.
The source of the charge that True the Vote’s real aim is clogging up the polls isn’t a study or a news report; it’s a New York Times editorial spinning a conspiracy out of a single incident its newspages reported. During the recent Wisconsin recall election, observers monitoring the same-day voter registration process were “just kind of in physical contact with some of the poll workers, leaning over them, checking and looking,” slowing things down, according to a Democratic poll observer in Appleton.
There’s your conspiracy.
Both letters lean heavily on that account in The New York Times, which notes (way down at the end of the article) that the Voter Integrity Project is not targeting minorities for review: “Amy Searcy, the director of the Hamilton County Board of Elections, said there was no discernible racial pattern in the challenges. “
Logan Churchwell, a spokesman for True the Vote, said the lawmakers’ claim that True the Vote “illegally coaches poll watchers to challenge voters at the polls, demonstrates a desperate need to misinform their constituency for political gain.”
“Poll watchers cannot challenge, or even communicate with voters, according to state law. Our training reflects those facts,” he said.
The lawmakers’ letter spends more than a page making an argument that True the Vote is somehow in violation of the law, but it doesn’t have any specific examples. Instead, the politicians resort to generalities:
“This type of voter intimidation activity has marred our country’s voting history. It has traditionally focused on the voter registration lists in minority and low-income precincts, utilizing ‘caging’ techniques to question registrations. It has included encouraging poll watchers to ‘raise a challenge’ when certain voters tried to vote by brandishing cameras at polling sites, asking humiliating questions of voters, and slowing down precinct lines with unnecessary challenges and intimidating tactics. These acts of intimidation undermine protection of the right to vote of all citizens. This now appears to be the work, the very mission, of True the Vote.”
There’s little question that voter rolls are bloated with the names of people who have died or moved away.
Earlier this year, the Pew Center on the States reported that more than 1.8 million dead people remained on voter rolls and that 2.8 million people were registered in multiple states.
A recent county-by-county comparison of Ohio’s voter rolls to voting-age population conducted by Watchdog Labs, a sister organization of Watchdog.org, found that maintenance of the rolls varies heavily.
In Wood and Lawrence counties, for example, there are somehow more registered voters than people old enough to vote.
For most of the past decade, Cuyahoga County had voter registration higher than 100 percent of its voting-age population, reaching 110 percent by the 2008 election. Officials finally got around to trimming the rolls after that, removing more than 210,000 of the 1.1 million names then on the county’s rolls.
The group hasn’t been very successful in its challenges. A newspaper obituary, for example, isn’t often accepted in lieu of official proof of death.
The Times reported that out of a set of 380 challenges in Hamilton County,” about 35 voters will have to prove that their addresses are current if they appear at the polls,” while the others were rejected.
The group also challenged 308 student voters in Franklin County last month on the basis that their dorm-room addresses didn’t include a room number. The Board of Elections rejected the challenge on a 3-0 vote.
Contact Jon Cassidy at firstname.lastname@example.org