I don’t give much thought to conspiracy theories. They are mostly unhinged and easily debunked. But on theory that seems at least somewhat grounded in reality is the theory that the GOP, realizing the demographics have turned against them for national races, has decided to attempt to steal elections through any means necessary. We don’t need to look at Florida in 2000 or Ohio in 2004 to see that there is at least a grain of truth to this theory. It isn’t like the GOP is hiding it or anything. Voter ID laws are universally partisan and serve to disenfranchise voter blocs that trend blue. The purging of the voter rolls by GOP Governors not only include a majority of legal voters, but also target minorities, once again a voter bloc that trends blue. These examples are above board. While of highly questionable legality (watch the courts put holds on more and more Voter ID laws if you don’t believe me) they are still done out in the open. Some in the GOP are even willing to admit the purpose of these things is to win elections. See Pa. House Republican Leader Mike Turzai for example:
If only all Republicans were so forth coming.
Not everything the GOP has attempted in this vein has been out in the open however. Take their hiring of Nathan Sproul to handle their voter registration efforts in several states. Who is Nathan Sproul? Let’s ask the Tacoma Washington News Tribune:
Nathan Sproul was hardly unknown when his firm, Strategic Allied Consulting, was hired over the summer to register voters for the Republican Party.
In 2004, employees with his previous firms were accused of a wide assortment of infractions: destroying voter registration forms of Democrats, duping college students into registering as Republicans, refusing to register Democrats or independents. Nevada, Oregon and Arizona opened investigations but closed them without charging anyone.
On Tuesday, new details emerged that Strategic Allied Consulting knew of problems in Florida earlier than reported in what is now a case of possible voter registration fraud in a dozen counties.
Did the Republicans just forget about this? Or are they fans of Sproul’s techniques? From the LA Times
Sproul said he created Strategic Allied Consulting at the RNC’s request because the party wanted to avoid being publicly linked to the past allegations. The firm was set up at a Virginia address, and Sproul does not show up on the corporate paperwork.
“In order to be able to do the job that the state parties were hiring us to do, the [RNC] asked us to do it with a different company’s name, so as to not be a distraction from the false information put out in the Internet,” Sproul said.
Sure seems like they know who he was, and approved of his tactics. If not, why hire him? Now yes, Sproul’s gig is up (at least until next election) and the GOP has fired SAC and halted their voter registration efforts in the states where SAC was operating. But we may never know how much damage has already been caused; how many people who registered as democrats will find that they were never registered when they get to the polls or how many people had their information illegally changed possibly leading to them not being able to vote.
Breaking away from the national GOP, we find the Tea Party group True the Vote. True the Vote claims to be a non-partisan group dedicated to making sure elections are fair and legal. There is no relationship between that description of True the Vote and reality, however. As ThinkProgress reports:
Since 2009, a Tea Party organization called True the Vote has been stoking the recently ignited fervorfor 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.
And now they are going national:
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.
And now, apparently thinking True the Vote has a great idea, comes local Republican parties training their own poll challengers. From ThinkProgress:
As courts continue to block voter suppression efforts around the county, conservative groups are redoubling efforts to intimidate voters at the polls come Election Day.New Mexico has started its own voter purge of 177,000 people, including a voting rights activist married to a state representative. However, as the law won’t go into effect until November 2014, the local Republican Party has apparently started training “poll challengers” for this election. A hidden camera caught Pat Morlen, the vice chair of the Sandoval County Republican Party, instructing volunteer “poll challengers” to demand photo ID and force legal voters to use provisional ballots. The video, filmed by the nonprofit ProgressNow New Mexico, shows vice-chair Morlen making several claims that directly contradict New Mexico law:
MORLEN: You can request to see a form of ID. At the request of two or more precinct board members of different political parties, a voter shall still present the required physical form of identification.
VOLUNTEER: What happens if we get people in there who are part of what the media is calling the purge?
MORLEN: They’ll vote provisional. That’s all that’s gonna happen.
Unfortunately, the lies didn’t stop there:
ProgressNow compiled an extensive list of the lies presented as election law, including claims that Spanish speakers are not permitted interpreters and that the police are involved in election monitoring:
CLAIM: “The police are supposed to be the ones who ensure that the election is legit.” FACT: Elections officials preside over elections, not the police. FACT: Police can be enlisted to ensure the orderly conduct of an election but officers who interfere with an election are guilty of a petty misdemeanor.
CLAIM: The trainer claims a person who changed their address but stayed within their same voting precinct should receive a provisional ballot. FACT: Anyone in this situation is given a regular ballot at the polls. (See 1 NMAC 10.3)
CLAIM: The trainer claims that interpreters are not provided to non-English speakers and then is unsure if polling places will provide Spanish-language ballots. FACT: Assistance for people in language minorities is provided, as are Spanish-language ballots.
This isn’t Moon landing denialists, or 9/11 truthers. This looks less and less like a conspiracy theory and more like a concerted effort by the GOP to win elections by stopping eligible voters from voting everyday.
Voter ID laws are a solution in search of a problem. Voter Suppression is a problem that needs a solution.