Commentary: Resist the Voter Vigilantes

November 5, 2012 | | Palm Beach Post |

Of course, no one should attempt to vote if he or she is not legally registered, but documented cases of actual voter fraud are rare. True the Vote is aiming to train as many as one million poll “observers,” and the scope of that effort far exceeds any real problem of illegal voting; instead, it seems intended to intimidate voters. As True the Vote’s top organizer reportedly told recruits during a training session in South Florida, their job is to make voters feel as if they are “driving and seeing the police following you.” This isn’t a civics lesson. It’s a blueprint for voter vigilantism.

A video recently surfaced showing tea party leaders instructing voter vigilantes how to harass Latino voters in New Mexico. Potential poll watchers were told that they should demand identification, even though voters in New Mexico are not required to show ID if they have previously voted. The voter vigilantes were also told to advise Spanish speakers that they would have to cast a provisional ballot if their residence has changed. That is deceitful and false.

Floridians have seen controversial voting tactics, and Gov. Rick Scott attempted to do it again this year with voter purges, even though federal law prohibits purging voter rolls within 90 days of an election. While all Americans should be alarmed by the assault on voting rights, Floridians should be especially wary.

A recent report by Demos and Common Cause said Florida’s protections of voting rights are among the weakest in the nation, leaving voters in the Sunshine State especially susceptible to intimidation. State law allows private citizens to challenge the rights of other voters within 30 days of an election. While the challenger is required to provide a reason for the challenge, there is no requirement for a hearing or any specific process to resolve challenges.