True the Vote

September 20, 2012 | Balloon Juice |

You’re going to hear “both sides do it” on this issue and that’s not true, so I thought I’d compare what voter protection lawyers and others actually do on the ground in Ohio with what True the Vote has done in past elections in Texas and Massachusetts:

This is True the Vote:

a new threat emerged in 2010 when an organized and well-funded Texas-based organization with defined partisan interests, the King Street Patriots, through its project True the Vote, was observed intimidating voters at multiple polling locations serving communities of color during early voting in Harris County.8 Members of this Tea Party-affiliated group reportedly interfered with voters — allegedly watching them vote, “hovering over” voters, blocking lines, and engaging in confrontational conversations with election workers.9 Under Texas law, poll watchers are not allowed even to speak to a voter.
In a 2011 special election in Massachusetts, a Tea Party group was reported to have harassed Latino voters and others at the polls in Southbridge, Massachusetts. The Southbridge town clerk protested these actions, reporting that targeted voters left saying, “I’ll never vote again,” while a retired judge witnessed “citizens coming from their voting experience shaken or in tears.”10

And this is what voter protection volunteers do in Ohio:

The lead voter protection people in each county are Ohio lawyers, and we formally “enter” at each polling place. The process in Ohio requires the voter protection volunteer to hand an entry signed by a judge to the top poll worker  at each polling place. We’re then sworn in with an oath that is not unlike the oath that poll workers take.  If we (or any volunteer who is working with us) were to harass voters or poll workers, the person who submitted the entry would have to answer for that behavior. In my case, I would have to answer for it immediately, because I live here and I practice here. I’m easy to find after Election Day. I make my living here, so it’s unlikely I’d be harassing voters or poll workers 3 miles away from the law office.

I have never approached a voter at a polling place. What I do is check in, sit quietly and watch and listen. What I’m looking for in Ohio is a voter turned away or given a provisional ballot. If I believe the voter is being turned away or given a provisional ballot in error, based on the rules in Ohio, I approach the presiding judge and ask him or her to explain and if there is no valid reason for the refusal or provisional ballot, I ask that the lead poll worker intervene and correct the problem. If the problem isn’t fixed, I walk outside to the parking lot and call the Board of Elections.

I have yet to see a poll worker acting maliciously. The biggest problem we run into is “belt and suspenders” poll workers. These are poll workers who are not well-trained or confident in their understanding of the process so they restrict voting in excess of the rules: ask for two (or more!) pieces of ID, make a judgment call based on, I don’t know, their “gut”, shunt the voter to a provisional ballot “to be on the safe side”, things like that.