They portray themselves as a nonpartisan group devoted to "equipping citizens to take a stand for free and fair elections." But the group, True the Vote, has been widely criticized by civil rights leaders and others as being something of a vigilante group intent on intimidating voters at the polls on Election Day.
If nothing else, the Houston-based True the Vote is proving to be very controversial indeed. The Tea Party-affiliated organization has spent months training thousands of volunteers to become election monitors. At the same time, they have been trained to pour over voter rolls to find people it deems ineligible to vote.
But critics maintain that the organization is less committed to voter fraud than it is to voter suppression.
“They say that they are about ferreting out voter fraud and they want to play the roll similar to that of police who you see in your rear-view mirror,” said Judith Browne-Dianis, the co-director of Advancement Project, a Washington-based civil rights organization that has done extensive work on voter suppression efforts.
“You can imagine that people of color don’t especially relish the idea of seeing police officers in their rear-view mirror,” she added, in an interview with BET.com. “They are not any official group and they don’t have the stamp of the government. They are trying to get in the way of people’s right to vote and should leave the work to government election officials.”
Just last month Congressman Elijah Cummings of Maryland started an investigation into voter suppression involving True to Vote. Cummings wrote a letter to founder Catherine Engelbrecht raising questions about voter challenges in Ohio, North Carolina, Wisconsin and Maryland.
The congressman said that the efforts to challenge voter registrations were "intentional, politically motivated and widespread across multiple states, they could amount to a criminal conspiracy to deny legitimate voters their constitutional rights.” He and others suggest that they are targeting traditional Democratic-leaning constituencies, including African-American and Latino voters.
Cummings and others have complained that True the Vote volunteers have been trained to raise questions about various voters with the intention of either preventing votes from being counted or at least slowing down the voting process in order to discourage those waiting in lines.
For its part, the organization states, "our election processes were always intended to be supported by citizen volunteers. We are helping stop corruption where it can start — at the polls."
The group’s website states that its mission involves “mobilizing and training volunteers who are willing to work as election monitors” and “aggressively pursuing fraud reports to ensure prosecution when appropriate.”
The group’s activities have created alarm on the part of civil rights groups and African-American elected officials and civic leaders.
“This organization and others like True the Vote have been working on this kind of voter suppression and intimidation for some time now,” said Congressman John Lewis of Georgia, an icon of the civil rights movement, told BET.com.
“They have been hell-bent on stealing this election before it even took place,” he added. “We have to be vigilant and make sure they don’t succeed.”
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(Photo: Creative Commons/Gage Skidmore)