Political Animal


September 28, 2012 11:01 AM The Million Wingnut March

By Ed Kilgore

There’s been a steadily building discussion, albeit shrouded in some mystery, about the potential impact on Election Day (and to some extent, before it) of right-wing “volunteer poll watchers” who are promising to descend on minority neighborhoods to make sure the Pink Elephant threat of “voter fraud” does not transpire.

Much of the talk centers on True the Vote, a Houston-based, Tea-Party aligned group that is claiming it will deploying a million such volunteers. These patriots, it seems, have all been trained to spot the nefarious (if imaginary) efforts of ACORN, the New Black Panther Party, and other representatives of the 47% to stuff the ballot box with the votes of illegal immigrants, welfare bums, and others who do not understand that “constitutional conservatism” is the only legitimate governing ideology for America.

True the Vote clearly does not represent an idle threat. Well before election day, reports are surfacing that it (or its state affiliates, like the Ohio Voter Integrity Project) is challenging the registration status of voters in battleground states based on changed addresses, residences listed on tax rolls as commercial property, and student addresses.

But it’s the specter of Election Day (or perhaps in-person Early Voting locations) that should trouble everyone, regardless of partisan affiliation. It’s hard to imagine a more dangerous scenario than that of hundreds of thousands of self-righteous suburban wingnuts showing up in poor and minority neighborhoods to hassle would-be voters, with Fox News cameras on hand to record any random examples of Solid Citizens experiencing resistance from annoyed locals.

And if we head towards Election Day with Obama still enjoying a clear lead in the polls, you have to figure True the Vote’s shock troops will be loaded for bear, viewing themselves as the last desperate defenders of “their” country against the barbaric hordes of looters and baby-killers who are already plotting to herd them into concentration camps during Obama’s second term, after they close the churches and shut down radio talk shows. At a minimum, we can expect “poll-watchers” to come up with enough “documented” example of “voter fraud” to support a general post-election effort to de-legitimize the results.

Demos and Common Cause have published a report analyzing the threat of chaos and outlining steps to combat it. And over at The Democratic Strategist, James Vega, J.P. Green and I have distilled four distinct strategies for dealing with voter intimidation and conservative media exploitation of precinct chaos.

In general, the best antidote against this madness, other than alert cadres of progressive poll-watchers and a police force willing to enforce the right to vote, is simple awareness. Perhaps True the Vote is issuing empty threats. But there’s no excuse for this becoming a November Surprise.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • dede21206 on September 28, 2012 11:17 AM:

    I'm very concerned about these self appointed, self trained, non-elected people inserting themselves into polling places. My state, Maryland, has been mentioned as one of their action areas. Is it legal for True the Vote members to be there is it's not the precinct they are registered to vote in? Anybody reading this a lawyer that could comment on that?

  • 10000 Cranes on September 28, 2012 11:23 AM:

    C'mon Guys! Let's Go and Intimidate the Barbarians ...
    Picture if you will, thousands of rolly-polly, old white guys, afraid of their own shadow (government) coalescing and marching down to their local ghetto to intimidate the Barbarians. I don't think so. Methinks they would cross to the other side of the street if they saw a "Nigra" walking towards them.
    Empty threats from empty suits.

  • bluestatedon on September 28, 2012 11:24 AM:

    While I don't doubt the desire of the wingnuts to interfere, I think it's highly unlikely that these doughy retirees and suburban loons are going to insert themselves into situations where they're outnumbered by large numbers of scary black people.

    If they're stupid enough to do so, then there will be violence, which is probably what they're after as much as anything else. The national and state Democratic Parties need to prepare for this regardless.

  • c u n d gulag on September 28, 2012 11:29 AM:

    This is where extended voting in many states is very, very helpful.

    A lot of these nuts might take Election Day to go and do a quick Election Dat Blitzkrieg on the rights of minority voters.

    But it can't be good for these Fascists that people have already started voting.
    I don't think the Fascists can sustain a long ground war - they never have before.

    Plus, if they show their hand now, the Democrats can even better target the precincts where they send Lawyers and other trained Poll Watchers.

    And this is why Democratic GOTV efforts are still critical - the more people voting, the merrier!

    Bullies don't like to bully out in the open when there are a lot of witnesses - they're cowards at heart, who are afraid of being bullied when they're outnumbered - and these chickensh*t morons are no different.

    And of course, if anyone looks at these Fascist cowardly bullies the wrong way, they'll fall to the floor and scream that THEY'RE the victims!

  • castanea on September 28, 2012 11:32 AM:

    Sad to say, one of these days these people may trigger the sort of violence they crave, and it won't turn out the way they think it will.

  • Varecia on September 28, 2012 11:38 AM:

    Vote early! And get informed about what poll watchers--and more importantly, poll challengers--can and cannot do. And then don't allow them to cross the line. Have a voting rights hotline number with you should you see any trouble or encounter any yourself. And warn your friends, your family, your neighbors, and other supporters of their rights. And encourage them to VOTE EARLY!!!!!

  • Bob M on September 28, 2012 11:50 AM:

    "Itís hard to imagine a more dangerous scenario than that of hundreds of thousands of self-righteous suburban wingnuts showing up in poor and minority neighborhoods to hassle would-be voters"

    Suburbanites in the ghetto? They don't have the balls.

  • Sgt. Gym Bunny on September 28, 2012 11:51 AM:

    I know of no laws/policies regarding this, but wouldn't they have to be formally authorized as non-partisan volunteers to do whatever they think they're going to do at an official polling place?

    Correct me if I'm wrong but a posse of partisan rednecks just can't show up--uninvited--and "poll watch". Wouldn't that be some form of voter intimidation and other kinds of obstruction?

    But on second thought, if they're too busy on a wild goose hunt chasing already nonexistent instances of voter fraud, they'll have no time to vote themselves (much less encourage those "undecideds" to vote GOP). Now that's the kind of ground game I like!!! Have at it, losers! Make sure you spread yourselves thin trying to get all those out-of-the-way polling places. And you gotta be there at least 24 hours before and after polling ends--constant vigilance!!!

  • Rick B on September 28, 2012 11:52 AM:

    Looking at the four items recommended for preparation to keep the vigilantes from disrupting the election it is obvious that they need to be tailored to local laws and election administration offices.

    Here in Texas it is against the law for anyone to use a cell phone or camera in a polling place, although the election clerks are permitted to use cell phones. That means that Democrats have to prepare specific instructions for how to record disruptions (from outside the 100 ft distance). Also the Sheriff's Departments need to do some public outreach to election officials.

    Our election administrator is quite capable but I think the local Democrats need to get together with him and make sure that he does not just operate this as another routine election. It is a very good chance that it will not be routine, but the election administrator may not be aware of that.

    I also wonder if police intelligence organizations have been tasked to identify potential disruptions and permitted to inform the administrators who need to know what is coming. I don't even know if this is legal, in fact. But it certainly needs to be looked into. Are there NGO's that can do this on a local basis?

    If the Democrats are not prepared for this they'll deserve the the crap that could fall down on them after the election.

    Captcha is readable. I really don't normally expect that.

  • pseudonymous in nc on September 28, 2012 11:57 AM:

    You have to wonder what the international poll monitors who report on elections around the world would make of the American way of voting. Partisan election officials? Election laws that vary in implementation from county to county, and possibly even precinct to precinct? Self-appointed "poll watchers"?

  • tom on September 28, 2012 12:12 PM:

    I believe that the goal is to (1) document enough irregularities to make a claim that the election was stolen and (2) impeach Obama as an illegitimately elected usurper. The strategy depends on keeping the House.

    Ever since 2000, it has been clear to me that eventually we will have to develop a popular movement to either protest a stolen election, or defend a legitimate election against theft.

  • T2 on September 28, 2012 12:30 PM:

    I agree with bluestatedon that old white people are not going to want to be stuck at a polling place in the ghetto, surrounded by people they hate (and probably hate them too).
    The purpose of this vigilante movement is to cause conflict, not prevent the phantom menace of voter fraud. They'll have alerted the local Fox affiliate and the goal will be to have some white/black/brown pushing and shoving, and red-faced yelling matches on the 6 O'clock news to prove the blacks and browns are actually taking over the country.

    Their problem is that if we go into the elections with Obama polling 50+, everyone will know he's going to win, thus these altercations will just be fodder for the racist portion of our nation known as Republicans.

  • Mimikatz on September 28, 2012 12:46 PM:

    It depends on local election laws, as Rick B noted. In CA it is illegal to electioneer within 100 ft of the polls, I.e., have a sign for a candidate. But people can challenge voters to prove who they are and it is up to the election officials to decide whether to give the person a provisional ballot. OTOH in 2004 there were similar threats. My partner and I joined a SEIU effort to send Dem poll watchers to black neighborhoods to protect the vote. None of the eighties ever showed. But then Oakland was hardly a battleground.

  • joecorso on September 28, 2012 1:01 PM:

    True the Vote and other voter vigilante organizations are running quite sophisticated training programs to prepare their militants to qualify as official observers and even officials. The articles cited in the Democratic Strategist Memo Ed links to -- especially the Altantic piece -- provide details.

  • Rabbler on September 28, 2012 1:14 PM:

    A video record of what transpires might not be a bad idea.

  • DisgustedWithItAll on September 28, 2012 1:14 PM:

    I know it's not funny, but Ed's picture painting here is hilarious.

  • paul on September 28, 2012 1:21 PM:

    If it were just old white people, it wouldn't be a big deal. But there are enough younger True Believers who are just itching for an apocalypse that there could be trouble. Especially if the younger True Believers also believe in open carry.

  • Alan Tomlinson on September 28, 2012 1:23 PM:

    "Itís hard to imagine a more dangerous scenario than that of hundreds of thousands of self-righteous suburban wingnuts showing up in poor and minority neighborhoods . . . ."

    I would say that growing up in almost any third world country poor, to choose one of many millions of examples, would be a more dangerous scenario than the one you describe here. Living near an oil refinery, living anywhere that the US has decided is a terrorist state. Being a Palestinian.

    Put the hyperbole away, you're using it incorrectly.


    Alan Tomlinson

  • frazer on September 28, 2012 1:39 PM:

    Plus simply slowing things down, by challenging a lot of voters' eligibility at a busy precinct, may make the lines so long that voters will get discouraged and leave. I think this is very worrying.

  • Luther Brixton on September 28, 2012 1:48 PM:

    If I feel threatened by one of these knuckle-dragging imbeciles trying to "Block-The-Vote", can I 'Stand My Ground' and shoot them? I know I'd have the full support of the police & local authorities. And certainly Sean Hannity & FOX would approve of my murdering one of these America-haters - particularly if they're drinking a Snapple

  • meady on September 28, 2012 2:00 PM:

    I don't know @Alan Tomlinson. There are quite a few "stand your ground" laws out there in several states. The people of "True the Vote" strike me as extreme people with a hair trigger. I do fear extreme behavior. Just because extreme behavior may occur more often in some places than in others is no reason think any differently about the potential outcome.

  • WiseFather on September 28, 2012 2:27 PM:

    the pretextual "hunt for voter fraud" goes beyond registration purging and poll watchers. In states where poll watchers are more heavily regulated, True the Vote and their affiliates/allies are recruiting and training people to be actual election judges. One organizer went so far as to say "Being an election judge is even better than being a poll watcher as you are actually running the election."

    So do you think that driver's license makes your vote safe?

    Any liquor store clerk knows how easy it is to get a fake. Do we expect TTV not to be aware of this fact in their training? Does the state provide adequate guidance for election judges in determining whether an ID's picture sufficiently matches the person staning before them? What about the signature matching requirements?

    These subjective judgment calls concerning a person's right to vote a regular ballot may end up in the hands of someone trained to be paranoid rather than reasonably vigilant. See http://www.ragingwisdom.com/?p=1146 for some of the flaws in Ohio's laws protecting voters on election day.

  • Yellowdog on September 28, 2012 2:34 PM:

    Active threats and violence against African American political mobilization is an old, old story. The Colfax Massacre comes to mind. The Supreme Court's reaction to it in the 1870s stands as a low point in history. Let us give a word of support to all the voting rights groups who are working hard right now to raise awareness, fight in the courts,and keep our precious democratic values from being torn asunder--all over again.

  • Chris Bellomy on September 28, 2012 3:00 PM:

    I'm an election judge in Texas. The law here is simple: they are not permitted in the polling place, or within 100 feet of the door, period. Any election judge has has the same authority on Election Day that any district court judge has: he/she may order people to leave, and have them arrested for contempt if they do not. The police do not have the option of ignoring this court order.

    If you will be working the polls on Election Day, check the laws in your state. If you are in Texas, especially in a heavily Democratic precinct, make sure your precinct chair knows the law on this. Zero tolerance!

  • CDW on September 28, 2012 3:14 PM:

    You have to assume, too, that a good number of the wingnut vigilantes will be armed and dangerous.

  • TCinLA on September 28, 2012 3:45 PM:

    While I would personally not mind clearing these people out with a .45, what needs to be done is the same kind of effort as was done at clinic defense in the 1980s against Operation Rescue. Defend the voting locations and be absolutely certain they aren't allowed within 100 feet of the doorway, which is (I believe) a pretty standard rule against "politicking" at the voting location in all states.

    Democrats should definitely be organizing this kind of "voter defense" in the battleground states.

  • Doug on September 28, 2012 8:38 PM:

    It's not that I don't think someone, somewhere will try this, but rather that TTV won't have even have a minor effect, let alone a major one, on the election. Including wherever TTV people do make asses of themselves. I admit I'm going by past performances here, but this is too reminiscent of Beck's massive march on DC to cause me to worry.
    Causing delays in hopes of deterring voters would be the most likely scenario and THAT wouldn't take a million people...

  • Shokai on September 29, 2012 1:22 PM:

    These people belong in the looney bin. If the looney bin fills up, they should be put to work doing this: http://youtu.be/UOeoiY9X848

  • Michael on September 29, 2012 6:11 PM:

    Mix this with "stand your ground" laws and it could get ugly.

  • jimmypete on September 30, 2012 7:59 PM:

    Perhaps the Tea Partiers should be warned that they may be sued for violation of Civil Rights if they attempt to intimidate. I believe 42USC1983 would allow such a suit along with punitive damages. LIen up a few Tea Partier's homes see how fast they join the 47%. Send some warnings out across their bows, now.