True the Vote: Virginia among its swing-state election targets

Coming soon to a polling station near you: True the Vote.

It’s a conservative-backed organization based in Texas that describes itself as a non-partisan election watchdog. It’s bent on sending armies of volunteer poll watchers to swing states, including Virginia, to do their best to eliminate potential voter fraud. The organization’s president, Catherine Engelbrecht, sent letters to both of the state’s party chairmen this past summer (Brian Moran-D, Pat Mullins-R) informing them True the Vote would be on hand to lend helping hands and eagle eyes – and what many critics claim is thinly veiled voter intimidation.

Among said critics is the editorial board of the New York Times, which last month bluntly made its case: “In an ostensible hunt for voter fraud, a Tea Party group, True the Vote, descends on a largely minority precinct and combs the registration records for the slightest misspelling or address error. It uses this information to challenge voters at the polls, and though almost every challenge is baseless, the arguments and delays frustrate those in line and reduce turnout.”

Evidence shows Virginia certainly doesn’t have widespread voter fraud or anything approaching it. Virginia state police records show approximately 400 alleged cases of potential voter fraud filed by the State Board of Elections four years ago in the presidential election and confirmed fewer than 40 violations.

That’s out of nearly 4 million votes cast.

True the Vote’s Engelbrecht has a response.

“Anyone who tells you that election integrity efforts are a solution looking for a problem,” she told the Times last month, “is way misinformed.”

Groups aligned with True Vote around the state are lining up potential volunteers. Take, for example, the Richmond Tea Party.

Here’s its Facebook pitch: “TRUE the VOTE is training Virginia! Are you willing to take a stand for Free and Fair elections? TRUE the VOTE will be presenting 2011 (sic) VIRGINIA Poll Watcher Training Webinars in October.”

So what to expect? Will True the Fact volunteers in fact be swarming polling places in Virginia?

In a word, no. That’s the take from Geoff Skelley, a Larry Sabato associate who works for the University of Virginia Center for Politics.

“To a certain extent, I am dubious that True the Vote will “swarm” polling places,” he says. “Such an operation would require a lot of manpower, so perhaps they will watch the polls in a few places but certainly not everywhere.

“I also bet that the Obama campaign will have plenty of lawyers ready to do battle over any of these activities should they interfere with voting.”

Affirmative. That’s the word from Brian Coy, communications director for the Democratic Party of Virginia.

“We don’t expect there to be any major impediments by True the Vote but if there are, we have plans in place,” he says. “We have legal teams on call should any issues arise.”

But Virginia’s new voter ID laws could come into play for True the Vote volunteers. The biggest change will be no more affidavits available to sign that attest to one’s identity and thus makes one eligible to vote.

Skelley’s advice to True the Vote operatives is somewhat of a Tea Party admonition: Don’t Tread on Me.

“I’m sure many voters would be displeased,” he says, “with any kind of interference in the voting process.”