Democrats send letter calling for Husted, DeWine to use state authority to review allegations of True the Vote’s criminal interference with the right to vote
COLUMBUS– Today, Senate Democrats formally requested Secretary of State Husted and Attorney General Mike DeWine use the authority invested in them by state law to review allegations against the group “True the Vote” of criminal interference with Ohioan’s right to vote. Correspondence that Senate Democrats sent to both DeWine and Husted is as follows:
October 17, 2012
The Honorable Jon Husted
Ohio Secretary of State
180 E. Broad Street, 16th Floor
Columbus, OH 43215
Dear Secretary Husted,
We are writing to alert you to the activities of an organization, “True the Vote” (TTV), that raises potentially significant issues under laws that prohibit the harassment or intimidation of voters.
TTV professes a concern with voter fraud in this year’s elections. Of course, all are agreed that only eligible voters should participate in our elections. And, fortunately, there is every evidence that our elections are free of fraud—a conclusion confirmed October 4 by a Government Accountability Office (GAO) study that could not document a single case of voter fraud.
Nonetheless, TTV insists that voter fraud is a pervasive problem and has taken it upon itself to employ questionable, and possibly illegal, methods to combat the “problem”. These methods have turned up no fraud and have posed a serious threat of intimidation of entirely eligible voters.
The TTV program has been summarized in these terms in one national news comment:
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…[i]
True the Vote has already begun similar efforts in Ohio. Working through an affiliated group, the Ohio Voter Integrity Project, True the Vote has challenged hundreds of voters in Hamilton (380 challenges) and Franklin (308 challenges) counties.[ii] The overwhelming majority of these challenges were rejected, but not before the voters involved were frightened by the prospect of being denied the opportunity to vote.[iii] This is in addition to a True the Vote training event held in Columbus, Ohio at the end of August to recruit and train volunteers.[iv]
Moreover, training materials that True the Vote uses and that have come to light show that it has provided incorrect legal information to the individuals it recruits for this “poll watching” activity. For example, in Ohio, a TTV training manual informs volunteers that “any Precinct Election Official or any registered voter may challenge the eligibility of another voter at the polling [place] before they vote based on residency, citizenship, age, or changes in party affiliation (Primary Elections only).”[v] However, Ohio law allows only election officials to challenge voters on Election Day; all other challenges must be completed 20 days before the election.[vi] The same manual instructs volunteers – who will be stationed at the polls – that anyone who has moved within the 30 days prior to an election must vote using a provisional ballot[vii]; under Ohio law, individuals who have moved within the same precinct may vote on a regular ballot.[viii]
This pattern reflects purposeful activity by True the Vote. One of the group’s leaders told the national True the Vote summit in Florida this April, the poll watcher’s job is tomake voters feel like“they’re driving and seeing the police following you.”[ix]
This type of voter intimidation activity has marred our country’s voting history. It has traditionally focused on the voter registration lists in minority and low-income precincts, utilizing “caging” techniques to question registrations. It has included encouraging poll watchers to “raise a challenge” when certain voters tried to vote by brandishing cameras at polling sites, asking humiliating questions of voters, and slowing down precinct lines with unnecessary challenges and intimidating tactics. These acts of intimidation undermine protection of the right to vote of all citizens. This now appears to be the work, the very mission, of True the Vote.
In November 2011 True the Vote announced its goal of recruiting one million people to serve as “poll watchers”, presumably to engage in these activities, during the 2012 general election around the country.[x] If True the Vote engages in these types of activities in the November elections, its actions raise serious questions under both federal and state laws.
In Ohio, statutes criminalize any “attempt by intimidation, coercion, or other unlawful means to induce such delegate or elector to register or refrain from registering or to vote or refrain from voting.”[xi] It is also illegal to “in any manner hinder or delay an elector in reaching or leaving the place fixed for casting the elector’s ballot”[xii] including “loiter[ing] in or about a registration or polling place during registration or the casting and counting of ballots so as to hinder, delay, or interfere with the conduct of the registration or election.”[xiii]
Federal law provides for the prosecution of any individual or organization who “intimidates, threatens, coerces, or attempts to intimidate, threaten, or coerce, any other person for the purpose of interfering with the right of such other person to vote or to vote as he may choose, or of causing such other person to vote for, or not to vote for, any candidate.”[xiv] Criminal liability extends to individuals interfering in this fashion with the right to register to vote.[xv]
Moreover, where a State is not acting to protect the rights of minority voters, the United States Attorney General may authorize federal prosecution under the Voting Rights Act where an individual – here, members of True the Vote – uses force or even the threat of force to intimidate any individual from “voting or qualifying to vote, qualifying or campaigning as a candidate for elective office, or qualifying or acting as a poll watcher, or any legally authorized election official, in any primary, special, or general election.”[xvi]
These federal protections – creating criminal liability for individuals and groups activating to intimidate and influence voters – is mirrored in state laws throughout the United States—including ours.
It is clear, then, that True the Vote’s very program, and the specific activities in which it has engaged to date, present serious questions of illegal—indeed criminal—interference with the right to vote. I would ask that your office review this matter urgently, and take all necessary steps to protect the rights of our state’s voters through the vigorous enforcement of the law.
The Honorable Eric H. Kearney Minority Leader, Ohio Senate The Honorable Nina Turner State Senator, District 25 The Honorable Edna Brown State Senator, District 11 The Honorable Tom Sawyer State Senator, District 28 The Honorable Charleta B. Tavares State Senator, District 15 The Honorable Lou Gentile State Senator, District 30 The Honorable Shirley Smith State Senator, District 21 The Honorable Capri Cafaro State Senator, District 32 The Honorable Michael Skindell State Senator, District 23 The Honorable Joe Schiavoni State Senator, District 33 ###