How would you like it if a stranger peered over your shoulder to scrutinize your bank statement when you were in line to vote? And how would you feel if that stranger took the liberty of grabbing that same document? That behavior and similar was reported at Wisconsin poll sites on June 5th when white out-of-state True the Vote observers came to non-white neighborhoods in Racine. Now Wisconsin’s G.A.B. is taking steps to create a more voter-friendly space at the polls.
The Wisconsin Government Accountability Board on Tuesday reaffirmed that poll observers can not stand closer than six feet to Wisconsin voters on November 6. The GAB’s standards have been in place since at least 2004, but the GAB reaffirmed them in a 5-1 vote after receiving pressure from a Wisconsin-based conservative group called Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty (W.I.L.L.).
Per WILL’s blog, “Under state law, election observers must be positioned so that they can observe “all public aspects of the voting process.””
And per the logic of the WILL blog update, documents consulted by a voter and his or her poll worker are “public” during the exchange and that inserting an observer at that point will not be a “disruption of the voting process”.
Ann Jacobs of Wisconsin Election Protection sees it differently. : “The Government Accountability Board has ruled consistently that what you use as proof of residence is private. I think it’s important to think about what we use as proof of residence. These are very private documents. For example, your bank statement, a Medicare form, a Social Security Disability form.”
Back in July the G.A.B. announced a plan called “Back to Basics which asserted that,
“Observers may not speak to or intimidate voters. Poll workers do not have to put up with observers who bully them or question their actions,” Robinson said. “The Chief Inspector is in charge at each polling place, and must be obeyed. Our training will underscore that Chief Inspectors are empowered by law to order troublemakers to leave, and to call law enforcement if they refuse.”
The folks at True the Vote in Houston, Texas got the memo but they didn’t “get it”. They said the G.A.B. had disparaged volunteer election observers and True the Vote vowed to prepare thousands of new observers to hover around Wisconsin voters on November 6. While I realize that not all of the homegrown We’re Watching Wisconsin Elections volunteers are racist harassers, the dodgy actions of Illinois’ Willard Helander and the notorious Lou D’Abbraccio are linked with both True the Vote and WWWE. What are we to think?
I also realize I’ve possibly put off the reader. I mentioned race! Terribly sorry but these things need to be addressed on occasion. For some reason the conservative observers tend to be white and the wards they focus on tend to be not-white.
In a Nation article, D’Abbraccio is described as speaking to a group of observer trainees. He says,
“There are polling locations where the election workers are largely Republican, and we have less concern…Then there are polling places where, not so much. Historically we have observed things there that are issues.”
Paltry Number of International Election Observers in the U.S. Compared with Right Winger Observers
If you read The Hill, you’d think that “Liberal-leaning civil rights groups” only recently [October 16] reached out for help with minority vote suppression in America.
However back in March of 2012, the NAACP appealed to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva for assistance in monitoring the upcoming U.S. presidential election.
The international group OSCE will deploy 44 observers from its human rights office around the country on Election Day. According to The Hill, OSCE’s efforts are part of a bigger international mission which will “send out an additional 80 to 90 members of parliament from nearly 30 countries” to observe the U.S. presidential election November 6.
In response the Republican Attorney General of Texas, Greg Abbott, fired off a letter to OSCE warning that international election observers just might be violation of the law if they visit, “It may be a criminal offense for OSCE’s representatives to maintain a presence within 100 feet of a polling place’s entrance.”
Conservatives writers are also balking with headlines like, “UN Now Openly Interfering in Presidential Election” and
“OBAMA’S UN FRIENDS WILL MONITOR POLLS TO GUARD AGAINST “CONSERVATIVE GROUPS””
“Awesome: Alabama House Leader Moves To Block UN Poll Watchers From Operating In His State…”
This much alarm from conservatives seems alarmist given that the OSCE monitored U.S. presidential elections in 2004 and 2008, the United States is a participating State in the OSCE along with 55 other countries in Europe, Asia, and North America, AND the UN is sending a paltry number of observers for a huge nation.
Consider also that True the Vote claims it has 300 active chapters in three dozen states.
According to Steven Rosenfeld TtV wants to, “deploy one-million people at polling places to watch who shows up, how people are checked for ID, how they are given ballots, and ensure that people who ask poll workers for help fill out their own ballots.”
Rosenfeld wrote the must-read post Going Undercover at the GOP’s Voter Vigilante Project to Disrupt the Nov. Election in August.
Rosenfeld observed that TtV has online training materials, hotlines, lawyers, county by county poll watching teams, and they have friends in high office like the governors of Florida, Wisconsin, the secretaries of state in Colorado, Kansas and the attorneys general in Texas and Colorado. Ohio, attorneys general in Texas and Colorado. TtV has sued the state of Indiana and 160-plus counties all over America in an effort to pressure them to purge voter rolls.
Or in other words, True the Vote has a, “jaunty, string ‘em up, guilty-until-proven-innocent mindset” and their volunteers are “..right-wing voting vigilantes who are the frontline of a national voter suppression strategy“.
Rosenfeld says TtV volunteers are instructed that if there are any doubts, “the burden of proof immediately shifts to the accused, not the accuser, to defend their voting rights. And if proof is not forthcoming, they believe that person’s voting credentials should be revoked” even though in many states “election officials give the benefit of the doubt to the voter when assessing voting documents and deciding disputes.”
I welcome the UN observers with open arms.
Wisconsin Election Protection
For the record, I’ve interacted a little with the non-partisan Wisconsin Election Protection group in person and online. I get the sense the non-partisan group’s membership leans left of center and still remains inclusive enough to embrace a minority of Republicans, Libertarians, and Ron Paul acolytes. The group has conducted a very professional citizens’ exit polling action and has assisted in vote recounts in Wisconsin and is affiliated with the national Election Protection group.
Is True the Vote Shaking Down States With Nuisance Lawsuits?
Brentin Mock and Voting Rights Watch 2012
October 17, 2012
Tuscon Sentinel: Voters feel intimidated by election observers Aug 20, 2012
October 9 letter from civil rights group to OSCE
DOCUMENT OF THE COPENHAGEN MEETING OF THE CONFERENCE
ON THE HUMAN DIMENSION OF THE CSCE
Copenhagen, 29 June 1990
“The participating States declare that the will of the people, freely and fairly expressed through periodic
and genuine elections, is the basis of the authority and legitimacy of all government. The participating States will accordingly respect the right of their citizens to take part in the governing of their country, either directly or through representatives freely chosen by them through fair electoral processes…”