“The Ballot Cops:” voter intimidation and suppression

In a brilliant, eye-opening but distressing piece in the October Atlantic, Mariah Blake reports on the right wing “grass roots” organizations that are waging war on the essential right of each of us citizens to vote.

I’m sure you’ve read about one particularly loathsome group called True the Vote. According to Blake, they rallied hard in the Wisconsin recall-Scott-Walker election to suppress voting. What these people do is so enraging to me — and, I hope, all true Americans — I’ve turned the computer on this Sunday (yes, it’s before football begins) and will now work my fingers to the bone copying most of the final page of this piece.

What follows is Blake’s reporting on what happened in Wisconsin at one True the Vote “training session” for “poll watchers” before the Walker recall election.

This same thing is now happening all over the country for the big election on November 6. I command you to read every word. Especially if you live in swing states, head out this election day to your most vulnerable polling place and protect every American’s right to cast his and her vote without being terrorized by people who are definitively the new KKK.

Note: I wasn’t going to emphasize anything here — Blake’s story is, line by line, striking enough — but I find myself again so horrified at certain phrases and lines, I’m going to use bolding.

And do notice one central theme pounded in over and over and over: Paranoia. “Be afraid. You are under attack.” This is an excellent example of the psychopathological mechanism called projection: accuse the other guy of doing to you what you are actually doing to him. It has become a standard GOP technique. And with regard to projection, take a special look at the second to last scary paragraph, when a “patriot” rallies his troops by accusing the enemy — Democratic voters — of wanting to “steal this election.”

True the Vote and its Wisconsin allies also recruited hundreds of activists to work as poll watchers and hosted training sessions for them around the state. A recording of a Racine County training — taken by a skeptical resident who brought along a hidden camera — reveals close collaboration between True the Vote trainer and a local Republican official.

The session kicks off with a prayer led by Brad Zinn, a professional magician who co-founded True the Vote’s Arizona spin-off: “Heavenly Father…We ask you to bless our efforts to help us true up the polls and keep our elections fair and honest.” Zinn goes on to explain the role of poll observers, likening them to security guards patrolling casinos for subtle signs of cheating. He then touches briefly on polling-place rules and tosses out some practical Election Day tips (“Dress in layers!”).

About halfway through the training, a balding, portly man named Lou D’Abbraccio, who sits on the board of the Racine County GOP and runs its poll-watcher program, enters the room and explains that he will be assigning trainees to polling places. “We are going to focus on those that have the most history of issues,” he says. “And that may be because of the people that work at that particular polling location. It may be just because it’s a heavily skewed Democratic ward.”

After that, Zinn and D’Abbraccfio reel off a litany of dangers facing poll observers.

“I don’t want to scare you,” Zinn says, “but if you’ve got your own food, water, and medicine…”

“You do want to be self-sufficient,” D’Abbraccio adds. “I’m not saying anybody has ever been poisoned, but…”

“Even watch out for things like restrooms that lock from the outside,” interjects a True the Vote trainer from California. “We’ve had poll observers locked into the restroom.” One of the trainees gasps.

“This is shocking to you as well as us, because our minds don’t work this way,” Zinn says. “But they have all these little tricks up their sleeve.”

Zinn and his California colleague urge trainees to be hyper-alert. If they see anything suspicious, D’Abbraccio tells them, they are to call “headquarters.” “We’ll come there, either with attorneys or surreptitiously,” he says. “Typically, I bring video- and camera equipment … to include — I’ve gotten into trouble for saying this in the past — to include a video camera, which I will bring into the polling location, that’s concealed.”

Two weeks later, on Election Day, poll watchers streamed into poor black and Latino precincts around Racine, hunting for evidence that people were cheating. They didn’t find much, though D’Abbraccio later claimed otherwise, apparently in a bid for a recount in a state Senate race … Reports of voter intimidation, however, abounded…

When a local journalist questioned D’Abbraccio about these allegations, he blamed out-of-state interlopers. “True the Vote came in and did their own training, and I was kind of upset about it,” he said. “I sat in [on] some of that training, and those people were out-of-state. It was clear that they didn’t have a full understanding of the law.”

His disavowal was reminiscent of a politician’s distancing himself from a smear campaign waged on his behalf by a super PAC. And in fact, as True the Vote was gearing up for the recall, a Texas judge ruled that its sister organization, the King Street Patriots, was not a legitimate tax-exempt non-profit but an unregistered political-action committee that had illegally aided the Republican Party by supplying it with poll watchers. (The Patriots have appealed the decision.) But the legal reproof didn’t dampen True the Vote’s fervor. After the recall, the group issued a triumphant statement applauding the citizen activists who “put on their waders, and jumped in to defend the integrity of their elections.”

The group then began ramping up its nationwide efforts … True the Vote’s trainers, meanwhile, fanned out around the country to rally troops for November, a mission they cast in apocalyptic terms.

Speaking at one Texas Tea Party gathering, Alan Vera, the Army ranger turned volunteer-trainer, cautioned that “evil” forces were about to launch “the greatest attack ever on election integrity,” and implored the crowd to prepare for a “ground war”: “In 2012, we need a patriot army to stand shoulder to shoulder on the wall of freedom and shout defiantly to those dark powers and principalities, ‘If you want to steal this election, you have to get past us. We will not yield another inch to your demonic deception … If you won’t enforce our laws, we’ll do it ourselves, so help us God.'”

Shaking his fist in the air, he cried, “Patriots, let’s roll!” The crowd cheered wildly.

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