What to do if you are challenged at the polls
BY CASH MICHAELS OF THE WILMINGTON JOURNAL
Black voters beware! Now that One Stop Early Voting/Same Day Registration (Oct. 18 through Nov. 3rd) has begun for the Nov. 6th elections, there are people who are assigned to aggressively approach African-Americans at the polls in North Carolina, and openly challenge they right to vote. Their mission is to disrupt the process so much, that less and less black voters will want to put up with the hassle.
Who are these people so determined to personally suppress the black vote in North Carolina? They are called “poll watchers.”
And they are members of the right-wing Tea Party movement.
Nonpartisan groups like the NC NAACP and Democracy NC are already warning black and Hispanic voters across the state not only to watch out for Tea Party poll watchers at their polling places, but be ready to skillfully handle them by knowing their rights.
According to “Abridging the Vote: True the Vote in North Carolina,” a new report by Devin Burghart and Leonard Zeskind published by the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights of Kansas City, Missouri, “Under North Carolina state law, ‘only an individual registered to vote in a precinct may challenge a voter at that precinct on Election Day.’
So if your right to vote is challenged by someone as you’re making your way into the polls to vote, exactly what should you do?
According to Bob Hall, executive director for the nonprofit, nonpartisan Democracy NC, the one thing you don’t do is get upset. That’s what the poll watcher wants in order to create a scene and disrupt the area.
“People should not be intimidated,” Hall says. “We need to be careful and aware.”
“We have the same rights and procedures we had in 2008,” Hall added. You don’t need to present a photo ID when you go vote. The bill to require registered voters to show a photo ID before voting was vetoed.”
Instead, Hall suggests you politely tell the poll watcher to come with you into the polling place to settle the matter. Once inside, you want to speak to the chief polling judge, a ranking official there who hears voting disputes.
“The temper issue is important,” Hall says. “Don’t lose your cool.”
Once you and the poll watcher are in front of the chief polling judge, you answer any questions the judge asks, one of which will be for you to verbally confirm that you are who you are listed as on the voting rolls, and you live at the address listed as well.
You may not have to show identification, but in case you do, be ready.
The poll watcher, on the otherhand, will have to prove that he/she indeed does legally live in that precinct. If that checks out, if the chief polling judge has determined that you, in fact, are properly registered to vote in that precinct as you maintain, then the challenge against your right to vote is moot, and you should be able to proceed without further complication.
So even though voter ID is not the law in North Carolina, be prepared for anything when you go to vote.
According to the “Abridging the Vote” report, the idea of Tea Party poll watchers began in Texas in 2009 with the group, King Street Patriots True the Vote, in reaction to the election of the nation’s first black president, Barack Obama.
In August 2011, that group changed its name to “True the Vote, Inc.”, and began branching out to at 27 states in an effort to begin influencing statewide elections.
Regularly, there would be a close relationship between leaders in spinoff groups, and their local Republican Party, the report adds.
It was at it’s first national summit in Houston Texas, the report continues, that True the Vote “rolled out their plan to block the vote” of African-Americans and other Democratic leaning voting blocs, instructing activists, “…in tactics on how to overload election officials, slow the vote and block participation.”
“True the Vote has purchased voter rolls from state and counties, then circulated the lists to their gaggle of unsupervised volunteers, who are urged to challenge the registrations of voters that they think may be improperly registered,” the report continues.
“The True the Vote “work at the polls” entails training volunteers to be poll watchers – people who go out on Election Day and aggressively challenge the registration, the identity, or the eligibility of prospective voters.”
The “Abridging the Vote” report by Burghart and Zeskind adds, “To “fix what needs fixing” (as one Tea Party official said) True the Vote has also pushed legislative efforts to further restrict access to voting, including stringent new voter identification laws.”
“In practice, the True the Vote strategy has deterred people from registering to vote, created and atmosphere that frightens voters from showing up at the polls, overloaded election officials with baseless challenges, and slowed the vote by gumming up the process,” the report continues.
So how does all of this play out in North Carolina?
The report cites two Tea Party-affiliated groups here – North Carolina True the Vote, and the Voter Integrity Project (VIP).
Though it claims to be a nonprofit organization on its website and solicits donations, VIP is registered as a for profit business with the NC Secretary of State’s office. By being for profit, VIP is able to legally shield who contributes to it.
VIP has already made news in North Carolina, first, by challenging the registrations of more than 500 Wake County voters last June, and then again in August, when VIP presented over 30,000 names of voters to the NC Board of Elections (BOE) that they said had died, and whose names could still be used in voter fraud.
BOE officials, at great expense in time and resources, checked all of the names, and not one had ever been used to cast a fraudulent vote.
NC True the Vote, meanwhile, has sent “volunteers” all across the state to mount their voter suppression operations.
According to the “Abridge the Vote” report, “[NC] True the Vote has been able to attract the highest levels of volunteers in the areas of the state with the highest levels of African-American population.” Indeed, the report continues, of the top twenty-five NC counties with black populations, NC True the Vote has volunteers in 24 of them.
As of Sept. 30th, NC True the Vote had 286 volunteers in just 60 counties, the report continues, with at least 30 percent of them directly affiliated with Tea Party factions.
The counties with the most True the Vote volunteers include Wake – 71; Guilford – 22; Mecklenburg – 19; Forsyth – 17; Durham – 15; Henderson – 11 and New Hanover with 6.
Of the top ten counties with high populations of Hispanics, NC True the Vote has volunteers in nine of them.
As of Oct. 1st, at least eighteen True the Vote activists have already signed up as Wake County GOP Poll Observers, Runners and Greeters, the report states.
The report also notes that in counties with extremely low black and Latino populations, True the Vote only has one volunteer.
Democracy North Carolina, the AFL-CIO, and the national and state NAACP, and other progressive groups, have committed to monitoring Tea Party activity and illegal poll challenges.
“We are fully committed not only to turnout the vote,” said NCNAACP Pres. Rev. William Barber, who announced last weekend the kickoff of the “Million Voters March 3” to deliver one million black, brown and progressive voters to the polls statewide, “…but to fight and stand against any effort to suppress, depress, stifle, or discourage the power and potential of the black, brown and progressive vote in any way.”
“Our members will be poll watchers and we will have a coalition of lawyers to defend and protect our rights,” Rev. Barber is quoted in the report as saying.
Editor’s note – If you have any problems while trying to lawfully cast your ballot, call Election Protection, the nation’s largest nonpartisan voter protection coalition, at it’s toll-free hotline at 1-866-OUR-VOTE (1-866-687-8683). For answers to most questions about where, when and how to vote, go to the special website: www.NCElectionConnection.com. Voters can preview their own ballot, find the nearest Early Voting site, and check their registration status.
In addition, because of the new redistricting plan adopted this year by the NC General Assembly, your voting district lines may have changed. You may even get a different ballot from your neighbor who lives down the street because of how the new district lines zigzag through neighborhoods. About two million voters live in precincts divided by district lines and you’re 50 percent more likely to live in one of those split precincts if you’re black. So check with your county board of elections, or call 1-866-OUR-VOTE to confirm what your voting district is, and where you should vote.