Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Is Voter Caging Possible In St. Louis?

The group Save Wisconsin's Vote 2010 released documents and video yesterday detailing a coordinated plan between American's for Prosperity, the state Republican Party, and local tea party groups to disenfranchise voters in Wisconsin for the 2010 November elections.

Here's the basic outline of the plan in Wisconsin:
• The Republican Party of Wisconsin will use its "Voter Vault" state-wide voter file to compile a list of minority and student voters in targeted Wisconsin communities.

• Americans for Prosperity will use this list to send mail to these voters indicating the voter must call and confirm their registration information, and telling them if they do not call the number provided they could be removed from the voter lists.

• The Tea Party organizations will recruit and place individuals as official poll workers in selected municipalities in order to be able to make the challenges as official poll workers.

• On Election Day, these organizations will then "make use" of any postcards that are returned as undeliverable to challenge voters at the polls, utilizing law enforcement, as well as attorneys trained and provided by the RPW, to support their challenges.
As stated on the website, there are two primary ways in which voter caging is used to suppress voting:
First, is to force as many voters as possible to cast provisional ballots, which require voters to follow-up the day after an election for the ballot to be counted. Historically, about 35% of all provisional ballots are never counted. Additionally, voters whose registration is challenged at the polling place are unlikely to have the required material to complete an Election Day registration, meaning the voter will be turned away at the polls.

The second goal is to create long lines at the polling place as the caging operation challenges voter after voter. Many people cannot afford to sit in line to vote for hours on end. Long lines discourage voters and many simply leave without casting a ballot.
Groups can use demographic information to selectively target districts with high minority and student populations.

So my question is, if Americans for Prosperity, the Republican Party, and the tea party are planning on doing this in Wisconsin, is there any reason to think they won't try to do it elsewhere, and particularly in Missouri?

First of all, we know that Americans for Prosperity has a strong presence in Missouri, and helped to kick off the original tea party events in St. Louis. In Missouri, AFP was run by a right-wing lobbyist and former state Representative named Carl Bearden, who has since left and formed a new astroturf group called United for Missouri.

Second, the local St. Louis Tea Party has stated repeatedly that they believe themselves to be "at war" and that therefore any form of unethical behavior is justified in achieving their goal of winning the election. As a reminder, here's a quote from a former St. Louis tea party member, James Greyfalcon, discussing the group:
Somebody had sent me a message (I had criticized some of the really negative, jacked-up, over the top rhetoric coming from a lot of people) and the message was, "you shouldn't say anything about that because you're being divisive. Extreme times call for extreme measures." And I said to myself, "see that's the kind of garbage...they're looking for people like that. They're looking for people who feel so disempowered that they'll surrender their integrity and Christian values to some operative who's willing to tell them "it's OK to do whatever it takes whatEVER it takes because your liberty's at stake, so I'm going to smear somebody, or you wanna try and convince, maybe, one of the black people in your group, to do something that....to smear maybe a black politician in a video or something, that person should just go along with it because that's what you do in a war.

And when people don't go along with that, I'm finding that all of a sudden there's indignation and confusion and fear on the parts of these people who were once so...they have so much control over these people who are scared.
There's no indication that anything has changed. In fact, just this week, Bill Hennessy reiterated his belief that "Winning isn't everything. It's the only thing."

Furthermore, Ed Martin has already set up a group of "poll challangers," making explicit reference to ACORN (the right-wing's favorite bogeyman that no longer exists in St. Louis):
The Count Every Vote Unit is a team of people who will canvass area polling places to help ensure our area’s elections take place in a fair, honest and impartial manner. The Count Every Vote Unit is comprised of attorneys, poll watchers, and poll challengers. They will broadcast any problems they see via Twitter, Facebook, and our website edmartinforcongress.com. Anyone who suspects fraud or sees anything suspicious is reminded to call and report it to the Secretary of State’s office.

“As someone who has never run for office before, there is a lot to learn. The problem of voter fraud and the need to fight every day to make every vote count is something that I know from my time working on the Election Board. I will be vigilant in my quest to ensure that every eligible person is able to vote and to make sure voter fraud is not an issue,” said Ed Martin.

As chairman of the St. Louis Board of Election Commissioners, Ed Martin was tasked with cleaning up city elections and he did just that. He stood strong and took on ACORN’s long standing attempts to corrupt our voting process. Ed Martin vows to continue to help empower voters.

Missouri’s Secretary of State, Robin Carnahan, has a cozy relationship with the former group ACORN, now called MORE or Missourians Organizing for Reform and Empowerment. Robin’s former chief of staff and current campaign manager has direct ties to ACORN.
In his call for "election challangers," Martin explicitly says that the way to cut down on fraud is to require voters to present photo IDs:
One obvious way to help cut down on fraud is to require voters to present photo ID, something both Robin and Russ Carnahan oppose. Congressman Russ Carnahan said “No” to requiring photo ID for voting in federal elections.
However, current Missouri law does not require photo IDs for voting. In fact, the Missouri Supreme Court ruled such a law unconstitutional in 2006.

Unfortunately, however, sometimes the actual law does not matter very much when you have a group of dishonest or misinformed "poll challengers" who try to discourage people from voting using every means possible. This is something that needs to be watched very carefully in the St. Louis region. This is an area where the "enthusiasm gap" can make a big difference: a small group of fired up ideologues on the Right could potentially do a lot to cut down the votes of groups that traditionally vote for Democrats.

Feedback on this post is highly encouraged. Please let me know if you think this is possible and, if so, what can be done about it.


  1. Absolutely, it is possible. I know of at least one law firm in town, however, which sent attorneys to watch for precisely this type of behavior and put the kibosh on it...to ensure poll workers were allowing provisional ballots, that nobody was trying to require ID, that laws regarding electioneering were followed, etc. They definitely encountered issues, especially with provisional balloting. As attorneys, their ethics bound them...and they were well-versed in election law.

    Since Mr. Martin is all "open book" now, I would like to know the identities of his poll watchers and their qualifications. Other than 'Tea Party Goon,' I mean.

  2. DEMOS and Common Cause have just released a report documenting voting practices, good and bad, in 10 swing states in the Nov 2010 election. Missouri is one of them. With regard to "caging" and deceptive campaigns, the report says that •" Missouri is the only state that has a law very directly addressing deceptive practices. The law
    prohibits knowingly providing false information about election procedures for the purpose of
    preventing any person from going to the polls."

    That's a bit of good news, but, of course, not enough. [I have a posting on this report that will go live tomorrow [Weds.] on occasional planet.org.

  3. Well if enough people on the Democratic side could be poll watchers then maybe they can observe for abnormalities: such as a challenge from another pollwatcher against a series of known Democratic voters and then this could be reported to the head of the election judges at that precinct for possible removal of the offending pollwatcher.

  4. I'm certainly not an attorney, but it would seem to me that the Democratic campaigns should have their attorneys checking to see if Mr. Ed and his Count Every Vote units can be at any poll without an equal number of Democratic attorneys, counters, and watchers. This all smacks of real voter intimidation and I wouldn't be surprised if his "units" show up in brown shirts.

  5. Dems need their own poll workers and challengers. Election judges need to be educated. The long range answer is voter education, not just around election time.