By Ashley Lopez
Florida Center for Investigative Reporting
Due to an onslaught of new voting laws in Florida, different voting precincts, as well as a slew of other changes to voting in Florida, lawyers are expected to watch the polls diligently to make sure people aren’t confused or intimidated on Election Day in Florida.
Specifically, eyes will be on poll workers this year.
The Associated Press reported this week that the Obama and Romney campaigns are hiring lawyers and keeping a close eye on polls throughout the election.
The Obama campaign has amassed an army of lawyers and non-lawyer volunteers to watch voting places and quickly appeal to state and local election officials if they think legitimate voting is being impeded.
Since 2000, “we’ve had an amazing group of dedicated lawyers that have been on the ground for 12 years,” said Charles Lichtman, a Fort Lauderdale-based attorney helping oversee the Democrats’ effort. “So there’s nothing they can throw at us that we haven’t seen or that we’re not ready for.”
Other states are doing the same. A single memo seeking lawyers and law students to help safeguard Obama’s voter turnout efforts netted nearly 4,000 responses, said Robert Bauer, the campaign’s chief lawyer and a former White House counsel.
“The primary issue is making sure the voter experience is secure, fair and reliable,” Bauer said.
In this past year, tea party groups have been planning to man polls all over the country — and especially in Florida — to look out for what they consider voter fraud.
Colorlines reported in August that True the Vote, a tea party-type group, has been strategizing in Tampa for the past few months and is preparing to watch over the upcoming election:
[Bill Ouren, True the Vote’s national elections coordinator], has a five-point recruitment strategy: Plan. Mobilize. Train. Deploy. Follow-up. Election workers, poll judges, clerks, machine operators and other elections staff are “under immense pressure to do the wrong thing,” Ouren told recruits at the Boca Raton training. “Your monitoring gives them cover to do the right thing.”
Recruits sign up at True the Vote’s website for online trainings and gain access to voter registration lists in their counties. They look through the lists for names to submit to election officials for purging. This process is playing out now in Tampa, where True the Vote’s reputation for voter intimidation has followed the RNC to a state already notorious for reckless purging. Come Election Day, they’ll deploy to the polls.
“We ask anyone and everyone who serves under True The Vote” to write down everything they see that looks funny, funky, fraudulent, Ouren told recruits. “If something doesn’t go right, document it.” Gather those incident reports, he urged, and they’ll be given to legislators or used for lawsuits. “You create the record that debunks so much of the nonsense that says that there is no such thing as voter election fraud.”
This was the strategy that worked in Texas, that helped pass a voter ID law and set up a showdown over the Voting Rights Act, even though none of what they documented actually amounted to voter fraud.
Expert after expert has refuted assertions of widespread voter fraud. In Florida, only 10 cases of a non-citizens who may have voted have been found, according to University of Florida elections expert Dan Smith. Colorado’s Gesssler regularly sells stories about masses of people double-voting and literally dying to commit fraud—so much that even their corpses vote. But a News21 investigation found just 16 cases of double voting or voter impersonation since 2000 in Colorado, and just one conviction in 2008.
True the Vote has sets its sights almost solely on watching for what is known as in-person voter fraud, while most fraud taking place in Florida right now seems to stem from absentee ballots.
So far this year, the state has found multiple cases of absentee ballot fraud. However, there are very few laws in place to protect against absentee ballot fraud or prosecute against it on a state level. This is because when the Republican-led state Legislature wrote a new voting law they overhauled almost every part of the state’s election laws, except absentee ballots, which are used most by Republican voters.
Aside from poll watchers and new laws, voters will fill out the longest ballot in Florida history during this election, which experts say could confuse or dissuade voters from voting during this election.