True the Vote: Diversity?

If you follow voting rights, you’re likely watching Texas as a three-judge federal court in Washington, D.C. determines whether the state’s controversial voter ID bill disenfranchises minorities.

Texas also is the birthplace of True the Vote, a Houston-based, Tea Party-backed group that trains poll watchers and volunteers to investigate voter rolls across the country looking for questionable registrations.

Texas Democrats say True the Vote’s activities could intimidate minority votes, pointing to a contentious November 2010 election where the group’s poll watchers were accused of harassing voters in some of Houston’s minority neighborhoods. True the Vote founder Catherine Engelbrecht denies her poll watchers harassed anyone, and says the group is nonpartisan and dedicated to “free and fair elections.”

Engelbrecht also says her volunteers and poll watchers are diverse, representing all ethnicities and political ideologies. The volunteer registration page on True the Vote’s website communicates a diverse group of people smiling for the camera.

True the Vote: Diversity?

But a closer look reveals the image is a stock photo, owned by and titled: “Diverse Group of People Holding Volunteer Sign”:

True the Vote: Diversity?

News21 asked True the Vote multiple times for specific information about its demographic makeup, and Engelbrecht offered this response:

“That photo was chosen because it represents the American people,” Engelbrecht said in an email, adding that a similar photo is also used by The Voter Participation Center, a group aimed at engaging unmarried women in the electoral process.

By AJ Vicens, News21

Poll watchers deployed for Arizona special election Tuesday

Poll watchers deployed for Arizona special election Tuesday

Grady Rhodes (background left), a first-time poll watcher with the Pima County Voter Integrity Project, observes the voter check-in table at the polling place inside the Chinese Cultural Center, Tuesday in Tucson, Ariz. Photo by Jeremy Knop/News21

Newly trained poll watchers were deployed to 34 Arizona precincts Tuesday to keep an eye out for potential voter fraud in the special election to fill the vacancy left by Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D., Ariz. Giffords retired from Congress to focus on her recovery from a critical gunshot head wound that she suffered in a January 2011 assassination attempt.

Giffords’ former aide Ron Barber, who was shot in the leg and cheek in that same attack, won the special election and will serve the remaining months of her term.

Grady Rhodes was among more approximately 60 volunteers who were trained to monitor voting.

“A lot of people think there could be a lot of fraud going on and they’re not sure whether their vote counts or not.” said Rhodes, a first-time poll watcher. “I wanted to be a part of helping the people and making sure their vote does count and to ensure fraud isn’t going on.”

Rhodes identified himself as a Republican and a member of the tea party, having received his training through the Pima County Voter Integrity Project on Saturday. Jennifer Wright, a tea party member who recently ran for mayor of Phoenix, trained Rhodes, he said.

Of those who went through poll watcher training Saturday, 34 were available Tuesday for the special election, said Karen Schutte, Pima County Voter Integrity Project coordinator.

By Jeremy Knop, News21

Peter Mundt: Milwaukee voter offers father assistance

Peter Mundt: Milwaukee voter offers father assistance

Peter Mundt joined his father at the polls in Milwaukee Tuesday. Photo by Tasha Khan/News21

Peter Mundt was helping his father complete a same-day registration form at Engleburg Elementary school in North Milwaukee when an election observer reported Mundt to the chief inspector.

The inspector asked why Mundt was helping his father; he explained that his father has difficulty reading and needed assistance.

The Wisconsin voter registration form allows assistance if those aiding voters provide a signature and address. Mundt signed the form, and his father was able to vote.

Mundt did not have a problem with the inspector’s question, he said.

“I was comfortable with it,” Mundt said. “I mean, they are there to do their job, to make sure the voting process is going correctly.”

By Tasha Khan, News21

Ruth Zubrensky: Wisconsin poll watcher finds no fraud

Ruth Zubrensky: Wisconsin poll watcher finds no fraud

Ruth Zubrensky was a poll watcher Tuesday at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Photo by Tasha Khan/News21

Ruth Zubrensky, 84, sat quietly Tuesday near the back of the polling place in Sandburg Hall at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, where she watched voters cast their ballots.

Zubrensky has been an election observer a half-dozen times in Wisconsin, she said, and she has never seen any fraudulent activity at the polls.

“Fraud is such a minimum, such a minimum,” she said.

Zubrensky took voter protection training offered by the Democratic Party of Wisconsin.

Unlike in many other states, Wisconsin observers are not required to register with a political party or a candidate. Observers must sign in with the senior election official and provide their name, address and organization, according to the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board website.

By Tasha Khan, News21

Milwaukee election observers earn mixed reviews

Gov. Scott Walker won by a comfortable margin Tuesday in Wisconsin’s recall election. The closely watched contest drew national attention, forecasts of a narrow race and predictions of a recount in balloting that highlighted the role of election observers.

Sometimes called poll watchers, election observers are associated with a candidate or a cause and are allowed to monitor polling activity. Observers Tuesday came from groups that included the League of Women Voters, the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, We are Wisconsin, Wisconsin Jobs Now and True the Vote.

Jean McCoy-Garner, the top official at the Engleburg Elementary School polling location in north Milwaukee, said observers didn’t cause her many problems Tuesday.

“Sometimes I have to remind them of what they can and can’t do,” she said. “Ultimately they need to let people have the freedom to vote, and they can’t do certain things.”

Jamila Gatlin took exception with the official’s analysis, saying that she was offended by the three observers at the school.

“That’s pretty harassing if you ask me,” Gatlin said after she voted and left the school. “Why do we have to be watched while we vote? Do they go watch people vote in their areas?”

Gatlin was bothered by the fact that all the observers were white, she said, and they were dispatched to a predominantly African-American polling place. It didn’t matter, she said, that two of them were from organizations described as conservative and one was from a liberal group.

By AJ Vicens, News21