True the Vote: Keeping Our Elections Free and Clean

Katie Pavlich

11/5/2012 2:13:00 AM - Katie Pavlich

HOUSTON, TX - The 2012 election will be the first in 30 years where the country will see a large organized presence dedicated to the integrity of votes cast, all thanks to voter integrity group True the Vote.

During the 2008 election cycle, Catherine Engelbrecht volunteered at the polls in Harris County, the second largest voting block in Texas. She noticed that although she was there with a small group of people to observe, Harris County had a poll watcher shortage of at least 50 percent. There weren’t enough people observing the election process to prevent fraud. Shortly after her experiences at the polls, Harris County authorities found 23,000 invalid voter registration forms that had been submitted by an ACORN operative. It was then that Engelbrecht founded True the Vote, where she now serves as president. The mission of True the Vote is simple: prevent voter fraud and uphold the law.

“We recognized there was a problem,” Engelbrecht tells Townhall. “There are raging debates about Cap and Trade and healthcare and you name it, but if the election process isn’t trustworthy, if it’s not reliable, then you know what does any of it really matter? It’s a scary thought to think about how tenuous, how fragile the process really is but it was so clear that something was not right and the quickest fix was to remind citizens that voting was not enough.”

Engelbrecht and True the Vote volunteers quickly started to identify how citizens could get further involved with the election process by looking at the process as a whole. Poll watching was an easy way to get a large amount of people involved in the election process.

“What got my attention is the simple fact that this where it all starts. If we cannot freely and fairly elect our representatives, nothing from there goes the way the citizens of the country want it to go, that’s the beginning,” True the Vote volunteer Joni Carlisle, who uses vacation time to help the organization 14 hours a day, tells Townhall. “We’re making a huge difference.”

By Election Day 2010, True the Vote had trained 1,000 poll watchers who could be used by election officials to observe polling stations in Harris County. Training of everyday citizens was then expanded across the country to further prevent voter fraud.  

“We didn’t look for it to be a national thing, we just thought, ‘We see a problem and we need to fix it,’” Engelbrecht says. “We really decided we would become the boutique provider of in depth, real life training opportunities and it seemed to resonate across the country in ways that we could have never imagined.”

Bill Ouren started volunteering with True the Vote in January 2010 and is now the National Elections Director. His job is to connect citizens with their desire to ensure the freedom and fairness of elections.  

“I was looking for something positive, something I thought would make a difference. There is nothing more fundamental to our democracy than our vote and the freedom and the integrity that surrounds that vote and it just appealed to me individually,” Ouren tells Townhall.

But what is a poll watcher or election observer? And is it effective? The fact is, poll watching is a time honored tradition dating back to the women’s suffrage movement and served as an important part of the Civil Rights movement. The NAACP used to support election observation because it keeps the process honest and ensures all voters are treated fairly. Poll watchers watch the election process to protect the rights of the voters. They do not watch the voters, they watch the process.

“They [poll watchers] are they eyes and ears of the Republic. They are not to talk to voters, they are to observe and report and they do that on behalf of the stakeholders they represent which is typically a party or a candidate or an issue on the ballot or in some cases like in Wisconsin, poll watchers can be self appointed citizens,” Engelbrecht says. “Observation changes things. Frankly, people want to do the right thing but it’s human nature to cut corners and you cut and you cut and you cut and before long you get to where we are and in many places across this country where the process isn’t even recognizable.”

Today, the NAACP, ACLU, SEIU, AFL-CIO, major media outlets and other far Left groups launch regular attacks on True the Vote and its volunteers, despite the organization's efforts to prevent voter fraud being non-partisan.

“They must be looking to protect some system of subversion that they’ve protected under the dark of night and they don’t want it to be exposed,” Engelbrecht says. “It’s stunning to hear these  groups just deny vote fraud even exists. There’s every evidence to the contrary. It’s a known fact that it exists but yet they refuse to speak the truth.”

The catalyst for expanding from being a local group in Texas to a national organization according to Engelbrecht, was attacks by the Left because they gave True the Vote a new platform.

“Because of that platform, people from across the country began to contact us and say, ‘Hey that’s what you guys are seeing? That’s what we’re seeing too. Can we work together?’” Engelbrecht says. “Although there are many groups that want to continue to paint us into a corner, the fact is our message is one for all Americans."

Heading into Election Day 2012, True the Vote has trained thousands of people in 50 states to legally poll watch. Christian Adams, a former Department of Justice Attorney, New Black Panther Party voter intimidation case whistleblower and author says this is exactly why the Left is going “berserk.”

“I know this, there will be less crime in the election this year than there was in 2008,” Adams said. “There will be less crime nationwide than there was in 2008 because True the Vote is on the ground and that is something they deserve a great deal of thanks for.”

The True the Vote program is set up so that on Election Day in addition to volunteers conducting observations at the polls, they submit incident reports. This gives True the Vote evidence that can later be looked at, studied and used to reform broken parts in the election system to prevent fraud in future elections.

“This is not a press to go through the 2012 election,” Ouren says. “We have come a long way in two years, we will go probably that much further in another two years. We’re going to continue what we’ve been doing.”

There’s no doubt True the Vote has had an impact.

“I think we’ve changed the national debate. I think we’ve brought focus to an issue that’s been a dirty little secret of both parties for an awfully long time that everybody worries about after the election for few days and then everybody gets on with their business and it never fixes itself. I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished,” Engelbrecht says. “We are doing the right thing.”

Sunday night, hundreds of volunteers gathered one last time at True the Vote headquarters before heading into Tuesday’s election. After four years of attacks and smears, they’re ready to use their training to keep our elections clean.

“We are responding as best as we know how as good stewards for our country. It’s been an amazing privilege to be part of a movement born of nothing, born of an inspiration that didn’t exist prior in this way and be part of what I think is historic,” Engelbrecht says.