Is True the Vote Intimidating Minority Voters From Going to the Polls?

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Engelbrecht started True the Vote three years ago after serving as a poll watcher in Houston, where she said she witnessed things that disturbed her.

"All the way through to what can only be called voter fraud," she said. "We saw people who would come in with multiple registrations. We saw people who would come in and want to vote but their name had already been signed in the poll book. We recognized there's something not quite right."

Engelbrecht said that voter fraud can have a major impact on the outcome of an election.

"There have been many elections in the not-too-distant past that have been within such a tight margin that it really makes it very clear: Every vote counts," she said. "So you really begin to ask yourself, 'How much fraud's OK?'

"If there's a way to improve the process, and if there's a way for citizens to serve in the process and be a part of that contribution, then that's what we need to do," she added.

To stamp out voter fraud, True the Vote launched "integrity projects" all over the country by recruiting volunteers to start their own independent local chapters. True the Vote provides the groups with proprietary software to vet voter registrations, looking for inaccuracies that might be challengeable. Engelbrecht said the software compares the voter roll against the Social Security death index, property tax records and other public records.

"True the Vote is not turning in challenges," she said. "Citizen groups and private citizens across the country are using our software. ... The role, then, of a citizen volunteer is to look through. If you find anything, flag it and turn it over to the county officials."

Engelbrecht insisted that the organization is all about cleaning up voter rolls and denied that there is any political agenda behind the challenges.

"We do not attach party to anything that we do inside of the research," she said.

Teresa Sharp disagreed that challenging voters like her helped to keep elections fair.

"Right," she said. "Just the poor black neighborhoods. right? Everybody else is clean… So we're the dirty ones, we're the fraudulent folks."

While she agreed the challenge did not intimidate her, she expressed concern for others who might be challenged and not understand what it meant.

Election officials in Hamilton County agreed that the challenge against Sharp was ill-placed and that the challenger was clearly wrong in her research asserting Sharp's home was a vacant lot.

Alex Trianfilou, the Republican chair of the Hamilton County Board of Elections, said the local Integrity Project is doing a public service.

"They're reviewing the county and making sure our voter registration roles are accurate, and we think that's an important public service," he said.

Timothy Burke, the chairman of the Hamilton County Board of Elections and a Democrat, acknowledged that some of the challenges brought to the office correctly identified places where, say, a trailer park no longer existed. But others, he said, targeted college students who didn't list their dorm room or people who were mobile or lived in low-income areas -- and the majority of challenges were thrown out.

"Voter fraud has just not historically been a problem here in Hamilton County," Burke said. "I just think it's a smoke screen for their real effort, and that is to intimidate and prevent Democrats, and especially African-American Democrats, from voting."

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