Tea Party poll-watchers shut out in key Ohio county

Voters wait hours in long lines to cast their early vote at the Summit County Board of Elections on Monday, Nov. 5, 2012, in Akron, Ohio. About 30 million...
Voters wait hours in long lines to cast their early vote at the Summit County Board of Elections on Monday, Nov. 5, 2012, in Akron, Ohio. About 30 million...
AP Photo/Akron Beacon Journal, Paul Tople

True the Vote, a controversial Tea Party-backed poll-watching group, will not be operating in pivotal Ohio’s second largest county on Election Day, after it was found by election officials to have submitted irregular signatures in a bid to gain access to the polls.

“True the Vote doesn’t have any observers in Franklin County today,” Zachary Manifold, a member of the county’s Board of Elections told msnbc.com Tuesday morning.

In a statement, True the Vote denied doing anything “illegal or unethical.”

True the Vote’s absence from polls in Franklin County could allow voting to proceed more smoothly there. In 2008, Barack Obama netted over 116,000 votes there, more than in all but one Ohio county.

Manifold said the board made the decision—signed off on by members from both parties—after determining at a meeting Monday night that True the Vote had improperly used candidates’ signatures to gain access to the polls. He added that the board will conduct a fuller investigation after the election, and said deliberate falsification constitutes a fifth degree felony.

Under Ohio law, independent poll observers must get signatures from five candidates in order to monitor the polls. Terri Jamison, a Democratic candidate for judge, told msnbc.com she was approached by Jan Loar, a local True the Vote leader, who asked her to sign the group’s application to monitor early voting.

“She said they were a nonpartisan group that just wanted to observe the polls and be sure that people’s right to vote was protected,” Jamison said. “So not knowing anything about them, I signed.”

But Jamison said she soon learned that that description was misleading. True the Vote, which emerged in 2010 out of a Texas-based Tea Party group, aims to root out what it sees as voter fraud, and has been criticized for poll-watching tactics that some have called intimidating. A leader of the group told a conference that the intention is to make voting “like driving and seeing the police following you.”

On October 1, Jamison said, she wrote to the board of elections asking for her name to be withdrawn. Jamison said she also called Loar and conveyed that same message. But over three weeks later, according to Manifold, True the Vote submitted a new application, to poll-watch on Election Day, which also contained Jamison’s signature.

Manifold said a second candidate, Jan Gorniak, the county coroner, told the board that her name, too, was used improperly.

It’s not clear how True the Vote got the signatures onto the new application. “We’re not sure if they forged them or copied them from an earlier signature,” Manifold said. “But they definitely misused them.” Manifold said the law requires that new applications require new original signatures.

The liberal Ohio political blog Plunderbund.com has posted what it says are copies of the forms, as well as video of the board meeting Monday night.

In its statement, True the Vote said Loar was just following instructions from county officials to make copies of signatures for subsequent forms.

The sequence of events is as follows: Franklin County resident Jan Loar collected signatures from five candidates on a blank form provided by the County to process election observer placements. Ms. Loar followed instructions by Franklin County to make copies of candidate signatures for subsequent forms.

Prior to scheduled placement of observers, Loar was informed by the Franklin County Board of Elections that no observers would be placed due to candidates rescinding their appointments. True the Vote learned that Daphne Hawk (Republican) and Terri Jamison (Democrat) were threatened with lawsuits and pressure from their respective parties to revoke observer permissions.

As for Jamison, she says she feel taken advantage of.

“If they’re there with the mission to challenge people’s right to vote, then she misled me to get my signature,” Jamison said. “Because obviously I am not in favor of blocking anyone’s right to vote. I’m a minority. I get to vote because of the Voting Rights Act.”

Tea Party poll-watchers shut out in key Ohio county