Tea Party-backed group challenging voters in Ohio

True the Vote's 2011 tax returns: The group wouldn't say who made these contributions.
True the Vote's 2011 tax returns: The group wouldn't say who made these contributions.

However big its effect becomes on the 2012 election, True the Vote began as a relatively small effort started and supported by a Tea Party chapter in Texas. The group’s stated mission is to train enough poll-watchers so a million volunteers are ready for November, enough to have at least one watcher in every precinct in America. A leader in True the Vote says the effect for voters should be “like driving and seeing the police following you.” Meanwhile, in the months leading up to the general election, True the Vote has been challenging voter registrations in individual states.

True the Vote describes itself as mainly a grassroots effort. A couple weeks back, organizers of True the Vote sent their 2011 tax returns, from which we learned that the group got a few large contributions, but still took in only $136,957 that year. Though we still don’t know what True the Vote has taken in this year, a terrific report by the New York Times gives a glimpse of the outfit works. In swing-state Ohio, for instance, much depends on a True the Vote partner named the Ohio Voter Integrity Project. From the Times:

[V]olunteers, known as the Ohio Voter Integrity Project, submitted challenges of 380 registered voters in Hamilton County, which includes Cincinnati. One of the voters, Teresa Sharp, received a notice from her local Board of Elections stating that her family’s right to vote had been challenged and ordering her to attend a hearing on Sept. 10.

“I’ve always voted,” said Ms. Sharp, who had even been a poll worker. “Never had any problem.”

At the hearing, she said she asked, “Why are you all harassing me?” She said she believed it was because “either they don’t want Obama in there or the fact that I’m black.”

The Times notes that the Ohio Voter Integrity Project ended up taking back its challenge and apologizing to the family. So that was one, but Ohio Voter Integrity Project is challenging many, many registrations. The Cincinnati Enquirer reports that True the Vote claims to have identified 730,000 suspect registrations in Ohio, 68,000 of them in local Hamilton County. As the Cincinnati paper reports it, the success rate on those challenges has not been high. The Ohio Voter Integrity Project filed papers as a “social welfare” nonprofit in April, which means we might be able to see tax returns from the project at some point, but probably not right away.

(See also our colleague Zach Roth’s great reporting on voting rights in Ohio.)