Once again, the Republican Party is caught lying to voters in an effort to suppress the Democratic vote.
As national groups like True the Vote send poll watchers to Wisconsin, where the Presidential race is now in a dead heat, a leaked manual from the Romney campaign urges poll watchers to hide their affiliation with the campaign, and spreads misinformation that sets false limits on voting rights in Wisconsin. State officials from both parties, election authorities, and law enforcement have been meeting to discuss a plan to defend citizens' voting rights.
"We have voter protection squads in place to make sure anyone who wants to vote can," a Wisconsin Democrat told me. "We hope the GAB [Government Accountability Board] makes clear, once again, that this is not the way things are done here."
Among the instructions for polls watchers that the GAB is supposed to enforce are rules about staying a certain number of feet away from voters, not looking over ballots, and addressing any concerns to the chief election worker at a polling place--not to voters themselves.
Anyone working for a campaign must identify that affiliation--not claim, as the Romney camp has been telling people, to be just a "concerned citizen."
State officials from both parties recently sat down with representatives from the Department of Justice and the state elections board to plan how to deal with unruly poll watchers, the same source told me.
"The combination of DOJ and law enforcement being involved for the first time with election officials, and all the exposure this is going to get" will help prevent massive voter intimidation, he said. Bad publicity will cause Romney campaign headquarters to rein in its people, he suggested.
Really? You really think Romney is worried about the bad press?
"I sincerely hope so," he said.
A Romney campaign training manual for Wisconsin poll watchers obtained by ThinkProgress on October 30 includes the advice that Romney campaign volunteers conceal their affiliation with the Republican candidate, and identify themselves only as "concerned citizens." It then goes on to provide a long list of wrong information the poll watchers are told to give to voters. These false claims include:
* Any “person [who] has been convicted of treason, a felony, or bribery” isn’t eligible to vote. In fact, convicted felons who have served their time and are not on probation or parole may legally vote in Wisconsin.
* A list of ten specific items, which the manual says, are “The ONLY Acceptable Forms of “Proof of Residency" leaves out many options that are also legal in Wisconsin.
The training manual also instructs poll watchers to tell voters that they must produce photo I.D.--even though Wisconsin's photo I.D. requirement is NOT in effect for the 2012 Presidential election.
As Jane Mayer points out in The New Yorker: In-person voter fraud is almost nonexistent.
And that makes sense, Mayer says, because ferreting out individuals impersonating voters at the polls is kind of like looking for people trying to commit crimes at a police station. They are likely to get caught and almost certain not to affect the outcome of an election.
Effective voter fraud and election theft require more organization--ballot-box stuffing, collusion by election officials--or, perhaps, a nationwide campaign to suppress and intimidate voters.
This last strategy is exactly what the Republican Party is pursuing.
Despite Republican hand-wringing about voter fraud, the Republican National Committee and the company it hired to register voters are the only ones who have been found to be committing fraud in the 2012 election.
The Romney campaign's misinformation campaign for poll watchers in Wisconsin fits a larger pattern.
Earlier this month, an employee of Strategic Allied Consulting was caught allegedly throwing away voter registration forms in Virginia.
Strategic Allied Consulting is a voter-registration firm hired by the RNC for $3 million--and now under investigation for submitting fraudulent registration forms in Florida.
Republican volunteers registering voters in other states have been caught impersonating pollsters--asking people who they'll vote for and then registering only potential Romney voters.
Mayer notes that it was after the huge uptick in voting by African Americans in 2008 that Republicans began aggressively pushing their "anti-fraud" efforts--including voter I.D., purging people from the rolls for typos and other possible wrong information, and otherwise making it hard for people--especially minorities, the poor, and students to vote.
Voter-I.D. hawks Hans von Spakovsky and John Fund of the Heritage Foundation predict that 2012 could end with "four or five Floridas"--making hanging chads look like nothing.
They are ready for the legal fights that could ensue.
Let's hope the defenders of voting rights are, too.
If you liked this article by Ruth Conniff, the political editor of The Progressive, check out her story "Romney and Obama Campaigns Both Claim Wisconsin."
Follow Ruth Conniff @rconniff on Twitter