Election 2012: True the Vote volunteers versus "voting heroes" in poll-watching smackdown?

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Big photos below.
Throughout Colorado today, hundreds of poll watchers will be monitoring activity to ensure that there is no law-breaking or fraud. But they won't be the only volunteers at election sites. Hundreds more will also be dispatched throughout the state with the central mission of protecting voter's rights. And part of that effort, they say, is watching the poll watchers to make sure no one is being harassed or unfairly intimidated. Think West Side Story.

Last week, we reported on training by True the Vote, a controversial national organization dedicated to preventing voter fraud on election day. Voter rights groups critical of True the Vote worry that today, the organization will embark on a witch hunt across swing states to find nonexistent instances of fraud in efforts that will only scare legal voters at the polls. Some of those tactics, Colorado Common Cause told us last week, could be against the law.

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Sam Levin
Inside the Denver GOP office.
True the Vote training documents for poll watchers have all sorts of misinformation, from incorrect ID requirements to false guidelines around the kind of assistance disabled or non-English voters can get in the voting booths, according to Common Cause.

It's not clear, however, what kind of physical presence True the Vote will actually have in Colorado, if any. The organization has not returned numerous phone calls, but last week, we reached a representative from a group called Colorado Voter Protection, which is using True the Vote training tools and is helping organize poll-watching volunteers across the state. And the chair of Denver's Republican Party recently told us that the GOP in Denver has been working with True the Vote materials in its trainings.

Jeff Kelly, the founder of Colorado Voter Protection -- which Common Cause also criticized in a recent letter it sent to state officials -- sees all the negative press around True the Vote as completely unwarranted. From his perspective, he said, it seems like all these different groups essentially have the same goal of ensuring fair elections.

He told us that his organization, which he founded over the summer as a nonprofit, has helped train more than 500 volunteers to do poll watching on election day. He says the group will be staffing all the polls in Douglas, Arapahoe, Adams, Broomfield and Larimer counties, with a possible presence in Denver and Boulder as well.

"There's this misunderstanding that people are trying to intimidate voters," he said in response to the critics of True the Vote. "We don't even approach the voters."

He said his whole effort is about getting citizens involved in the process.

"I've seen the press. I don't understand it," he said. "If they just took the training once, they'd understand that this isn't political at all. This is strictly civic."

He said he has had a mix of volunteers with different party affiliations sign up to help out and monitor polls.

Last week, after we sent him the letter from Common Cause, he also told us he appreciated the feedback, though not the tone, and passed it along to volunteers.

There are many different goals of poll watching, he explained, including ensuring there is no electioneering -- which is basically wearing campaign gear into the polls. The volunteers also look to make sure there's no intimidation, such as a large group of supporters for one candidate blocking the path into the polls. And they also make sure the election staffers on site are doing their job of checking that voters have proper IDs.

"I just don't understand why anybody would care if the citizens were involved in the elections," he said.

Continue for details on the "voting heroes" dedicated to protecting voters' rights and stopping intimidation.



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