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Tea Party Poll-Watchers Set Sights On Latino Community

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VOTO HONESTO
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A Tea Party spinoff group training poll-watchers to either monitor or intimidate voters -- depending on whom you believe -- is now explicitly expanding its reach into Latino communities.

True the Vote, a Houston-based group that says it is training thousands of poll-watchers across the country, recently announced a new "Voto Honesto" initiative.

"People need to know it's a crime if you try to vote when you're not a citizen," said Adryana Boyne, a conservative activist and Latina spokesperson for the Republican Party of Texas. Boyne is leading Voto Honesto -- which means Honest Vote.

"Certainly the Latino community has to be informed that there is voter fraud, too," she said.

Boyne said Voto Honesto will include voter education -- encouraging Latinos to vote -- as well as training poll-watchers to detect voter fraud. "We're not keeping people from voting, we're keeping people from cheating, which is different. And I think that is absolutely right to do," she said.

Boyne was also insistent that the buying and selling of votes -- in exchange for money or other things of value -- is a major problem in certain places. She said this activity "is happening more in the minority community."

As a result, Boyne said she is particularly motivated to remind Latinos that it is a federal crime to accept anything in exchange for a vote.

True the Vote's outreach to the Latino community comes as right-wing groups have come under fire for unsupported rhetoric about voter fraud -- with an emphasis on noncitizens -- to support campaigns for Voter ID and other tactics that some have characterized as voter suppression.

"When you tie it all together, it's all about the illegal alien vote," Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch, said at a recent panel discussion. Fitton has also accused the Obama administration of trying to mobilize "the food stamp army."

At the same panel, True the Vote President Catherine Engelbrecht bristled at charges of racism. "The race card doesn't work anymore. It's not true. There's no there there," she said.

But the fact remains that the suspicions of voter fraud activists tend to focus on two groups: residents of "urban areas" and "illegal aliens."

Critics say those are euphemisms for blacks and Latinos generally, and suspect that poll-watchers from groups like True the Vote will be sent not to white, suburban precincts, but to predominately black and Latino ones, in an effort to intimidate Democratic-leaning voters.

Indeed, in Harris County, Texas, the birthplace of True the Vote and its parent group the King Street Patriots, anecdotal evidence suggests that the group's modus operandi in 2010 was basically to send white poll-watchers to black precincts.

Camila Gallardo, a spokeswoman for the National Council of La Raza, a Hispanic civil rights group, said she thinks Boyne's concerns about vote-buying in the Latino community are unfounded -- and odd.

"I don't know what to say, because honestly I've never heard of that happening," she said.

"What we're more concerned about are tactics that are being used in the guise of voter fraud to keep Latino voters from the polls," she said.

Gallardo also said no one is vying for the non-citizen vote. "Nobody benefits from having folks who are not eligible to vote vote," she said. "Eventually these things come out."

"When you blow these things out of proportion, indirectly what you're doing is you're turning people off from voting," Gallardo said.

Judith Browne Dianis, co-director of the Advancement Project, a multiracial civil rights group, accused True the Vote of "upping the ante on their program of voter suppression" with the new Latino outreach.

"We're concerned that True the Vote is not about election integrity but instead is about intimidation, and instead of empowering voters, they will be attempting to scare voters," she said. "We don't need citizen vigilantes at the polls."

Polling places could become battlegrounds on election day, as labor unions, civil rights groups, the Justice Department and other groups protecting the right to vote will be amply represented as well.

"Another citizen challenging your right to vote is just on the face of it intimidating," Dianis said. "It's intimidating to have someone that you don't know coming up to you and saying that either you're not who you are, or that you have moved."

The fear of noncitizens voting is unfounded, Dianis said. "There are laws against people who are not citizens voting. It could result in fines and deportation. People who are not citizens live in the shadows of our country. They are fearful of deportation every day. So to make up a story about them wanting to vote is ridiculous."

Dianis said the situation recalls another voter issue from the past. Groups of white people telling people of color they are not eligible to vote, she said, "brings us back four decades."

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