Even in a campaign season defined by unconventional candidates, unpredictable outside groups and an unexpectedly large playing field, there is still plenty of opportunity for Election Day drama.
The tea party movement is dispatching thousands of political novices to monitor voting places today, Connecticut wrestling fans may be forced to shed branded clothing to vote, Alaska will feature the most important spelling bee in state history and widespread accusations of voter intimidation and voting fraud are likely.
“In some respects this reminds me of 2006, when there was just a lot of weird stuff going on,” said Jon Greenbaum, legal director for the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.
The group is among the many “election protection” organizations that will pay particular attention to tea party spin-offs that have offered cash rewards for proof of voter fraud. Group members are also concerned about reported plans to photograph voters in some cases and an effort to push Minnesota poll workers to check voters’ identification even though state law has no such requirement.
“We’re sort of seeing the wildcard effect,” Greenbaum said of tea party activists. “You’ve got this different element, a new element in the political process. Sometimes they don’t know what the rules are. And sometimes, even when they do, they’re more willing to disregard them.”
Many tea party organizations have aggressive plans for election monitoring.
“We want them to be as active and influential as the law allows,” said Levi Russell, spokesman for the Tea Party Express, which has encouraged thousands of supporters to attend voting places.
The Tea Party Express leadership will also celebrate election returns in the same Las Vegas hotel as the group’s top target, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D).
“It’s going to be a little untraditional to say the least,” Russell said of sharing space with the Senator. “We’re going to have the Tea Party Express bus parked right out front.”
In Harris County, Texas, a group called King Street Patriots has made national headlines already by unearthing multiple examples of possible voter fraud during early voting.
“We have trained enough volunteers to fill 1,000 volunteer spots in the general election” in Harris County, said President Catherine Engelbrecht, who owns a local machine shop with her husband. “We feel like the training that they’ve received through the county has put them in good stead with the letter of the law, and we look forward to the election.”
She said the group has detected “repeated instances of poll workers who suggest that voters vote a straight Democratic ticket. ... It’s resulted in hundreds of incident reports being filed,” she said.
The King Street Patriots have also helped train roughly 600 tea party leaders in 45 other states, according to Engelbrecht.
Those include volunteers in Alaska, where tea party favorite Joe Miller is fighting back an aggressive write-in campaign from Sen. Lisa Murkowski, whom he defeated in the GOP primary.