STEVE INSKEEP, Host:
NPR's Pam Fessler reports.
PAM FESSLER: Unidentified Man: Vinnie here with an important message for any of you's thinking about cheating in this November's election. Forget about it. You see, there's this new group called ElectionIntegrityWatch.com...
(SOUNDBITE OF AD)
FESSLER: And, the ad goes on to warn, the group's been training thousands of citizens to set up surveillance teams outside polling places to look for voter fraud. It's even offering a $500 reward for information leading to convictions.
DAN MCGRATH: We're just concerned about the integrity in our election process.
FESSLER: Dan McGrath is executive director of Minnesota Majority, a conservative watchdog group that alleges that past elections in the state have been marred by fraudulent votes.
MCGRATH: We want to know that our vote counts, fairly, and that someone else's ineligible vote isn't diluting it.
FESSLER: In Houston, a group called the King Street Patriots has launched a ballot- integrity campaign called True the Vote, which has already led to allegations of intimidation during early voting.
WENDY WEISER: We are seeing trainings cropping up in states across the country of ordinary citizens to challenge voters, to serve as poll watchers.
FESSLER: Wendy Weiser is with the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law School, which is monitoring the efforts.
WEISER: We're seeing calls for people to go to the polls and look out for voter fraud, and we're seeing it to a degree that we haven't seen in years.
FESSLER: Still, the issue has become a political flashpoint, especially when elections are tight. And Weiser says she's concerned that many of this year's efforts are led by ad hoc citizens groups that might be unfamiliar with laws intended to protect legitimate voters.
WEISER: Then it makes it harder to monitor and to reign in ballot security operations that go awry.
FESSLER: And that's exactly what Democrats say they are trying to do in Harris County, Texas, where Houston is located. They filed a suit against the King Street Patriots, alleging that theirs is really a Republican-backed effort to suppress the Democratic vote. Chad Dunn, general counsel for the Texas Democratic Party, says the most aggressive poll-watching in early voting has been at African-American and Latino precincts, which lean Democratic.
CHAD DUNN: These poll watchers would follow a voter after they were checked in, hover behind them, try to look over their shoulder as they're voting. Sometimes misinformation was being provided to voters in terms of how they could vote or where they could vote.
FESSLER: Kelly Shackelford is president of the Liberty Institute, a legal group defending the King Street Patriots. He says if there's any intimidating going on, it's against those who are trying to keep elections honest.
KELLY SHACKELFORD: These are citizens who just wanted to get involved and things like poll watching and turning in information on voter registration rolls should be fairly unremarkable. I think the thing that is remarkable is that they're coming under attack because some people don't like that they're actually getting involved.
FESSLER: Pam Fessler, NPR News.
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