Tens of thousands of volunteer poll watchers—self-appointed election vigilantes from both parties and from independent groups—have planted themselves in voting precincts across the country today to look over the shoulders of harried election officials and ensure that votes for their candidates get counted. The Romney campaign’s effort, dubbed Project ORCA, features something unusual: a smartphone app with a “voter fraud” button that poll watchers can use to instantly alert a squad of campaign lawyers stationed at the Boston Convention Center.
Ryan Williams, a Romney spokesman, says many of the campaign’s 34,000 volunteers watching over polls in hotly contested states have the app. They’re instructed not to talk to voters, says Williams, but looking over a poll worker’s shoulder to see who’s been checked off the voter list is O.K. The poll watchers are also checking whether voting machines work. If they suspect trouble of any kind (such as someone trying to vote twice), they hit the “voter fraud” button. That dials Boston, where lawyers will decide whether to file a lawsuit.
Voter fraud is rare. According to Jane Mayer at the New Yorker, there have been only seven convictions for fraud by impersonation since 2000. Democrats see the GOP’s measures as an effort to suppress voting, not protect it. In a memo circulated last week, Robert Bauer, general counsel to the Obama campaign, used blunt language to describe the GOP strategy: “Either directly, through its vendors, or in close association with allied organizations, the Republicans are attempting to disrupt the electoral process and create obstacles to the fair and effective exercise of the right to vote. All of this is done in the name of investigating and combating ‘fraud.’”
The Romney campaign isn’t just using its ORCA app to alert Boston to funny business, though. They’re also using it to see if someone on their list hasn’t voted yet. Those who haven’t turned out might get a call at home. Or the campaign could dispatch a surrogate to a local radio station to ask for votes.