If you're concerned about voter fraud in North Carolina, chances are you're white, retired and have a lot of free time, like the 70 or so people who recently attended the Voter Integrity Project boot camp at the Country Inn and Suites hotel in Morrisville.
Armed with fear and free T-shirts, participants learned how to spot fraud, challenge voters and use Twitter.
VIP founder Jay DeLancy and researcher John Pizzo presented dubious anecdotes of voter fraud in North Carolina, evidence of which remains uncorroborated by the State Board of Elections. According to VIP, not only black people are guilty of voter fraud. Felons, foreigners and fictional people are voting in record numbers, as well as multiple voters, the "mentally incompetent" and those impersonating the dead.
Yet earlier this year, the Wake County Board of Elections rejected all 550 voter challenges brought by DeLancy, including 18 that had risen to the level of investigation.
At the boot camp, DeLancy ducked under legal cover. He emphasized that targeting potential voter fraud, based on arbitrary factors such as race and ethnicity, is illegal. "If you're going on intuition," DeLancy said, "you will have to prove you're not racist."
A 30-year-old consent decree bars the Republican National Committee from such tactics after it was accused of violating the Voting Rights Act with its "ballot security" efforts. Earlier this year RNC lawyers appealed to the Supreme Court to overturn the decree, but the justices rejected it.
"I can't be Republican and do what I'm doing," DeLancy said.
While VIP denies it is affiliated with the tea party—DeLancy called his organization "transpartisan"—it does acknowledge getting its inspiration from True the Vote, a project of a Houston, Texas, tea party chapter.
According to N.C. Secretary of State records, the Voter Integrity Project is a corporation, not a nonprofit. This makes it difficult to trace its finances. Nonprofits have to file publicly available tax statements, disclosing their activities, board of directors and staff compensation. Privately held corporations such as VIP, do not.
Some nonprofits are also prohibited from political activity and lobbying.
However, VIP has operated under the guise of a nonprofit. Last year, Rachel Maddow outed the group for pretending to be a nonpartisan nonprofit on its website. Since then, the group has removed any reference to having a nonprofit status, saying on its website: "We made a financial decision not to invest in the legal expenses it would require in order for us to obtain tax-exempt status."
It's more likely that VIP doesn't want to subject itself to the transparency requirements of a nonprofit, because it's not expensive to set one up. According to the N.C. Center for Nonprofits, for groups with an annual budget of at least $10,000, it costs $60 to establish a 501 c3 with the state, plus an $850 filing fee to the IRS. If the budget is less than $10,000, the IRS fee is $400. There could be attorney's fees associated with the filing.
While the most onerous parts of North Carolina's new voting laws don't go into effect this election, it's possible that VIP members will try to challenge people at the polls.
"We have a real problem and it's not going away with voter ID," said Mark Stolman, Morrisville City Council member and mayoral candidate who stopped by the event.
They can fill out an official Board of Elections challenge form. They may try to sniff out if voters are registered at empty houses and send mail to addresses they find suspicious and see what comes back.
The most important skills VIP boot camp covered Saturday? Don't target black neighborhoods. And avoid getting sued.
This article appeared in print with the headline "You know the drill."