True the Vote, a conservative Texas organization embraced by many evangelicals, claims its 2020 “Validate the Vote” effort in Georgia was “the most aggressive election integrity operation in American history.” But a lawsuit says the group’s only goal was intimidating and discouraging mainly Black voters who might support Democrats.
True the Vote “filed baseless mass voter challenges, stoked public fears of voter fraud that implicated voters who had been wrongfully challenged, organized surveillance of polling locations, and incentivized vigilante election policing efforts,” says the 2021 suit.
The trial began Oct. 26 and the U.S. Department of Justice has joined the suit in order to defend a section of the U.S. Voting Rights Act, which prohibits voting-related intimidation, threats and coercion. True the Vote’s legal team claims the voting act is an unconstitutional restriction on citizens’ free speech rights.
The trial began as the 2024 election is less than one year away and 70% of Republicans say Joe Biden’s 2020 election victory was illegitimate, in spite of evidence to the contrary.
True the Vote’s claims of electoral fraud were the basis for Dinesh D’Souza’s widely debunked conspiratorial movie 2000 Mules, which claimed human “mules” harvested 400,000 fake ballots to steal the 2020 election from Trump. Both True the Vote and D’Souza are defendants in a separate defamation lawsuit, and True the Vote now denies it was involved in the movie.
True the Vote was founded in 2010 by Catherine Engelbrecht, a conservative Christian who had been active in a local PTA and Tea Party politics. By 2012, the group was raising eyebrows with its tactics in Ohio, where it mapped out locations favored by Black voters and used cameras and other techniques to intimidate voters there.
In 2020, Georgia was a crucial state for Republicans, and attacks against election workers made by Trump, his lawyer Rudy Giuliani, and groups like True the Vote led to harassment and death threats against these workers.
Biden wound up winning the 2020 presidential vote there, and Senate candidates Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock won a 2021 runoff election held one day before Trump supporters attacked the U.S. Capitol in an effort to overturn electoral college results.
Using change-of-address forms, True the Vote falsely claimed 364,541 people who voted in Georgia no longer lived there. Georgia residents whose votes were challenged are among the plaintiffs in the lawsuit.
The group used a variety of tactics in Georgia, including recruiting volunteers to serve as citizen monitors at polling places and offering a $1 million reward for evidence of election fraud.
Georgia’s State Election Board investigated True the Vote’s claims of ballot trafficking, found them wanting, and subpoenaed the group, demanding it provide evidence for its fraud claims. But the board says True the Vote has not complied and “continues to indifferently vacillate between statements of assured compliance and blanket refusals.”
True the Vote claims it cannot provide the requested information without identifying people to whom it had promised confidentiality. In 2022, Engelbrecht and fellow True the Vote executive Gregg Phillips were briefly jailed after refusing to reveal the man’s name.
True the Vote faces other legal challenges.
An IRS watchdog complaint claims Engelbrecht and Phillips used donations for personal gain.
Engelbrecht and Phillips also raised $12.5 million for a Freedom Hospital in Ukraine that never materialized.
And James Bopp Jr., a prominent anti-abortion attorney who has worked with National Right to Life Committee and Focus on the Family, was defending True the Vote in Georgia but left the case, citing nearly $1 million in unpaid legal bills.