True the Vote

Nothing To See Here: The Alternate Reality Of Voter-Suppression Advocates

It’s been a rough few days for voter-ID proponents. On Thursday, the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office came out with a report showing that restrictive photo-ID measures had depressed turnout in Tennessee and Kansas, especially among young people and African Americans. The same day, the Supreme Court blocked the implementation of a photo-ID law in Wisconsin that voting rights advocates said there was not enough time to implement before the election and a federal judge in Texas struck down that state’s restrictive law, citing its impact on minority voters and calling it an “unconstitutional poll tax.”

Then, the next day, renowned conservative 7th Circuit judge Richard Posner requested a full-court rehearing of the challenge to Wisconsin’s law, in the process offering a blistering takedown of the voter-ID crowd’s arguments. "There is only one motivation for imposing burdens on voting that are ostensibly designed to discourage voter-impersonation fraud, and that is to discourage voting by persons likely to vote against the party responsible for imposing the burdens,” he wrote. He added a special dig at the advocacy group True the Vote, calling some of their supposed evidence of voter-impersonation fraud “goofy” and “paranoid.”

Then, just today, University of Delaware researchers came out with a study showing that support for voter ID laws among whites jumps when they are shown a picture of a black person voting.

All of which made a Heritage Foundation panel today called “Keeping Elections Honest” seem like it was taking place in an alternate reality, one in which the extremely rare voter-impersonation fraud is in fact rampant and in which laws making it more difficult to vote do not have negative effects.

The Heritage discussion featured some of the nation’s top proponents of voter suppression measures, including Heritage’s Hans von Spakovsky, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach (the brains behind anti-immigrant and voter suppression measures around the country), Kobach’s Colorado counterpart Scott Gessler and True the Vote’s Catherine Engelbrecht.

Kobach spent part of his presentation attempting to refute the GAO study, but the court rulings went mostly unmentioned.

This alternate reality was perhaps most stark when, during a question-and-answer session, a reporter asked Kobach about the two-tiered voting system he’s instituted in Kansas for the coming election. Kobach and Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett are in the process of suing the Election Assistance Commission to include a more restrictive “proof of citizenship” requirement on the federal voter registration forms it uses in those two states. In the meantime, Kansas and Arizona are allowing people who register using the federal form without providing additional documentation to vote…but only in federal elections. (Votes those people cast in state-level elections won’t be counted.)

About 1,500 Arizonans and 200 Kansans were put in this special federal-only voting tier in the primary.

Kobach, far from seeming concerned about this state of affairs, proudly reported that of the 200 Kansans to whom he gave special limited voting rights, only one bothered to show up at the polls.

In the primary on August 5, we had fewer than 200 total voters in the state who had registered using the federal form and had not provided photo ID. Using that number, we then created a sort of federal-elections-only voter roll, if you will, so a roll in addition to the main voter roll. And it didn’t include all of the 105 counties, it included a minority of the counties. And then those people, when they showed up, they were to be given a provisional ballot and told that they would be — actually it would occur on the back end, even if the poll worker didn’t know that that’s why they were being given a provisional ballot, the county canvas would count only the federal elections on the ballot.

So anyway, to answer your question, we are going to be doing a count, a final count – our registration actually closes today, this is the final day to register in Kansas – as soon as it closes, we’ll have a final count. My guess is it probably will be in the range of maybe 300-400, we’ll know soon what that number is, for the whole state. And by the way, of those fewer than 200 people— if memory serves, it was like 186 or something like that — only one actually showed up to vote out of that entire number. So, we’ll see what the number is. So the numbers are actually pretty small and pretty manageable right now and we’re hopeful that we’ll get a decision that will be a favorable one and then we won’t have to maintain a separate, federal-elections-only list.

At no point in the discussion did anyone mention the thousands of Kansans who currently have no right to vote in any kind of election because they haven’t been able to produce one of the few kinds of citizenship documentation required by the new state voter registration form.

True The Vote Proves What’s Wrong With Its Voter ID Obsession

True the Vote is one of the most influential groups working to make it harder to vote by pushing for restrictive voter ID laws and launching challenges against people it thinks might be ineligible to vote, tactics which are supposedly directed at preventing voter impersonation fraud and double voting — crimes that in reality are exceedingly rare.

In order to cover up the fact that voter ID laws keep many times more people from the polls than the miniscule number of voter impersonation cases that they might prevent, groups like TTV try to conflate in-person voter fraud — the only thing actually targeted by voter ID laws — with faulty voter registration and with rare but persistent kinds of small-scale voter fraud by elected officials that they have no intention of actually combating.

A great example of this happened yesterday, when TTV reprinted a short blog post by former Bush Justice Department official and conservative activist J. Christian Adams linking to a story about “Three PA Elected Officials Charged With Voter Fraud.”

Adams offers his commentary, implying that this story proves that the numerous studies discrediting the voter ID push are just wrong:

I am curious to see if this barely reported case of voter fraud ever makes it onto one of the ‘academic’ studies purporting to demonstrate very little voter fraud. Those studies are characterized by false negatives.

A quick look at the story in question, however, shows that what happened in Pennsylvania has nothing to do with voter ID or any so-called “voter integrity” laws that Adams and TTV are promoting.

Pennsylvania requires that people requesting an absentee ballot provide a reason, which can be “illness or physical disability” that makes the voter “unable to attend his/her polling place or to operate a voting machine.” Those voters must also provide a copy of their photo ID.

The case that Adams and TTV are touting is that of three township supervisors who were charged with violating election laws in 2011, two for helping 13 elderly voters to apply for and fill out absentee ballots , despite the fact that all were physically able to go to the polls on Election Day and were thus ineligible to obtain absentee ballots in Pennsylvania. One of the supervisors is charged with helping an eligible absentee voter fill out a ballot but failing to report that he had assisted the voter.

None of this would have been prevented by a voter ID requirement. Instead, this is an instance of, at best, a misunderstanding and at worst, public officials using their insider influence to tinker with ballots.

If it’s the latter, all sorts of laws are currently on the books to prevent such instances of election fraud. But it is not something that so-called “voter integrity” activists have shown any interest in addressing, perhaps because it’s already against the law and policed. As the Brennan Center wrote in a 2007 report, such conduct “has been an issue since Senators wore togas” and is a completely separate issue from the kind of supposed fraud that groups like True The Vote claim to be fixing with suppressive voting restrictions.

It is extremely rare for individuals to vote multiple times, vote as someone else, or vote despite knowing that they are ineligible. These rare occurrences, however, are often conflated with other forms of election irregularities or misconduct, under the misleading and overbroad label of “voter fraud.” Some of these other irregularities result from honest mistakes by election officials or voters, such as confusion as to whether a particular person is actually eligible to vote. Some irregularities result from technological glitches, whether sinister or benign: for example, voting machines may record inaccurate tallies. And some involve fraud or intentional misconduct perpetrated by actors other than individual voters: for example, flyers may spread misinformation about the proper locations or procedures for voting; thugs may be dispatched to intimidate voters at the polls; missing ballot boxes may mysteriously reappear. These more common forms of misconduct are simply not addressed by the supposed “anti-fraud” measures generally proposed.

How Catherine Engelbrecht Got Greg Abbott To Shut Down A Houston Voter Registration Drive

This weekend, the Dallas Morning News ran a long investigative piece exposing for the first time an armed raid that state Attorney General Greg Abbott's office ordered on a Houston voter registration operation, Houston Votes, back in 2010. The aftermath played out like ACORN in miniature: Despite the fact that nobody at Houston Votes was charged with any wrongdoing, the organization folded under the pressure of Abbott’s investigation.

The story provides an interesting look at the mechanics of the GOP’s obsessive search for certain types of extraordinarily rare voter fraud in order to justify extreme measures making it harder to cast a ballot. And it also stars two people who have since become familiar names in the national effort to make it more difficult to vote: Abbott, who is now the GOP nominee for governor of Texas, and Catherine Engelbrecht, who now runs the national group True the Vote, but who got her start running a Texas Tea Party group called King Street Patriots.

The raid on Houston Votes was part of a larger campaign by Abbott to uncover what he calls an “epidemic” of voter fraud, in an apparent effort to build support for a restrictive Voter ID law in Texas. Abbott’s campaign hasn’t exactly been a success: According to MSNBC’s Zach Roth, “over the 13 years of Abbott’s tenure, his office can only cite two fraudulent votes that might have been stopped by the ID law.” In the meantime, Abbott’s effort has resulted in some strangely zealous prosecutions, including those of a group of Tea Party activists who tried to cast protest votes in a resident-less utility district.

Dallas Morning News reporter James Drew explains how a racially charged speech by Engelbrecht led to Abbot’s investigation of and raid on Houston Votes:

On an overcast Monday afternoon, officers in bulletproof vests swept into a house on Houston’s north side. The armed deputies and agents served a search warrant. They carted away computers, hard drives and documents.

The raid targeted a voter registration group called Houston Votes, which was accused of election fraud. It was initiated by investigators for Attorney General Greg Abbott. His aides say he is duty-bound to preserve the integrity of the ballot box.

His critics, however, say that what Abbott has really sought to preserve is the power of the Republican Party in Texas. They accuse him of political partisanship, targeting key Democratic voting blocs, especially minorities and the poor, in ways that make it harder for them to vote, or for their votes to count.

A close examination of the Houston Votes case reveals the consequences when an elected official pursues hotly contested allegations of election fraud.

The investigation was closed one year after the raid, with no charges filed. But for Houston Votes, the damage was done. Its funding dried up, and its efforts to register more low-income voters ended. Its records and office equipment never were returned. Instead, under a 2013 court order obtained by Abbott’s office, they were destroyed.

Fred Lewis formed Texans Together in 2006.

The nonprofit community organizing group used volunteers to register voters in 2008 under the name Houston Votes. It registered only about 6,000 people that year.

For the next big election, in 2010, Lewis wanted to register 100,000 new voters in Harris County. He knew he couldn’t hit that number with volunteers. Houston Votes decided to use paid workers.

By that summer, Houston Votes had come to the attention of the King Street Patriots, a Houston-based tea party group. At the group’s regular meeting in Houston, its leader, Catherine Engelbrecht, talked about the New Black Panther Party. She then played a Fox news clip of an unidentified black man saying: “We have to exterminate white people off the face of the planet.”

The clip was 5 years old. It came from a forum in Washington about media coverage of Hurricane Katrina. But after the clip ended, Engelbrecht showed a picture of a house in Houston. She said it was the office of the New Black Panthers, at Main and Dowling streets.

Dowling Street is infamous for a 1970 gun battle between police officers and African-American militants, one of whom was killed.

“Houston has a new neighbor,” Engelbrecht said. She added that a person outside the house appeared to be an employee of Houston Votes.

The house shown on the screen was the office of Houston Votes. It had nothing to do with the New Black Panther Party. And it was about 9 miles from Dowling Street.

Two weeks later, the King Street Patriots held another meeting. Paul Bettencourt, the former Harris County tax assessor-collector, was a guest speaker.

He said Houston Votes was worse at registering voters than ACORN, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now. Dozens of ACORN employees across the nation were convicted of voter registration fraud.

The next day, Bettencourt’s successor as tax assessor-collector, fellow Republican Leo Vasquez, held a news conference.

“The integrity of the voter roll of Harris County, Texas, appears to be under an organized and systematic attack by the group operating under the name ‘Houston Votes,’” he said.

Houston Votes had submitted about 25,000 voter registration applications. Vasquez said many were duplicates, or already registered. Only 7,193 were “apparently new voters,” he said.

Houston Votes later pointed to public records showing that at the time of the news conference, about 21,000 of the 25,000 who applied to register were already validated by the county and pending final approval by the secretary of state. Among those 21,000, the state had already given final approval to 7,193.

Vasquez announced he was referring the matter for “investigation and possible prosecution” to the Texas secretary of state and the Harris County district attorney.

The secretary of state, who advises local election officials on election laws, forwarded Vasquez’s information to the attorney general’s office on Sept. 14, 2010.

Abbott’s office opened a criminal investigation soon after.

True The Vote Claims Voting Rights Act Encourages 'Race-Based Segregation'

In a fundraising email today, the voter-fraud mavens at True the Vote claim that a proposed bipartisan update to the Voting Rights Act is in fact a “move toward race-based segregation” that would “exclude millions of Americans from the full protection of the law — based solely on the color of their skin" and “turn our elections over to Eric Holder and Barack Obama.”

The Voting Rights Amendment Act is a bipartisan bill that would replace the formula that determines which areas are subject to Justice Department preclearance for changes in their voting laws. The previous formula was struck down by the Supreme Court last year, although the rest of the law remained.

The proposed formula, like its predecessor, would require states and counties with a history of voting restrictions targeting minority voters to obtain preclearance from the Justice Department before changing their voting laws. The preclearance provision, enacted to stop rampant Jim-Crow-era racial discrimination at the polls has for decades helped stem attempts to disenfranchise minority voters.

But according to True the Vote founder Catherine Engelbrecht, the very fact that the Voting Rights Act and the proposed coverage update are meant to stop racial discrimination at the polls means that they are the product of “race baiters” who want to “divide voters into color blocks for partisan gain” and “move toward race-based segregation.”

I'm sending you this message on the most urgent of topics!

Congress is considering a bill that could ultimately turn our elections over to Eric Holder and Barack Obama.

The bill is HR 3899. Bill sponsors have named it the Voting Rights Amendment Act, but we’re calling it what it really is- the Voting Rights Segregation Act. If it is not stopped, HR 3899 will fundamentally and intentionally change American elections into race-reliant battlefields where, for the first time in our history, the United States would EXCLUDE millions of Americans from the full protection of the law – based solely on the color of their skin.

HR 3899 also targets five states that will immediately be put under the authority of Holder’s Dept of Justice, requiring that they pre-clear election activities with Holder’s DOJ, effective immediately upon passage of the bill! The currently targeted states are Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Georgia and North Carolina. The Bill also gives Eric Holder the exclusive right to target other states for any reason he sees fit, including the passage and implementation of photo Voter ID laws.

This Country has gone through too much and come too far to now watch silently as the professional race baiters in Congress, like Reps. Jim Sensenbrenner and Sheila Jackson Lee, divide voters into color blocks for partisan gain.

Will you please help support True the Vote's effort to kill this terrible race based bill?

Earlier this week True the Vote led a group of pro-liberty election integrity organizations in requesting GOP House Majority Leader Eric Cantor to meet with our organizations to discuss the reasons this bill is an ill advised move toward race-based segregation. Last night, Cantor's constituents let him know what they thought of his position on HR 3899- by voting him out of office. But make no mistake, the battle for HR 3899 is far from won.

True The Vote Misreads Poll To Claim 20 Percent Of Americans Want To Let Non-Citizens Vote

A leader of voter suppression group True The Vote apparently believes that a significant percentage of Americans want non-citizens to be able to vote in U.S. federal elections.

On yesterday’s True The Vote conference call, which featured Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach and the Heritage Foundation’s Hans Von Spakovsky, True The Vote executive director Jennifer Wright claimed that over 20 percent of Americans want non-citizens to be given voting rights.

Discussing Kobach’s new law in Kansas, which requires people registering to vote to present a birth certificate or similar documentation of citizenship, Wright warned there is a growing push to let non-citizens vote in national elections: “I wonder about those citizens who think that non-citizens should be able to vote. Because I don’t think anyone would argue that we should be able to vote [or] that I should be able to vote in an election in Mexico even though I live in a border state.”

She cited polls “showing that over 70, 78, 80-plus percent of people throughout the United States agree that you should be a citizen to vote.” She appears to be referring to a recent poll from the conservative Rassmussen, which found that 78 percent of respondents agreed that voters should be required to prove their citizenship before registering. It asked no questions about whether or not non-citizens should be allowed to vote.

Of course, the current federal voter registration form does require proof of citizenship in the form of a sworn statement under penalty of perjury. Kansas’ law requires extra proof in the form of a birth certificate or naturalization document, an administrative hurdle that has left the voting rights of tens of thousands of Kansans in limbo .

But in the paranoid universe of True The Vote, people who oppose voter suppression laws actually want foreign nationals to be able to cast votes in American federa; elections, using the federal voter registration form as a “work-around around the proof of citizenship.”

I originally hail from Arizona myself, so I am familiar with how this ruling came down through Arizona and the concerns we had in our state that this federal form would then be a work-around around the proof of citizenship. So to be able to have it now spelled out in black and white, and I think quite confidently it will remain so, is a boon for election integrity.

Because, obviously, the studies are out there showing that over 70, 78, 80-plus percent of people throughout the United States agree that you should be a citizen to vote. I wonder about those citizens who think that non-citizens should be able to vote. Because I don’t think anyone would argue that we should be able to vote, that I should be able to vote in an election in Mexico even though I live in a border state, or whatever arguments we may have.

Kris Kobach Inadvertently Explains What's Wrong With Kansas' Strict Voter ID Law

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, following a federal court ruling upholding his strict requirement that people registering to vote must present a birth certificate or comparable proof of citizenship, is now hoping to peddle the law to other states. But in a conference call last night hosted by the group True The Vote, which was founded to support voter suppression laws, Kobach inadvertently explained what is so wrong with his policy, which has left 16,000 Kansans with their voter registrations suspended.

Kobach told True The Vote that he hoped that other states with voter ID laws would adopt his stricter version, and said that he had already discussed the possibility with Mississippi Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann. He also promised to put a generic version of the law on his personal website for activists to present to their own state legislators.

But while defending the law, Kobach made an argument that in fact illustrates what an extraordinary hurdle it may present to some voters.

“We really gave people lots of options” to prove their citizenship, Kobach boasted. He noted that there was even a “special process” for people who don’t have their birth certificate: “We created a process for that person to go before the state elections board and provide affidavit evidence and other evidence to show that they’re a US citizen. And that process has only been used twice.”

Yes, out of 16,000 people who have yet to provide the state with citizenship documentation, just two people without the proper documents have made it through the new bureaucratic hurdles to prove that they are citizens....which Kobach somehow sees as a great victory.

Later in the call, Kobach speculated that voter suppression laws helped increase the turnout in the 2012 elections because the people who are targeted by such laws actually love them. He said that he had talked to a counterpart in a southern state who told him of counties with high minority populations “where election fraud is so ingrained in the experience of voters…so when voter ID came along they had hope.”

“He believes it was the hope of a fairer election among some minority communities that had experienced fraudulent elections that drives the higher turnout,” Kobach said.

In fact, many elections experts say that high turnout among African-American voters in 2012 was driven in part by a backlash to voter suppression laws, not support for them.

Engelbrecht: Obama 'Machine' Makes 'Watergate Look Like A Stubbed Toe'

True the Vote founder Catherine Engelbrecht, who believes that she has been “targeted because of my political beliefs” by the IRS, told Frank Gaffney yesterday that she President Obama should be impeached because his “political machine” makes “Watergate seem like a stubbed toe.”

In 2012, Engelbrecht’s group challenged the voter registrations of people it believed it was committing fraud – most of its claims were filed in heavily black and Latino districts, and many were frivolous.

Speaking with Gaffney on Secure Freedom Radio, Engelbrecht claimed that she was being targeted by “a political machine that is used to teach citizens to be the subjects and that we are best to stay in line.” The ultimate goal, she warned, “is for the establishment of a permanent political class separate from we the people.”

Engelbrecht: The bottom line, I think, is that we have entered a time where the government is no longer a body of the people, it is a political machine that is used to teach citizens to be the subjects and that we are best to stay in line because the power bases and the machines that they support don’t have any intention of going anywhere. We are entering a time where if we allow ourselves to forget why we believe what we believe, it will be wiped clean from our memories. And that’s a heady statement, but it is true. It is true. That is the longer play, is for the establishment of a permanent political class separate and apart from we the people.

Gaffney: Is this now in your judgment, this pattern of behavior, of misconduct and selective enforcement of the law and other abuses of our constitutional procedure, prize you to the point where at the minimum we should see the government’s purse strings pulled and perhaps high crimes and misdemeanors considered by the Congress?

Engelbrecht: Absolutely. I’m not sure at what point we wake up. It is happening right before our eyes, things that make Watergate seem like a stubbed toe and yet, it rolls on.

 

Gaffney: Childsplay.

Conservative Latinos Slam Anti-Immigrant Voices at Ralph Reed Conference

The immigration divide evident from the opening hours of the Faith and Freedom Coalition’s “Road to Majority” conference became even more stark as the conference went on.  During a Friday afternoon breakout session on outreach to minorities, called “The True Rainbow Coalition: Building an Organization in Minority Faith Communities,” Hispanic conservatives went after Phyllis Schlafly, Eagle Forum, and other speakers who had trashed the immigration reform bill during the morning session.

Panelist Adryana Boyne, director of VOCES Action who is also promoting Voto Honesto, a Hispanic-focused initiative of voter ID-advocating True the Vote, warned that without the Hispanic vote, conservatives will never win another election. Boyne said that conservative Latinos are angered by the kind of rhetoric she was hearing at the conference. “We understand how to reach minorities,” she said. “When we hear people saying that we do not need the minority vote, we just need the white vote, we get outraged….”

Boyne said she understands people’s frustration with the RNC, though she gave party leaders some credit for trying to engage Latinos. But she said those efforts are stymied by other conservatives. “People like us that are building bridges – that’s what I do every day – get really very upset when somebody else burns the bridge that I just built, like just happened today, here.”

She also noted the racist online responses to the 11-year old Mexican-American who sang the national anthem to open game 3 of the NBA finals. When a questioner suggested that maybe those posts were planted by liberals to try to make conservatives look bad, Boyne rejected the effort to deflect blame for conservatives’ problems with Latinos onto liberals. “Let me just be clear with you,” she said, “We are talking about Republicans. We are talking about the speakers who came here today, Faith & Freedom, to speak, and who we disagree with.”

Another panelist, businessman Alfredo Ortiz, Director of Hispanic Initiatives for the Job Creators Network, agreed with Boyne that there is a problem with Republicans, including party leaders, senators, and representatives, who go on Fox and use anti-immigrant rhetoric. It’s about winning the war, not the battles, he said. And unless conservatives abandon anti-immigrant rhetoric, they will lose the war.  He described the turnout for the minority outreach session as “a pretty pathetic showing.”

As if to confirm the problem Boyne and Ortiz identified, Donald Trump, the keynoter at Friday night’s gala dinner, talked about undocumented immigrants as “those people” and said Republicans supporting the reform bill had a “death wish” because “every one of those people, and the tens of millions of people that they will bring in with them, through family, through relationship, through birth, they will be absolutely voting Democratic.”

The back-and-forth continued on Saturday. Two Hispanic speakers, John Mendez of the LIBRE initiative and Rachel Campos Duffy, argued that Hispanics share conservatives’ values and could help build a majority if conservatives invested in community organizing and outreach. On an all-white-guys panel on conservatism and changing demographics, right-wing journalist John Fund echoed the call for conservatives to build bridges in minority communities by organizing businesses and churches to provide needed services.

But the final word went to closing speaker Sarah Palin, who spoke of the bipartisan immigration reform bill moving through the Senate in the most dismissive terms: “And let’s not kid ourselves into believing that we can rebuild our majority, by the way, by passing a pandering, rewarding-the-rule-breakers, still-no-border-security, special-interest-written amnesty bill.”

The Right to Vote Under Attack, 2012 Update

Here we detail, as of October 6, 2012, except where otherwise noted, the latest efforts across the country to suppress the vote, as well as some encouraging successes in expanding the franchise.
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