Catherine Engelbrecht

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.

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.

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.

Schlafly and Allies Prepare to Blame Election Loss on Voter Fraud

Leading up to what promises to be a very close presidential election, the Right has been working hard to lay the groundwork for blaming an Obama victory on “voter fraud.” The same strategy worked wonders last time around, when, one year after President Obama’s decisive victory a full half of Republicans believed that the community organizing group ACORN had stolen the election. In-person voter fraud, as John McCain strategist Steve Schmidt admitted today, is a convenient part of “the mythology now in the Republican Party,” one that as Josh noted earlier has helped to fuel decades of voter suppression measures.

At an Eagle Forum conference in September – attended by Todd Akin, among others – two speakers addressed the issue of voter fraud: Catherine Engelbrecht, whose group True the Vote has been challenging registered voters across the country, and John Fund, a conservative columnist and author of a recent book on the issue.

Fund claimed that President Obama wants the election to go to the Supreme Court, and that in a close election, the president would use the now-defunct ACORN to change the outcome: “The election is close, and he puts his thumb on the scale of democracy, and he sends his old ACORN friends the signal, you know what’s going to happen.”

 After Engelbrecht’s speech, Schlafly joined her on stage to share news she had heard from “somebody” that in Pennsylvania, “at two o’clock in the afternoon they have no Republican observer, the Democrats just vote [for] the rest of the people who haven’t voted.”

“I think it goes on,” Engelbrecht agreed.

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