By Brad Friedman on 9/22/2010, 12:50pm PT  

Thousands of borrowed e-voting machines made by Austin-based Hart Intercivic have begun arriving in Harris County (Houston), TX, this week in the wake of last month's massive warehouse fire which destroyed all 10,000 of the county's 100% unverifiable Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) voting systems in advance of early voting for the mid-term elections.

Some 3,000 machines are being loaned to Harris County from 15 different counties around Texas and one in Colorado. Paper ballots are also being printed up, thankfully, to help in an emergency pinch, though it's clear that Harris County Clerk Beverly Kaufman, a long-time fan of unverifiable electronic voting systems, hopes voters will use them, rather than paper. Most precincts, she says, will have just one less machine than they normally would for an election of the size expected this November.

Arson has not yet been ruled out as the cause of the overnight blaze which remains a mystery nearly three weeks after it destroyed some $40 million worth of voting equipment. While an official finding may still be months away, according to Houston's KPRC TV no accelerants have yet been found, and arson investigators seem to be focusing on "evidence that the fire started accidentally in the building's electrical system."

But before the ashes had finished smoldering, literally, partisans from both the Right and Left had already begun to speculate on what the fire might mean for the mid-term elections and who, if anybody, might have had a motive to touch off such a blaze.

As long-time readers of The BRAD BLOG may have guessed, some of the allegations had more basis in reality than others, as Republican activists, like clockwork, have begun their loud, if still-unsubstantiated, cries of "massive Democratic voter fraud" soon to "steal an election" near you.

The effort in Houston which, coincidentally or not, kicked off at almost the exact same moment as the voting machine fire, is particularly egregious and irresponsible in its effort to scare voters with unsubstantiated and hyperbolic charges of "voter fraud"...


Immediately after the fire, some on the Left smelled foul play as Houston's Democratic former Mayor Bill White will need solid turnout in his hometown to defeat the incumbent Republican Rick Perry in their race for Governor. Though Perry is still leading in pre-election polls, White is within striking distance. Democrats have justifiable concerns that a shortage of voting machines or confusion over paper ballots --- which haven't been used for years at the polls in Houston --- could lead to long lines on Election Day, dampening turnout for White in his stronghold.

At the same time, local Republicans who had, just days earlier, trotted out dubious claims of a massive voter fraud epidemic by Democrats and ACORN (which no longer exists on the local level, and barely exists on the national level, thanks to the GOP's years-long, trumped-up campaign against them) immediately suggested the fire was set on purpose by Democrats to destroy evidence of fraud --- somehow --- despite the fact ignored in those allegations, that the county's long-time election chief, Kaufman, has a years-long record as a solid Republican.

Nonetheless, just days prior to the fire, a Rightwing group outfit calling themselves the King Street Patriots, fired up what they call their "True the Vote" initiative, charging "voter fraud" and "rigged elections" along with an absolutely insane, must-see video to go with it.

Using Fraud to Declare Fraud

The King Street Patrio's "True the Vote" initiative was taken down for a few days for re-editing, before being re-rendered and resposted a few days later, not long after the fire, when it had been discovered, as Glenn W. Smith detailed at Huffington Post, the original video had itself included fraudulent, photo-shopped photos in making the case for "fraud" at the polling place.

The following photo, suggesting Democratic voters --- a black one, not-coincidentally, in this case --- were openly committing "voter fraud" was removed from the re-edited "True the Vote" video...

Here is the real photo, and another one from the same series, taken at a protest in Florida following the 2000 election after tens of thousands of voters were incorrectly removed from the voting rolls by then Gov. Jeb Bush and his Secretary of State Katherine Harris, before voters were denied a full and fair count of the ballots the by U.S. Supreme Court...

King Street Patriots director and "True the Vote" spokesperson Catherine Engelbrecht explained via email to The BRAD BLOG that the photo was removed and the video re-rendered after it had become "the subject of much speculation."

She did not answer a follow-up email asking for details about what the "speculation" in question was concerning the faked photograph.

Engelbrecht claims the photo was "found on Google Images while searching for voting related pictures."

"When it was brought to our attention that there were questions about the photo, we took it out," she told us. "It was added as a filler between personal testimonies of election fraud and its omission did not change whatsoever the message of the video."

'The Message'

"The message of the video" --- one that appears to be rather professionally produced and includes well known far Rightwing propagandist David Horowitz, among others --- charges that "the voting system is under attack" and picks up where years of Rightwing "ACORN voter fraud" disinformation left off.

It must be seen to be believed...

As seen and heard in the video, Horowitz, crackpot editor and writer at far Right publications like TownHall Magazine and NewsMax, alleges all matter of nonsense such as, "ACORN is a voter fraud machine," though no evidence of ACORN having committed any voter fraud is actually presented in the video (no doubt, due to the inescapable fact that they've actually committed none.)

"This is real," the voice over is heard saying in the original version of the video, at the very moment the doctored photo seen above was shown.

Horowitz alleges in the presentation that "our elections are being manipulated by the radical Left"; that Republicans "have to win by 3%" in order to win any election because "the electoral system is being rigged" by (presumably) Democrats; and "Obama's very connected to ACORN," which he goes on to defame, without evidence, as "a voter fraud machine".

All the while, a grandiose orchestral piece plays and photos of ACORN and Fox "News" graphics showing Republican-initiated "Voter Fraud Investigations" around the country roll in the background, as Horowitz and others, including Engelbrecht, warn of the imminent end of democracy as we know it.

'Not About Political Party'?

True the Vote's website asks for donations, claiming the group has "filed to be" a non-partisan, non-political, tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organization.

In the video, Engelbrecht claims "It's really about truth. Ultimately, this is what it's about. It's not about political party or Republicans or Democrats" and goes on to say that a "huge problem that exists at the polls."

Another interviewee in the video warns that the Texas legislature has just a "seven vote conservative majority" and "If we lose Houston, we lose Texas. If we lose Texas, we lose the country."

Who is "we", white man?

And yet, to quote Engelbrecht in the video, her campaign is "not about political party or Republicans or Democrats."

When we inquired whether or not her group had any actual evidence of voter fraud committed by anyone in Houston, she explained that "there are numerous examples of voter registration fraud with the Houston Votes organization," and pointed us towards a document [PDF] released by the Houston County Tax Office's Voter Registration Department on August 24th (two days before the fire) alleging that workers for Houston Votes --- described by its parent organization, Texans Together, as "a nonpartisan voter registration drive in Harris County" --- had turned in phonied up voter registration forms. The group appears to pay a bonus to voter registration workers for extra registrations, and many of the forms appear to have the same name several times, according to the Tax Assessors office (which is run by a Republican).

There was no evidence presented of any voter fraud, or any evidence that the Houston Votes organization itself was responsible for allegedly fraudulent applications. That, in contrast to the arrests at the firm Young Political Majors (YPM) in 2008. YPM was hired by the California Republican Party to carry out voter registration on their behalf that year, when the head of the company, Mark Anthony Jacoby, was arrested, and later plead guilty to charges of voter registration fraud, including for himself, after he'd falsely filed a registration form under his own name (he actually lived in a different state) in addition to allegedly having changed thousands the political registration from Democratic to Republican on thousands of forms without the consent of the registrants.

In a follow-up query we asked Engelbrecht again for actual evidence to back up the very serious charges she, Horowitz and the others make in the alarming "True the Vote" video --- anything to back up the charges that the "voting system is under attack"; "ACORN is a voter fraud machine"; the "electoral system is being rigged"; or that Republicans "have to win by 3%" etc.

She did not respond to our email.

Another woman in the incendiary video declares: "What makes a difference in the election is voter fraud. And if we could stop voter fraud, would that not just be unbelievable?"

Perhaps. But it'd be more believable if the group offered any actual evidence to back up the damned serious allegations they are making, just weeks before an important election is to begin.

'A Well-Funded National Effort''

So is it "really about truth," as asserted several times in the video, and is it really "not about political party or Republicans or Democrats"?

In his coverage of the King Street Patriots at Firedoglake, Texas activist Glenn W. Smith smells a rat, calls the campaign a "systematic attack on voting rights" and charges the group is "working dirty hand in dirty hand with a Republican County voter registrar to suppress the votes of those they believe unworthy."

Smith notes "you only see pictures of African-Americans [in the group's video] when fraud is discussed, so the implication is clear."

"Whatever the case," he writes, "the voter intimidation and suppression campaign is clearly part of a well-funded national effort to put barriers in the way of voters suspected of disagreeing with the perpetrators’ right-wing agenda."

The funding for King Street Patriots --- and whether it's merely a local group, or being propped up as the face of a more insidious national effort --- is unclear, but we are trying to look into it. As a 501(c)(3) organization, the group is required to publicly disclose their sources of funding.

While we applaud the King Street Patriots for their efforts in encouraging citizens to work at and observe the polls --- any and all oversight in support of the (small "d") democratic process is very welcome --- scare tactics meant to rile up voters, frighten them, intimidate them, challenge them at the polls, and otherwise bastardize the process with scurrilous unsupported charges, without even a shred of evidence to back them up, is appalling.

The reprehensible Horowitz, of course, knows that. He thrives on this kind of partisan agitation. Whether the folks who front King Street Patriots actually know that, or if they've simply allowed themselves to be played for stooges by the likes of Horowitz, Fox "News" and the other anti-democracy elements of the GOP, is another question.

A survey released in November of 2009 by Public Policy Polling (PPP) found that a majority of Republicans, 52%, believe that ACORN stole the 2008 election for Barack Obama. That, despite not a single known piece of evidence to show that even one illegal vote --- out of the more than 10 million that Obama reportedly won by --- was cast due to an improper ACORN registration. Nonetheless, 52% of Republicans, somehow, had that belief. We wonder where they got it.

'Under Attack'

As we head towards November, more such anti-democratic efforts such as King Street Patriots' "True the Vote" are sure to emerge in hopes of frightening voters from voting and challenging them at the polls.

One such effort emerged this week and is being documented --- with actual hard evidence, including secret conference call recordings and other documents --- by a group called Save Wisconsin's Vote.

The group is charging that Americans for Prosperity, local WI "Tea Party" groups and the state Republican Party are colluding to suppress votes in a coordinated vote caging scheme meant to challenge the legitimacy of voters at the polling place. Transcripts of a conference call between the groups --- which may itself be illegal, since political parties are not supposed to coordinate with non-profit organizations --- reveal many of the same baseless charges of "voter fraud" as made by the Houston group. (We are looking further into the WI story and may have much more on it in the near future.)

Perhaps Horowitz was right, in part. Perhaps "the voting system is under attack". But it certainly doesn't seem to be under attack from "the radical Left" --- or from anybody on the Left, for that matter.

A fire may have destroyed all of Houston's horrible e-voting machines on which voters are simply forced to trust in their accuracy, despite not a shred of evidence that any such DRE voting machine has ever recorded any vote for any candidate or initiative on the ballot as per any voter's intent. But the fight over democracy itself this year may just be beginning to heat up...

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