True the Vote Gathers in Houston, Contests Reality

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In Houston over the weekend, patriots gathered for the national summit of True the Vote, the tea-party-affiliated poll watching outfit that might be saving democracy or destroying it, depending on whom you ask.

Reality was much in question during the two-day conference, where speakers made a sophisticated argument about the fundamental subjectivity of the human experience. In other words, they argued that if enough people think something, it must be true.

Coverage of the conference in the Nation focused on TTV speakers’ obsession with a recent Rasmussen poll that showed 64 percent of Americans believe that voter fraud exists. (Of course, an April 2011 poll found that a quarter of Americans think Obama was born abroad, so that means he’s definitely native, right?) Three speakers cited the poll as if it were actually evidence of fraud.

“They were stuck in a reality that was unfamiliar to anyone who’s been paying attention to voter issues,” writes the Nation’s Brentin Mock. “Speakers—among them Heritage Foundation’s Hans Von Spakovsky, Judicial Watch’s Tom Fitton and former title-challenged DOJ employee J. Christian Adams—spoke about the voter ID cause as if they were failing, as if sixteen states didn’t pass photo voter ID laws, most of them in just the past eighteen months. As if a federal court didn’t just validate a strict photo voter ID law in Arizona the week before the conference.”

True the Vote is a project of the King Street Patriots, a supposedly nonpartisan group founded in Houston in 2009 that recently got called out by a district judge for being an unregistered political action committee (PAC) that illegally aided Republicans during the 2010 elections. True the Vote trained and dispatched about 1000 volunteers to mostly minority neighborhoods to look for voting irregularities and stare down would-be defrauders. As the Observer’s Patrick Michels reported, “[they] combined to send 800 complaints of improper voting to Harris County officials, who investigated a few but ended up taking no legal action.

“While it generated little evidence of voter fraud, the King Street Patriots’ effort did result in complaints about voter intimidation and breached ethics, a lawsuit from the Texas Democratic Party, and an investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice.”

Now True the Vote aspires to send a million volunteers to do the same at this year’s elections.

The progress or failure of voter ID efforts was but one of the conference’s conflicting realities.

A dispatch on Breitbart.com claims, “The event drew protests from paid union protesters and a few known Occupiers,” –which makes one wonder who’s keeping a list of known Occupiers— but adds, “the protesters were largely ignored and left after only an hour or two.”

But Mock reports, “The only people gathered outside the conference hotel were a bunch of African-American motorcycle clubs on their bikes, a few of whom told me they had no idea who True the Vote was or that they had a conference going on.”

Why is the presence of protesters even important? Because it’s so much more exciting be a group of freedom fighters, violently opposed, the underdogs holding back the hordes of evildoers, than to be 200 largely ignored tea partiers in the ballroom of a suburban Sheraton.

“We are talking about the demise of our democracy, and it is slow-motion suicide,” warned speaker Pat Caddell, a longtime Democratic strategist turned Fox News contributor.

But if this is true the way he meant it, the motion is very slow indeed. As the Houston Chronicle noted in March in the amusingly titled, “Facts elusive in Texas voter ID fight,” “Fewer than five complaints involving voter impersonations were filed with the Texas Attorney General’s Office from the 2008 and 2010 general elections, which drew more than 13 million voters.”

But that was enough to prompt Texas Attorney General Greg Abbot to pen, in an op-ed in USA Today that month, “In Texas, evidence of voter fraud abounds. In recent years, my office has secured more than 50 voter fraud convictions.”

But hey. Definitions of “abound” abound.

Another contested definition at the conference was “nonpartisan.”

The Chronicle’s Joe Holley reports cannily, “Several speakers were determinedly nonpartisan, or bipartisan, despite the rightward leanings of their audience. ‘We don’t take a position on President Obama’s election. We take a position on free and fair elections,’ said Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch, a Washington-based government watchdog group.

“It was also Fitton, however, who delivered a warning: ‘I fear the Obama gang is setting themselves up to steal the election.’

“He also accused the president of wanting ‘to register the food stamp army to vote for him.’”

It may have been the day’s most reality-based statement—not regarding the president’s intentions, but True the Vote’s.

Poor people voting? Who wants that?

Emily DePrang is a staff writer at The Texas Observer where she covers criminal justice and public health. Her work has appeared in The Atlantic and Salon.com, and she’s a former nonfiction editor of the Sonora Review. She’s holds an MFA in Creative Nonfiction from the University of Arizona and a B.A. from the University of Texas at Austin. In 2013, she was a National Health Journalism Fellow; in 2012 she won the Sigma Delta Chi award for public service in magazine journalism.