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Who’s Suppressing What Now? Harris County (whew!) Votes

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A sign that says "vote" in many languages

On Fox yesterday, GOP strategist Karl Rove claimed that Obama won re-election by “suppressing the vote” His evidence? Obama captured a smaller percentage of votes than he did in 2008. Obama’s method? Making people dislike Mitt Romney.

“Suppressing the vote” just doesn’t mean what it used to.

Houston knows how to (allegedly) suppress a vote. Its suburbs spawned True the Vote, the poll-watching tea partiers who tend to target minority districts for their scrutiny. And this fall, Houstonians made up a huge proportion of Texas’s not-actually-dead voters who were slated to have their registrations cancelled, more of whom were in minority than Anglo districts.

But in the end, it was all sound and fury, signifying nothing. Public outcry paused the zombie voter purge, and the Houston Chronicle minced no words with Tuesday’s headline, “True the Vote’s impact said to be negligible.”

TTV founder Catherine Engelbrecht says they received hundreds of complaints and that it takes time to sort and submit them to election officials, so the group’s real results are yet to come. (Their 2010 efforts yielded only a few investigations and no criminal action.) So TTV may or may not have sniffed out fraud. But it doesn’t seem to have suppressed the vote either. Several civil rights groups under an umbrella organization, the Election Protection Coalition, say that while they got around 70,000 complaints of their own about election troubles, very few were about True the Vote.

There was, however, one showdown. A True the Vote-trained poll watcher says the NAACP took over and “basically ran” the Harris County Precinct 139 location. Allegedly, the nefarious NAACP handed out bottled water to voters in long lines and selected people (the NAACP says they were elderly and/or disabled) to go to the front of the line, “stirring up the crowd” to vote for Obama.

Someone better tell Karl Rove.

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.