Is Poll-Watching Voter Suppression? Greg Abbott Says, ‘No—Wait, Yes!’


"Vote here" signDateline Houston is confused.

Texas Republicans are passionately concerned about so-called voter integrity. Ensuring this integrity has spurred legislation, court battles, and private citizens’ groups taking up only-probably-metaphorical arms against hordes of evildoers who might somehow steal elections from conservatives in a place that hasn’t elected a Democrat to statewide office since 1994.

So why wouldn’t the state welcome even more integrity-minded poll monitors?

“We just wouldn’t, okay?” Dateline Houston imagines Attorney General Greg Abbott snapping before returning his attention to a hand mirror onto which he’d pasted a picture of Anderson Cooper.

Until very recently, Republicans were the only ones mobilizing against alleged electoral shenanigans. In the interest of preventing a dubiously documented and apparently deeply ineffective rash of election fraud, Texas Republicans wrote and passed the voter ID law that only coincidentally disenfranchises traditionally Democratic groups, and which Attorney General Greg Abbott has failed to prove in court is not racist. The Republican-controlled Legislature also changed how counties identify voters who may have died, which led—again only coincidentally—to the potential deletion of many living voters who, statistically, were more likely to have been Democrats. A lawsuit is underway.

And then there’s True the Vote. TTV is a poll-watching project of the King Street Patriots, a supposedly nonpartisan Houston group spawned during the tea party orgy of 2009. In the 2010 elections, True the Vote trained and dispatched about 1000 volunteers to mostly minority neighborhoods to hunt 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.”

To review: the party that hasn’t lost a statewide election in 18 years finds itself so besieged by election-stealing leftist lawbreakers that they have dedicated serious time and money at every level of their organization to curb it.

Of course, when anybody questions this—particularly if the sentence starts, “But, statistically…”—these patriots clutch their life-sized plush bald eagles and fall to the floor, shuddering with apoplexy, whispering, “freedom…”

The most recent freak-out was when a United Nations-affiliated group of election monitors announced it would send a total of 44 observers to the entire United States to watch for voter suppression, just as they have for years, at the invitation of the United States, and do all over the world.

In Texas, the fertilizer totally hit the ventilation system.

Attorney General Greg Abbott bewailed the UN invasion most concisely in a tweet: “UN poll watchers can’t interfere w/ Texas elections. I’ll bring criminal charges if needed. Official letter posted soon. #comeandtakeit”. On Wednesday, he explained to Reuters, “They act like they may not be subject to Texas law and our goal all along is to make clear to them that while they’re in Texas, they’re subject to Texas law, and we’re not giving them an exemption.”

In response, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) pinky-swore not to buy beer before noon on Sunday.

Then Abbott admitted that, actually, he was afraid the OSCE could do exactly what True the Vote, by many accounts, does. “Our concern is that this isn’t some benign observation but something intended to be far more prying and maybe even an attempt to suppress voter integrity,” he told Reuters.

Maryland Democrat Elijah Cummings, a ranking member of the U.S. House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, says True the Vote does just that. On October 18, Politico reported that Cummings had sent two letters to True the Vote asking for documents and citing reports that there “is mounting evidence that True the Vote’s aggressive poll monitoring tactics are being closely coordinated with the Republican Party” and has, in the words of one report, “a highly partisan and political agenda to deny African Americans and Latinos, specifically, the right to vote.”

With so much hand-wringing about poll-watching, one wonders what they’re all watching for. How do you spot fraudulent voters? What do they look like?

Well, in a very recent local case, the fraudster looks like a Republican precinct chairman who was running for a seat on the Fort Bend County Commissioner’s Court. Records show that Bruce Fleming voted both in person in Sugar Land and by mail in Pennsylvania—an actual swing state where a single fraudulent vote really could make an actual difference—in 2006, 2008, and 2010.

Catherine Englebrecht, founder and president of True the Vote, lives in Fleming’s Precinct 1. She and TTV were not responsible for uncovering Fleming’s alleged fraud.

For the November elections, True the Vote has long maintained it wants to send two million eyeballs to the polls. Considering that they seem to be many hundred thousands short of their goal, you’d think they’d want all the help they can get.