Voter ID Laws: Racist or Reasonable?
There’s been much said lately about election integrity and voter identification laws. Both sides of the American political spectrum have raised concerns over polls and potential abuses in the American voting process. In fact, due to the serious voter registration irregularities identified by groups like True the Vote in Texas, along with the numerous voter fraud convictions across the nation involving workers from politically motivated groups like the failed organization ACORN, many states are pursuing photo identification as a means of addressing such assaults on election integrity.
Texas, South Carolina, and Florida have all taken steps to mandate photo identification as a requirement for voting. In general, Americans holding left-of-center perspectives tend to characterize these as organized racist efforts to suppress low-income Americans or minorities from voting. DNC chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Shultz went so far in condemning several recent initiatives to protect against voter fraud as to suggest Republicans want to push voters back to the days of Jim Crow.
Americans with right-of-center perspectives tend to claim the Left defies these laws to facilitate voter fraud and register dead or nonexistent people. The Right has also suggested in some cases that efforts to allow Democrats to vote twice or more are in play, as was discovered near Houston, Texas, during the 2010 midterm elections.
Both sides have legitimate facts and anecdotes to validate their points of view. There was a time in our nation when black Americans weren’t allowed to vote. Even after their right to vote was recognized, thanks to the hard and often dangerous—sometimes fatal—work of black activists and allies, laws were implemented by the old Democrats of the South to ensure black Americans still couldn’t vote. Tests which were nearly impossible to pass were administered to many black Americans, ultimately preventing them from exercising their rights. This horror is an historical reality and will forever justify some suspicion any time a requirement is mandated regarding voting.
But a justifiable suspicion which merits further investigation requires just that—further investigation. The initial suspicion doesn’t mean the worst-case scenario is actually occurring. It simply means looking into the matter is justified.
It was Democrats who were predominantly responsible for the Jim Crow laws against black Americans voting. Democrats have historically exhibited a tendency to go to any lengths to ensure that the results of elections turn out in their favor, as was the case during Jim Crow when they didn’t want black Americans to participate in choosing non-racist leaders.
Republicans often point out the recent example of the community organizing group known as ACORN. As outlined in Matthew Vadum’s Subversion Inc., there have been 55 convictions for voter fraud and voter registration fraud from ACORN’s efforts, which leaned heavily in favor of the Democratic Party.
Deep in the Heart of Texas
Take, for example, Harris County, the county encompassing Houston, Texas. The irregularities in voter registration in this jurisdiction have raised serious concerns over election integrity through the investigative efforts of nonprofits and Harris County agencies alike.
True the Vote, a nonpartisan, Houston-based nonprofit focusing on electoral integrity, has revealed some startling information. Their effort, which started out as an initiative of a small tea party group, focused on volunteering as poll workers in their local 2009 elections. According to the group’s founder, Catherine Engelbrecht, what started as a simple effort to exercise civic duty and get involved brought them face to face with what she referred to as frightening and gross incompetence on the part of some election and county workers at the polls. Engelbrecht revealed that her 70 election volunteers noticed that many voters were being allowed to vote without any identification at all. Engelbrecht’s volunteers ultimately submitted 800 signed affidavits outlining problems they encountered, including having overheard some election judges telling people who they should and should not vote for. After these experiences, the group decided to investigate how citizens could help ensure voter integrity and identify what processes existed to report abuses or irregularities. Engelbrecht says further efforts revealed even more frightening examples of degradation to the election process.
Engelbrecht’s group needed a starting point for their investigative efforts and decided to request the open records of all the registered voters from the previous 30 days. They found a high number of irregularities resulting from Houston Votes, an organization aligned with many far-Left causes. Irregularities such as signatures being different than the printed names on the form and incomplete forms sparked concern in True the Vote.
The group submitted their findings from the New Voters Registry Roll to the appropriate overseer, Harris County Tax Assessor and Voter Registrar Leo Vasquez. His office held a press conference on August 24, 2010, announcing they had investigated a month’s worth of newly registered voters totaling approximately 24,000 in number. They stated only an approximate 7,000 were actually new voters and the remaining 17,000 were problematic. The tax assessor also stated that the group known as Houston Votes was “the voter registration arm of Texans Together Education Fund” and basically served as the area’s “new ‘ACORN’ organization.”
Vasquez gave a clear statement as to his organization’s investigation findings during the press conference. He stated: “Evidence shows that the Houston Votes and Texans Together organization is conspiring in a pattern of falsification of government documents, suborning of perjury and a deliberate effort to over-burden our processing system with thousands of duplicate and incomplete voter registration applications. Even [worse], the paid personnel of Houston Votes and Texans Together are alarming citizens with wild stories about the integrity of our voter registration database.”
Vasquez further revealed 1,597 multiple applications for the same voters. This meant that at least two or three applications were given for one person. Some of the applicants had as many as six applications. Of the problematic applications, 1,014 were for already registered voters. 1,133 of the applicants claimed, under penalty of perjury, to have no photo ID, yet the Harris County investigation revealed that the vast majority of them did in fact have a driver’s license.
In addition, 325 of the applicants were too young to vote. Twenty-five of the applicants were identified as not being U.S. citizens. Keep in mind the Harris County tax assessor and voter registrar investigation only covered the registrations from a one-month period in Harris County alone.
Engelbrecht’s True the Vote organization then decided to look at the actual registry and not just the new registrations. The group obtained the nearly 2,000,000-person Harris County Voter Registry Role. The group subdivided the registry by congressional district due to the size of the data.
After the registry was divided into the seven congressional districts which Harris County encompasses, True the Vote needed a starting point to isolate red flags for possible irregularities. They decided to start looking at registrations that had addresses six or more people were registered to.
The group found the seven congressional districts had four that were predominantly Republican and three that were predominantly Democratic. The four predominantly Republican districts had a range from 1,973 to 3,300 instances with six or more people registered to one address. The three predominantly Democratic districts had much higher numbers. Though this could possibly be attributed to variations in socioeconomic factors between the predominantly Republican and predominantly Democratic districts, what the group found next was alarming.
The predominantly Democratic districts themselves had large variations between them in the number of instances with six or more registered voters at one address. The first had 7,560, the second 8,981, and the third—the district of Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, the prominent, outspoken Democratic congresswoman—had 19,596 instances with six or more voters registered at one address.
True the Vote then compared the socio-economic demographics of the three predominantly Democratic congressional districts in an effort to explain why Jackson Lee’s district could have such a high number In comparison. Engelbrecht told Townhall, the group had found no significant difference to explain such a drastic variation in the numbers.
The group began doing research into the abnormalities in Jackson Lee’s district. They took the first 3,800 registrations of the flagged 19,596 instances with six or more registrants at one address and began to investigate further. The group visited addresses and scoured property tax records. The group found many of the addresses were vacant lots or business addresses.
Thirty-nine were registered at businesses and 97 of the addresses were nonexistent. One hundred six of the registrations revealed the same registrant registered more than once, and 207 of the addresses turned out to be vacant lots.
Meanwhile, 595 registrations had registrants with driver’s license addresses not matching the registration, and many were voting in a district they did not live in. Of the random 3,800 registrations from Jackson Lee’s predominantly Democratic district, 25 percent had critical errors.
The media began to focus on the findings from the Harris County tax assessor’s office and True the Vote. Shortly after the August 24 press conference announcing the results of the office’s investigation, a fire of unknown origins burned down the warehouse containing all of Harris County’s voting equipment. In total, the fire claimed 10,000 voting machines, which was approximately $30,000,000 worth of equipment. Harris County then spent $750,000 dollars on paper ballots as an emergency measure. Meanwhile, Houston Votes, Texans Together and the Democratic Party of Texas all filed lawsuits against Catherine Engelbrecht’s organization in short order. The lawsuits are still ongoing.
Justice for All … If You’re a Democrat
The previous marginalization of black voters definitely raises concerns anytime new requirements for voting are implemented. The investigative data denoting the likelihood of current voter fraud definitely raises concerns as well. Respected members from both of the country’s predominant political parties have raised concerns and spoken out publicly asking for Justice Department investigations of various sorts.
The current United States attorney general, Eric Holder, recently announced the requested investigation was indeed underway by the Justice Department—but it turns out only one side of the concerns was adequately addressed. Holder’s December 13, 2011, speech stated the Justice Department was investigating whether efforts exist to prevent black Americans, low-income or other minorities and others from voting. Not only did Holder not announce an investigation to allegations of voter fraud, he went so far as to say there had only been “isolated incidents” of such issues and that such allegations would not be part of the Justice Department’s efforts.
As stated previously, the Democratic and Republican parties are very clearly divided on justifiable concerns over the integrity of America’s election system. The Department of Justice, being the Justice Department for Democrats, Republicans, and others alike, has seemingly chosen to act as the Democrats’ Justice Department in several ways.
During the presentation, Holder quoted from veteran civil rights activist-turned-congressman Joe Lewis. In a speech given on the House floor, Lewis stated that voting rights “are under attack… a deliberate and systematic attempt to prevent millions of elderly voters, young voters, students, minority, low income voters, from exercising their constitutional right to engage in the democratic process.”
Holder also criticized the new photo-identification requirements in Texas and South Carolina, saying states had “made changes to the requirements of third-party organizations that register voters.” It’s interesting to note, however, Holder did not mention problems or irregularities such as the ones described from Harris County, which induced state governments to enact the changes. He simply spoke of them in the context of alleged efforts to prevent nonwhite persons from voting. Though Holder did discuss voter fraud, its mention was brief and it ended with his assertion that removing restrictions or rules for voter registration was unlikely to result in fraud.
Even the location of Holder’s speech was telling—the University of Texas Lyndon B. Johnson Library. Johnson had signed the Voters Rights Act into law on August 6, 1965. Holder’s speech focused heavily on Johnson’s efforts, while glancing over the data on voter fraud and the convictions of ACORN workers for voter fraud.
Holder’s presentation helped foment the perception that racially motivated efforts to take voting rights away do indeed exist, even prior to the investigation that was supposed to determine whether they existed. Holder’s investigation has made clear that any effort to examine the legitimate concerns of Republicans and nonprofits regarding voter fraud will not be engaged in, and the issues will not be examined by the Department Of Justice. Though it is unlikely the approximate one percent of people in the Justice Department who are politically appointed will be able to prevent the 99 percent of nonpolitical men and women serving under the Justice Department from pursuing investigations on their own, Holder has made clear his intention to minimize such efforts and to avoid bringing attention to resulting prosecutions.
Readers who are interested in helping Catherine Engelbrecht and her nonpartisan True the Vote effort to protect America’s elections can visit their site at www.truethevote.org and can attend the group’s 2012 National Summit in Houston, Texas. The summit is on April 27th-28th and includes our nation’s foremost experts on election integrity. The speakers are John Fund, Patt Caddell, Christian Adams, Anita Moncrief, James O’Keefe, Rep. Artur Davis, Hans Von Spakovsky, and Tom Fitton.
This piece is an abbreviated version of Brandon Darby’s original printed piece that was featured in Townhall Magazine’s March 2012 issue.