by Warner Todd Huston | November 1, 2010 5:35 pm
-By Warner Todd Huston
For those of you following along, I have been here in Houston, Texas all week following the spirited, grassroots, all-volunteer efforts of the King Street Patriots and their True The Vote project as they fan out across Houston as poll watchers assuring that early voting has been free, fair, and legal. They are poised to do the same for November 2, the final day of voting.
It has been enlightening, not to mention educational, to sit here at the King Streeter’s HQ observing the poll watcher training sessions. Harris County Democrats have charged that the Streeters are “overzealous and undertrained,” but as I watched the extensive training sessions (some of them observed by Civil Court Judge R. Jack Cagle) it was clear that the Democrats are at once uninformed of what is actually going on here and engaging in mindless partisan sniping.
The KSP reports that they’ll have fielded over 1,000 poll watchers when all is said and done but one thing is sure, having seen the detailed and professional training sessions they’ve undergone, KSP poll watchers are well informed of both their rights as poll watchers as well as the rules governing the polling place.
This exercise in civic duty has revealed quite a lot of shortcomings with the system, however. As the previous week of early voting progressed KSP ramrod Catherine Engelbrecht discovered that both the state and county officials supposedly in charge of the polls are either apathetic, driven by partisan political calculations, or completely uninformed about their legal responsibilities. This needlessly complicated the efforts of the King Street Patriots poll watching program and bodes ill for our electoral system.
Unfortunately government agencies tasked with making sure that all rules are followed and infractions are investigated and prosecuted are often not doing their job and some of these disparate agencies are actually working at cross purposes one to the other.
This lack of coordination and knowledge from the various agencies is instructive for those folks that want to replicate the efforts of the King Street Patriots in their own jurisdictions. The KSP’s experience serves as a warning to all of us.
KSP Chief Engelbrecht told me that when they first started their poll watching program they thought that all they had to do was get hold of the Sec. of State’s handbook, the Texas election code, and the County’s information on poll watchers and they would have all they needed to guide them. Reality, it turned out, was a far different situation.
Englebrecht told me that when they first began poll watching during the early voting phase of the election cycle, the KSP reported over 100 incidents of hanky panky at the polling places. One of the main problems they found was that poll judges and clerks were often voting for the voter in many minority communities.
“There are certainly gray areas that might lend themselves to interpretation,” Englebrecht told me. “But what we were seeing were black-and-white violations” of election rules. Englebrecht said that her poll watchers saw clear violations by elections judges and clerks throughout the city. When they observed these incidents, the Streeters alerted the county as they are supposed to do.
“We would go to the county and say ‘hey, this is happening and that is happening,’ and people were being overly assisted, or assisted when they don’t want assistance,” she said. “They were being told how to vote the straight Democrat ticket… all of these things are beyond the pale.”
According to Englebrecht when the Streeters reported these incidents to the county, officials there made little effort to do anything about it. It didn’t even seem that they were actually taking the reports. Engelbrecht said that the county gave them the dismissvie attitude of “oh, yeah, but what can you do about it all?”
“The only incidents that were actually addressed were incidents of physical violence where we had to file a police report,” Engelbrecht said. “Everything else was swept under the rug” with a wink and a nod, she told me. Verbal admissions from county officials that there is a problem resulted in no further action.
Near the end of the week County Attorney Vince Ryan, a Democrat, decided to get into the act by initiating a teleconference call of 1,600 presiding and alternate election judges. Interestinly, Ryan did not alert either the Secretary of State or his own County Clerk’s office that he intended to hold this call.
According to Engelbrecht, “Ryan went on to essentially re-write election law and instruct the officials with his ideas of the law, things that he would and wouldn’t be willing to back up as county attorney. These are all things he had no business in doing.”
In stark contravention to state election law, attorney Ryan took it upon himself to outlaw cell phones, to say that any and all assistance of voters is permissible, and that there doesn’t need to be any accountability at the polling place.
I asked Engelbrecht if she felt that attorney Ryan was doing this for partisan political reasons but she was unwilling to entirely make that stark accusation. “The fact that the county clerk’s office didn’t know certainly smacks of political jockeying, but call me altruistic, call me a Pollyanna, but I think that Ryan was trying to assure the fairness of the elections in his own way. As divided as we may be, when it comes to our elections if people can’t come together for the good of the vote, for all that we have fought for as a country, and say let’s play by the rules when it comes to elections, then we are in more trouble than just some troubled polling places.”
“Here is the main problem,” Engelbrecht continued, “up until this election cycle there has never been such a bright light being shown on the problems. From the big problems like physical assault to little problems like not posting hourly tallies of votes cast. And all of these things are in one form or fashion illegal actions. They all need to be addressed and they all need to be used to help shape solutions for the future.”
But even as the Streeters went up the chain from the County Clerks to the Secretary of State’s office it became clear that few were interested in energetically addressing the issues that the poll watchers were finding at the polls.
The only thing the Streeters could get out of Texas Sec. of State Hope Andrade is that she will be sending some 26 or so inspectors to Harris County. Other than that few actions are forthcoming from her office to address the many incidents that the King Street Patriots reported.
I asked Christine Engelbrecht what she was taking away from this whole enterprise.
Tuesday is going to be very, very interesting. Our people are well trained and we’re going to have so much data at the end of this. We’ll have info not only on every single incident report, but we’ll be able to assess ideas on how to restructure county election training. We can say this with some measure of confidence because we’ve been there. Citizens are going to have to rebuild so many processes from the ground up because we’ve all let this get so far out of whack.
Engelbrecht’s and the King Street Patriot’s experience at the polls and with government officials reveals an entire lack of respect for the rules meant to assure the integrity of the vote. It reveals that officials from the state and county level are entirely uncoordinated and often even antagonistic both to each other as well as toward those civic-minded citizens groups attempting to keep the vote fair, free and legal.
This whole episode in Texas shows why it is so easy for Democrats to steal elections from coast to coast. No one is watching, no one is holding anyone to account, and no one cares if rules are being violated.
If we as citizens want to trust that our system is working at optimal efficiency, if we are to trust that our elections truly are fair, free, and legal, we as citizens need to emulate the efforts of the King Street Patriots and their True The Vote program. Americans need to organize all across the country and shine the light of truth on our crooked election process and drive the thieves, fraudsters, and hustlers out of our election process.
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