Stop Racists from screwing voters out of their vote in Cuyahoga County is the mission. My brother Crede is in town to video the vote for ‘Video the Vote.’
Here’s the first clip from yesterday.
On election day it is anticipated the racist polling places observers trained by the racist True the Vote, funded by dark money and the racist Koch brothers, will make an intense effort to stomp out as much of the African-American vote in Cleveland as they can within the boundaries of the law, or, possibly not within those boundaries. Well, this is the rumor; we do not know yet about such efforts here.
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For those voters who do go to the polls, they may face further intimidation from poll watchers trained by the Tea Party-affiliated True the Vote, which claims their activities are designed to make voters at polling stations feel like they are “driving with the police following you.” True the Vote is adamant that voter fraud exists (despite little evidence) and trains volunteers to patrol for voter fraud in low-income neighborhoods of color, which has prompted accusations of voter intimidation. For months the group has been scouring voter registration databases to compile a list of voters to challenge at the polls.
The group also intervened in Wisconsin’s 2012 gubernatorial recall election, where they unsuccessfully tried to discredit the recall petition drive by creating a sloppy alternate database and making inaccurate assertions about the “integrity” of the petition-gathering effort. During the recall election itself, the group trained a handful of poll watchers in their “voter integrity” techniques — and perhaps not surprisingly, the League of Women Voters fielded hundreds of complaints of voter intimidation or interference, many from college students interrogated about their residency by True the Vote poll observers. After the recall election, Wisconsin’s elections board released a statement expressing concern about the “disturbing reports and complaints about unacceptable, illegal behavior by [poll] observers.” True the Vote took it personally.
Even if True the Vote is overstating its influence and fails to meet its one million poll watcher goal for November, just a few aggressive poll watchers can scare off other voters and lead to long lines. Perhapsbecause of the risk that overzealous poll watchers could make it harder to vote on election day, the Obama campaign is encouraging supporters to vote early — which is why the Ohio decision protecting early voting the weekend before the election could be crucial for Democrats.
In previous reports, IREHR has documented the existence of Tea Party national leaders opposed to voting rights for people without property, and Tea Party leaders who advocate the repeal of the Fourteenth Amendment, and equal rights before the law promised by it. IREHR has pointed out some of the most prominent white nationalists in the Tea Party ranks, and those Tea Partiers who simply act like racists and bigots. In this report, the Institute for Research & Education on Human Rights details voter suppression efforts in North Carolina.
Pre-eminent among the Tea Party “poll watchers” is King Street Patriots and KSP True the Vote. King Street Patriots began as a chapter of Tea Party Patriots in Houston, Texas. Both are led by Catherine Engelbrecht, who has made herself and True the Vote ubiquitous in Tea Party circles.
Although Engelbrecht claims that the two organizations are separate and distinct, IRS Form 990s for the year 2010 show that both organizations share the same small three-person board of directors, and both operated out of the same post office box number. King Street Patriots filed as a non-profit membership corporation, 501c4 on December 30, 2009. Six months later, in June 2010, KSP-True the Vote filed as a non-profit educational charity. Both types of organizations need not reveal their donors.
In 2010, Texans for Public Justice filed a complaint with the Texas ethics commission that read, in part, “KSP/True the Vote violated the state’s prohibition on corporate contributions to political parties and candidates.” And the complaint cited multiple instances where Engelbrecht’s organizations worked directly with Republican Party candidates, and recruited “poll watchers” for them out of Tea Party ranks. KSP responded in typical Tea Party form, claiming they were being bullied by a “George Soros funded organization.”
On Aug 26, 2011, Engelbrecht changed KSP-True the Vote’s corporate name to “True the Vote Inc.”
A second case, filed as a lawsuit by the Texas Democratic Party, claimed essentially the same thing. And a Travis County district judge ruled in March 2012 that King Street Patriots was not a non-profit organization but a political action committee that must operate by PAC rules and reveal its donors. Engelbrecht said she would appeal the judge’s decision, and the Liberty Institute is King Street Patriots’ legal representation. The appeal is still pending.
Despite its legal troubles, Engelbrecht’s organizations have grown and prospered. In Ohio, True the Vote joined Judicial Watch in filing suit against election officials. In Arizona, Engelbrecht gave one of the biggest speeches at a Tea Party Patriots convention. In Colorado she did something similar at a Heritage Foundation sponsored event. And she has done the same at dozens of other venues.
In 2011, True the Vote seized the national limelight inside the Tea Party movement with its first national summit, held in the hometown of Houston. The conference attracted delegates from 27 states and laid the foundation for state-level election year efforts.At this conference, True the Vote (TTV) staff rolled out their plan to block the vote. The slickly-packaged campaign pinpoints vulnerable spots in the voting process, and instructs activists in tactics on how to overload elections officials, slow the vote, and block participation.
In an orientation video, TTV founder Catherine Engelbrecht innocently explained the organization’s focus as “work at the polls,” “researching the registry,” and helping “fix what needs fixing.”
Researching the registry means that True the Vote has purchased voter rolls from states and counties, then circulated the lists to their gaggle of unsupervised volunteers, who are urged to challenge the registrations of voters that think may be improperly registered. The True the Vote “work at the polls” entails training volunteers to be “poll watchers” – people to go to the polls on election day and aggressively challenge the registration, the identity, or the eligibility of prospective voters.
To “fix what needs fixing” True the Vote has also pushed legislative efforts to further restrict access to voting, including stringent new voter identification laws.
In practice, the TTV strategy has deterred people from registering to vote, created an atmosphere that frightens voters from showing up at the polls, overloaded election officials with baseless challenges, and slowed the vote by gumming up the process.
Out of the 2011 True the Vote Summit, the strategy to create state level groups helped spawn groups in Arizona, California, Colorado, Illinois, Maryland, Nevada, Ohio, Virginia, and North Carolina. Englebrect encouraged the groups to adopt independent sounding names to disguise their relationship and free themselves from the True the Vote “baggage.”
At the 2012 True the Vote Summit, regional coordinator Vickie Pullen told the crowd that her organization had already added the voter rolls of nineteen states to its database: Alabama, Arizona, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and Wisconsin. She added that California, Oregon, Washington state, and Colorado would soon follow. At that point in May 2012, she also noted that the group had already done over 120 training sessions for various groups.
At the same event, Catherine Engelbrecht, explained some of her point of view: it is all about “us,” the white redeemers of the election process, she said: “I believe we can see a restoration, not only of our elections and our process, but I think it will be the beginning of a wave of restoration. Because once we assign priority to the polls, once we elect representatives who have come to us by the way of legal, lawful elections, then those representatives go on to carry that credo of truth. And very soon you see a process that is no longer unrecognizable. It’s one that truly reflects us, because it is of us. Because we started the ball rolling to begin with. Because we said it was important enough to show up.” 
As a result of True the Vote’s activities, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D. MD), the ranking Democrat of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, has launched an investigation of Catherine Engelbrecht and her organization. Rep. Cummings’ October 4, 2012 letter to Engelbrecht cited True the Vote’s record of “challenging the registration of thousands of legitimate voters based on insufficient, inaccurate, and faulty evidence.” He requested copies of its correspondence, copies of its training materials used for volunteers and affiliates, copies of its computer programs, all contracts and memoranda of understanding, and much more.
A number of news reports about Rep. Cummings’ letter claimed the voter suppression group was under investigation for a possible “criminal conspiracy.” It should be noted that if there is, in fact, an investigation of criminal conspiracy, Ms. Engelbrecht and others are presumed to be innocent until proven guilty. Engelbrecht agreed to meet with Rep. Cummings, but refused to hand over any of the materials, in a letter full of the usual Tea Party protestations.
True the Vote and Voter Integrity Project in North Carolina
In North Carolina, True the Vote has inspired two different statewide groups engaging in voter suppression activities: North Carolina True the Vote and the Voter Integrity Project.
The Voter Integrity Project was started by Jay DeLancy, a retired Air Force officer from North Carolina. DeLancy was one of those new voter suppression activists who attended the 2011 True the Vote Summit in Houston. On his blog, DeLancy explained his views: “Motivated by groups like the King Street Patriots (of Houston, TX) and their ‘True The Vote’ campaign, I want to make sure North Carolina’s elected leaders understand that people are waking up to the danger our nation faces when good people do nothing and bad people steal elections by stuffing the ballot box or by abusing the ‘motor voter’ laws to register fictitious voters,” he wrote.
To Delaney, voter suppression efforts are essential: “I’ve reached the conclusion that some really bad people have used voter fraud to disenfranchise the rational voters (also called ‘the producers’) in our nation,” he wrote.
At first, DeLancy directly copied the Texas version of TTV directly, and created True the Vote North Carolina. But he broke from the national group, in part because True the Vote raised concerns about the Voter Integrity Project’s nativist leanings. “They’re not wanting to be branded some kind of anti-immigrant activist group,” DeLancy told the New York Times.
DeLancy started a Voter Integrity Project NC (VIP) and several months later, on May 30, 2012 Deirdre Morrison incorporated it and is the registered agent. Morrison, an accountant from Youngsville and a Tea Party activist, is a member of both the Patriot Action Network and Tea Party Nation national factions, and locally Triangle Conservatives Unite. Despite claims of Voter Integrity Project non-partisanship, Morrison is also an elected GOP precinct captain in west Youngsville. Although the Voter Integrity Project is registered as a for-profit corporation, it actually solicits donations.
The split between the Voter Integrity Project and True the Vote is a distinction without much of a difference. For example, Voter Integrity Project NC Research Director John Pizzo was still also listed as a True the Vote research team leader as of September 30.
Outside of DeLancy, Morrison, Pizzo and a mailbox at a UPS Store in a Raleigh strip mail, the Voter Integrity Project doesn’t have much organizational infrastructure. Nevertheless, it has had an outsized role in working against voting rights.
In June 2012, the Voter Integrity Project challenged—unsuccessfully—the registrations of more than 500 Wake County voters, most of whom were voters of color, according to the Brennan Center for Justice. In response, DeLancy called the Brennan Center “Race-baiting Leftist(s).”
On August 31, the Voter Integrity Project presented to the elections board a list of 30,000 individuals listed as current North Carolina voters. VIP claimed these persons were actually deceased, but still registered to vote. The organization argued that that these names could be used to fraudulently vote in the dead voter’s place. Of the 30,000 names it presented, only 4,946 names actually approximated those on the actual voter rolls in a manner close enough to warrant further investigation. It should be noted that as of this writing, North Carolina elections officials have not found a single instance of anyone on the group’s challenge list who voted fraudulently. These challenges, however, have overwhelmed the staff and resources of the Board of Elections.
North Carolina True the Vote
True the Vote’s new North Carolina state director is Donna Yowell. For the last three years, Yowell, of Fuquay-Varina, North Carolina, has been a Tea Party stalwart out to defeat the president. She joined the Tea Party almost right away in 2009, becoming a member of groups like the Haywood County, NC 9-12 Project and Triangle Conservatives Unite. She also became a member of four different national Tea Party factions: FreedomWorks, the Patriot Action Network, Tea Party Nation, and Tea Party Patriots.
After the 2010 midterm elections, she formed the Tea Party spin-off group, Feet to the Fire. Through this group she bashed on teachers unions in Wisconsin, supported nativist legislation, promoted the anti-environmental conspiracy theory around “Agenda 21,” and tried to “to insure a conservative platform for NCGOP.” The Heritage Foundation’s political arm, Heritage Action, awarded her group with “Activist of the Month” status in 2011.
For Yowell, the fight is personal and it’s partisan. “It is time to wake up. Get out and work for your conservative views. Voting is NOT enough. BE a block captain in your precinct.- NOVEMBER IS JUST AROUND THE CORNER. WE HAVE TO TAKE BACK CONGRESS or SOCIALISM WILL BE IN FULL FORCE.” [caps in original]
Yowell, who holds an official position in the Wake County Republican Party as House District 37 Vice Chair, has made it clear it’s all about getting rid of President Obama. “Why are we allowing this person [President Obama] to destroy this wonderful country with his selfishness and his lies? His type of change is killing our country. He needs to be stopped and only our votes can stop him. Do not forget about his tactics when it’s election time. Vote Obama out of the Presidency in 2012. ‘2012: THE END OF AN ERROR,'” she wrote.
Already active in far-right circles and familiar with voter suppression efforts, Yowell stepped in to become the True the Vote state director after DeLancy spun off and created the Voter Integrity Project NC.
It may not be that million person army that Engelbrecht once envisioned, but Yowell and True the Vote have built up a small battalion of volunteers in North Carolina. As of September 30, True the Vote had 286 volunteers in sixty different North Carolina counties. The largest concentrations of voter suppression volunteers are in Wake (71), Guilford (22), Mecklenburg (19), Forsyth (17), Durham (15), and Henderson (11) counties.
In North Carolina, knowledge of and opposition to those who would narrow voting rights is of great importance; in part because of the history of voter suppression and oppression in North Carolina. Recent events in North Carolina also provide a context for this current contest, and throw the battle lines on this issue into sharp relief.
In 2006, the North Carolina NAACP led the creation of a broad coalition aimed at seeking necessary reforms from the state government. Known as “Historic Thousands on Jones Street,” or HKonJ, the coalition has grown to include 125 different NAACP units in the state plus 140 other social justice organizations. Its first annual mobilization in February 2009 attracted approximately 3,500 marchers, and its demonstration in 2012 drew over 15,000 individuals. Most significantly for this report, HKonJ has changed the shape of North Carolina’s political and social life.
Among HKonJ’s many achievements, it won a dollar an hour increase in the state’s minimum wage that the Governor signed in 2007. In 2010 it won passage of the Racial Justice Act, which gave death row inmates an avenue to challenge their sentence if race was a significant factor in the sentencing. Although there were a couple of legislative attempts to repeal and revise this statute, the Governor vetoed them. HKonJ also successfully pushed the legislature to pass a same-day registration for early voting measure in 2007.
As a result, in the 2008 election, North Carolina recorded the highest percentage increase of voter turnout of any state in the country, with a 9.4% increase.
In response, the Republican-controlled North Carolina legislature made several attempts to restrict the vote. In 2009, HB 430 “Voter Identification” was introduced, but never gained traction. Following GOP gains in 2010, a strict new bill requiring photo identification to vote was introduced in March 2011 as HB 351, the deceptively named “Restore Confidence in Government” Act.
The nonpartisan voter advocacy group Democracy North Carolina noted that the bill could affect more than 450,000 North Carolina residents. State officials also added that more than 550,000 residents have no identification at all, and many don’t have the money or time to get to a Department of Motor Vehicles branch and obtain one.
Nevertheless, the bill was ratified by the legislature on June 16, 2011. Gov. Bev Perdue, with the support of HKonJ, vetoed the bill on June 23, 2011. “This bill, as written, will unnecessarily and unfairly disenfranchise many eligible and legitimate voters,” Perdue wrote in her veto announcement. In her statement, she also noted, “There was a time in North Carolina history when the right to vote was enjoyed only by some citizens rather than by all. That time is past, and we should not revisit it.”
On July 26, 2011, the House attempted to override the Governor veto, but failed to reach the three-fifths majority necessary. In a party line vote, 68 Republicans voted to override the veto, while 51 Democrats voted against the measure. Yet again, in 2012, the bill rose from the dead and it was re-introduced in May, and a move was made to get a modified version passed.
Then in June, at the height of final attempt to craft a bill that might override Gov. Perdue’s veto, North Carolina House Speaker Thom Tillis took time to conference with several of the leading voices in support of the voter ID law.
Among those in attendance:
William Gheen of the nativist group ALIPAC. Gheen has suggested that “illegal and violent” “extra political activities” might be the only way to save “white America” from “Dictator Barack Obama.”
David DeGerolamo of the Tea Party group NC Freedom. In a 2010 interview DeGerolamo told another Tea Party leader, “I want the 14th Amendment repealed.”
Donna Yowell of Feet to the Fire (who would go on to be the state coordinator for the True the Vote voter suppression efforts).
Ron Woodward of the anti-immigrant group, NC Listen.
James and Maurine Johnson of the grassroots nativist outfit NC FIRE.
Despite this push by Tea Party and nativist groups, enough votes to override a veto threat couldn’t be wrangled before the end of the session. HKonJ played a significant role in these events, providing the political energy to protect voting rights.
Nevertheless, these issues remain hotly contested. North Carolina House Speaker Thom Tillis told the state’s delegation to the Republican National Convention in Tampa that if things go well for Republicans this fall, a voter ID bill likely will become law next year. The Republican candidate for governor, Pat McCrory has also added that if elected, he would sign a similar bill.