Ready or not America, here comes the King Street Patriots.
During its True the Vote summit this past weekend, the Houston, Texas tea party group unveiled plans to roll out a statewide database of voter registration records. Meanwhile, conservative activists said they intend to replicate the Patriots’ ”voter fraud”-fighting efforts in other areas of Texas and the U.S., including Florida, California, New Jersey, North Carolina and Washington, D.C.
The statewide summit was a precursor to a national gathering the Patriots will host in March.
“If they’ve come up with a formula, more power to them. Why should I start from scratch when I can build off and work with them? There is strength in numbers,” said California tea partier Rachel Bishar, saying a Patriots/True the Vote initiative is needed in her “two-to-one liberal county” of Santa Barbara.
Both an educational and mobilization effort, the weekend summit in Houston served as a training ground for interested activists sharing in the goal to provide so-called “free and fair elections.”
Attendees convinced that corruption has seeped into the electoral process applauded the message of speakers, including “ACORN whistleblower” Anita MonCrief and former Department of Justice elections attorney J. Christian Adams, who offered their conservative network contacts, legal expertise and various services to the tea partiers discontent with what they see as a defunct voting system.
While alleging voter fraud during the 2009 and 2010 elections in Harris County, the Patriots and True the Vote found themselves embroiled in their own controversies, including a personal defamation suit and a DOJ investigation into reported voter intimidation. Poll watchers — purportedly trained by the Patriots and True the Vote — were accused of “hovering over” voters, “getting into election workers’ faces” and blocking or disrupting lines of early voters waiting to cast ballots in predominately Latino- and African-American-populated areas, Talking Points Memo and the Houston Press reported in October.
The Texas Democratic Party is also pursuing a lawsuit, and campaign finance watchdog Texans for Public Justice has filed an ethics complaint, against the Patriots and True the Vote for allegedly violating the state’s prohibition on corporate campaign contributions, as has been previously reported by our sister site, The Texas Independent.
Despite the serious allegations, the Patriots and True the Vote have ramped up their mission, building a coalition of conservative activists tasked with detecting illicit voting conduct.
“There was a minority of precinct areas that we saw where the rules were not being followed; in fact they were being flagrantly disregarded,” said Patriots president Catherine Engelbrecht. “And later, through our research, we discovered some disturbing patterns.”
In Democratic U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee’s district, the Patriots and True the Vote claim to have found 19,596 registered voters who shared their home address with six other people — outnumbering findings in other congressional districts, including those of Republicans Michael McCaul (1,973), Pete Olson (2,111) and Ted Poe (2,899), as well as Democrat Al Green (8,981) — as of May 2010. Patriots/True the Vote activists vetted 3,800 of the nearly 20,000 voters over the course of five months. They claim to have uncovered duplicate registrations, nonexistent addresses, addresses corresponding to vacant lots and 595 registrations that did not match Texas driver license addresses. The group turned over 496 questionable voters to Harris County tax assessor collector Leo Vasquez; 465 voters were suspended as result.
To streamline the process, the Patriots and True the Vote compiled an online multi-county database to supplant Excel files or handwritten spreadsheets, in order to keep track of every citizen’s voter registration information while providing a mechanism to add, delete and edit “suspect registrations” as they are discovered — such as registered felons, the deceased or those who list businesses as addresses. In the next 15-30 days, the Patriots and True the Vote plan to roll out an expanded database to cover the entire state. The password-protected data trove, filtered by four tiers of security, will only be accessible to vetted tea party activists, who are required to sign nondisclosure agreements.
“They [the secretary of state] are not doing their job. It takes someone to push them to do their job – and that’s where we all come in,” said Mark Antill, King Street Patriots’ executive director. “In a sense we are doing what our county should be doing.”
Antill instructed activists on how to investigate dubious voter addresses and challenge registrations, from taking hundreds of photos to utilizing Google satellite images.
“The idea is to get to a place where every county in Texas can just go here [in the database] and look up their neighbor,” he said.
Audience members were motivated to become “citizen journalists,” mobilize using social media and optimize the negative effects of bad publicity on the Internet (citing reporting on the Patriots and True the Vote done by The Texas Independent). As for their disputed poll watching practices, a one-hour crash course was presented to attendees, including poll watcher exams, guides and a short training video.
Patriots and True the Vote leaders say their poll monitoring efforts during the last election yielded some 700 incident reports, filed largely against presiding and alternate judges and clerks for assisting voters with ballots and suggesting candidates or party choices. Engelbrecht said the charges are currently being reviewed by the secretary of state, county attorney and county tax assessor-collector.
Offering legal advice to the group was the Election Law Center’s Adams and Liberty Institute president Kelly Shackelford, who is also an attorney for the Patriots and True the Vote.
“Keep fighting. Don’t give up. They are going to attack and conjure up a racial issue. You will win this because Middle America is on your side,” said Adams, who accused the DOJ of racial bias during a voter intimidation case against the New Black Panther Party. Adams warned the activists of “ideological driven, well-funded groups that seek to perpetuate voter fraud,” while Shackelford took the opportunity to dismiss the Democratic Party’s ongoing lawsuit as a “baseless attempt at intimidation.”
Keynote speaker MonCrief — spokesperson for conservative nonprofit American Majority — retold her story working for and exposing bad practices by low-income voter registration group ACORN. The self-identified “ex-liberal” described her time at the now-defunct ACORN as spent among “wealthy liberals with trust funds” who were able to subsist on modest $25,000 salaries while using minorities as shields to cover up nefarious activities, such as duplicate voter registrations, Internal Revenue Service violations, money laundering and Federal Elections Commission violations.
It was not about the “movement,” helping the poor or fighting injustice, but about money and power, MonCrief said.
She is convinced President Obama was aware of ACORN’s questionable actions during his campaign, and that he could not have achieved victory without the organization. To MonCrief, True the Vote efforts symbolize an opportunity to reverse the corruption she was exposed to and implicated in while on the job.
MonCrief is leader of the brand-new Crispus Attucks Tea Party, the first minority tea party group in Texas. Its stated mission is to “identify and vet viable conservative candidates,” empower black businessmen, promote personal responsibility and capitalism while helping blacks “fully assimilate into American society.”
“I believe the moral values of African-Americans — fiscal responsibility, limited government and personal responsibility — are more in line with conservative and tea party values than any other political group,” MonCrief said in an interview shortly after her speech.
The inaugural meeting of Crispus Attucks is scheduled to take place today in Houston. The area represented by the group is a former ACORN-targeted neighborhood and in Democratic Rep. Jackson Lee’s district.
“What has she [Lee] done for the district? She is more concerned about getting reelected. We have invited her and would love to talk to her about her office,” said MonCrief, a D.C.-area resident who intends to move to Houston, according to Houston Press. “But right now, we are here to take it back. The people need a voice.”
On board with Patriots and True the Vote efforts since last year, MonCrief plans to connect the Houston tea partiers with major Conservative Political Action Conference players in February, one month shy of the group’s national conference, to form a more extensive network of conservatives. She aims to launch a D.C.-based national Patriots and True the Vote initiative soon.
Of the roughly 80 summit attendees, most made the drive to Houston from Texas cities like Dallas and El Paso, representing their local tea party organizations, while a handful journeyed from outside the state. A precursor to the Patriots/True the Vote nationwide summit in March, the recent event acted as a springboard to help similar efforts launch in Florida, California, North Carolina and New Jersey.
Many said the task of implementing voter monitoring programs is less daunting now that the Patriots have laid the groundwork.
Soon-to-be retired military officer Jay DeLancy said his time off will be spent organizing poll watching and voter integrity efforts. A visitor from Raleigh, N.C., DeLancy said voter registration issues in neighboring Chatham County prompted his interest. “There are problems in our state,” he said. “I came here to get the tools, validate the process and take the information back to my hometown.”
Texas tea party leaders were excited about the prospect of sinking their teeth into the organization’s extensive voter database. Bill Moore of Organizing for Liberty in Fort Bend County said he didn’t suspect much fraud in his county, but will attempt to check on it anyway.
“This database is incredible and will really help us get the job done,” Moore said.
After two days of rallying at the state capitol at the start of the legislative session, Patriots and True the Vote activists plan to return to lobby lawmakers on issues ranging from voter photo ID to designating English as not only the official language of Texas, but the only language used on ballots, a measure that received thunderous applause from the audience.
Activists were also encouraged to promote stringent rules applying to deputy registrars, the prohibition of same-day voter registration, requiring election officers to complete tests, allowing recording devices inside polling places and requiring the confidentiality of poll watcher identities.
Summit speakers tried to frame their intentions in a nonpartisan tone, touting mantras like, “It was never about party, it was always principle,” while at the same time complaining that for far too long conservative eyes were missing from poll monitoring.
“We make no apologies for being conservative, and we will debate to the death the conservative mindset is the intended trajectory for this country,” Engelbrecht said.
“That being said, our country needs two parties. We need to have healthy, open, honest debate but what we are seeing — not to get too political — we all know this, but the fringe elements that are taking control of this conversation are the ones that we stand against in an effort like True the Vote.”