I nearly spat out my coffee this morning when I read an editorial in the Houston Chronicle entitled Voter Fraud? What Fraud?
As background for the trial that began this week in federal court in Corpus Christi contesting the constitutionality of Texas' new voter identification law, we would like to see as exhibit No. 1 the report of a raid carried out a few years ago against a voter registration group called Houston Votes.You see, it's not often that we read articles or editorials that are harshly critical of political candidates for exaggerating claims about voter fraud. But in a way the Houston Chronicle had to address this issue because several days ago the Dallas Morning News had published a bombshell of a report about Attorney General and gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott's role in shutting down a drive to register low income voters in Houston in 2010. Last Sunday a friend and fellow Houston area Kossack and political activist, nomandates, published a story about this issue here. It made the recommended list with 376 recs, 5.6K likes and 210 tweets.
In 2010, as reported by the Dallas Morning News, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott dispatched armed deputies and agents in bullet-proof vests to a house on Houston's north side; they had a search warrant. Investigators for the attorney general's office initiated the raid, accusing Houston Votes of election fraud.
"They could have used a subpoena," Fred Lewis, the president of the parent group of Houston Votes, told the Morning News. "They could have called us and asked for the records. They didn't need guns."
A year later, the investigation sputtered to a halt. Abbott's office filed no charges - although his outrageous police action managed to destroy Houston Votes. The organization's funding dried up, bringing to an end its efforts to register low-income citizens so they could exercise their constitutional right. Abbott's office never returned the group's records and office equipment. Instead, the attorney general destroyed them under a 2013 court order.
The reason the Houston Votes 2010 suppression efforts re-emerged is because the Texas Voter ID Law is currently being tried in a federal court in Corpus Christi. Texas has passed the most stringent Voter ID law in the U.S. Rick Perry, Greg Abbott and the Texas GOP claim this law is necessary in order to protect the vote and guard against voter fraud. The law prohibits students from using their college issued IDs. And while most of us have photo driver's licenses there are some elderly voters in rural areas in which a Department of Public Safety is not nearby. There are also costs involved for the economically disadvantaged who need to get copies of birth certificates. One witness said she has to choose between eating or obtaining a birth certificate.
But at the very least the Houston Chronicle's editorial board spanked Greg Abbott very hard.
Abbott, who's defending the state in the Corpus Christi trial, vowed a crusade against the "epidemic" of voter fraud in Texas when he became attorney general in 2002. In the dozen years since, his zealous efforts have uncovered a grand total of two cases that would have been stopped by the state's voter ID law. That's no misprint; he's found two. If ever there was a solution in search of a problem, the crusading AG has found it.We are not even sure if Texas is really a true red state because so few vote here. And I am sure Greg Abbott and the Texas GOP want to keep it that way. The Houston Chronicle's editorial board certainly seems to think so.
Meanwhile, some 800,000 of our fellow Texans, most of them either minorities or the elderly or both, lack the appropriate state-issued ID to vote. The man likely to be the state's next governor seems little concerned about curtailing their constitutional right.
If it's voter fraud that truly concerns Abbott, then surely he realizes that fraud, however rare, almost exclusively involves absentee ballots. Voter ID laws deal only with in-person voter impersonation, which is about as rare as Houston Astros front-office kumbaya or a Texas Democratic candidate with statewide potential.
In light of the dearth of voter-impersonation problems, it's hard not to conclude that Abbott and his fellow crusaders are being disingenuous - about as disingenuous, the columnist Paul Waldman has noted, as those elected officials claiming that laws mandating restrictions on abortion providers are really just about protecting women's health. What the voting-fraud Elliot Nesses are really concerned about, it seems, is making sure that those who may be inclined to vote other-than-Republican choose not to exercise their right. Apparently, the crusaders want to squeeze down the voting pool to just their most reliable folks.
Perhaps it's a naive hope when raw political power is at stake, but we would like to think that the state's political establishment, whether Republican or Democratic, is dedicated to expanding the franchise, not curtailing it. In a healthy, vigorous democracy, citizens participate. As the attorney general ought to understand, participation is essential to sustaining the liberty that the Constitution guarantees.As far as I am concerned the Texas GOP is not concerned about liberty and the Constitution. It's all about the keeping the power intact for themselves.
Voter fraud, General Abbott, is not a problem. Voter participation is.
Since a ruling on the Texas ID Law likely won't come until after the election Democrats in Harris Co (greater Houston) are reaching out to senior citizens and to the disabled. We are mailing them applications to vote by mail. This method does not require a photo ID. Texas Democrats in concert with Battleground Texas have also been organizing massive voter registration efforts. There are other groups that are trying to help the elderly and those in isolated areas to obtain a photo ID. We are motivated because we believe our time has come, finally.
I don't expect the revelations of Greg Abbott's suppression efforts in Houston in 2010 will go away any time soon. A former employee of Houston Votes contacted a couple of us in the Texas Progressive Alliance of Bloggers. There is a Part 2 to this story that is confidential for now.
But I can tell you Greg Abbott and former Harris Co. Tax Assessor officials were greatly influenced by a tea party activist.
The same tea party group that has been accused of intimidating minorities at the voting polls. In 2010 I personally witnessed this group in action at an early voting poll in S.W. Houston. King Street "Patriots" had brought cameras into the poll in order to "record illegalities" and scare away voters, of course. The "patriots" forgot to check Texas election law before they showed up. Cameras are not allowed in voting polls in Texas. I reported the "patriots" and they eventually left.
Part 2 will be posted as soon as we learn the facts involved.