When Catherine Engelbrecht and her friends sat down and started talking politics several years ago, they soon agreed that talking wasn’t enough. They wanted to do more. So when the 2008 election came around, “about 50” of her friends volunteered to work at Houston’s polling places.
“What we saw shocked us,” she said. “There was no one checking IDs, judges would vote for people that asked for help. It was fraud, and we watched like deer in the headlights.”
Their shared experience, she says, created “True the Vote,” a citizen-based grassroots organization that began collecting publicly available voting data to prove that what they saw in their day at the polls was, indeed, happening -- and that it was happening everywhere.
“It was a true Tea Party moment,” she remembers.
Like most voter watchdog groups, she said, her group started small. They decided to investigate voting fraud in general, not just at the polling places, and at first they weren't even sure what to look for -- and where to look for it.
“The first thing we started to do was look at houses with more than six voters in them" Engelbrecht said, because those houses were the most likely to have fraudulent registrations attached to them. "Most voting districts had 1,800 if they were Republican and 2,400 of these houses if they were Democratic . . .
"But we came across one with 24,000, and that was where we started looking."
It was Houston's poorest and predominantly black district, which has led some to accuse the group of targeting poor black areas. But Engelbrecht rejects that, saying, "It had nothing to do with politics. It was just the numbers.”
The task was overwhelming. With 1.9 million voters and 886 voting precincts, Houston’s Harris County is the second largest county in the country -- and the key to Texas elections.
The group called for help and quickly got 30 donated computers and “tens of thousands of hours” of volunteer work. And then the questions started to arise.
“Vacant lots had several voters registered on them. An eight-bed halfway house had more than 40 voters registered at its address,” Engelbrecht said. “We then decided to look at who was registering the voters."
Their work paid off. Two weeks ago the Harris County voter registrar took their work
and the findings of his own investigation and handed them over to both the Texas secretary of state’s office and the Harris County district attorney.
Most of the findings focused on a group called Houston Votes, a voter registration group headed by Sean Caddle, who also works for the Service Employees International Union. Among the findings were that only 1,793 of the 25,000 registrations the group submitted appeared to be valid. (Continues here)
Related here at KIAH-TV Houston
HOUSTON - Harris County Voter Registrar Leo Vasquez announced Tuesday that Houston Votes - a local non-profit organization that recruits voters - turned in more than 5,000 fraudulent voter registration applications.