The National  Memo Logo

Smart. Sharp. Funny. Fearless.

Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

Tag: voter suppression

Voter Suppression Outfit Raised Millions — But Where Did The Money Go?

Long before the rise of Donald Trump’s MAGA movement — long before the Big Lie and the January 6, 2021 insurrection — True the Vote made voter suppression its top priority. Founded in Houston in 2009 by far-right Tea Party activist Catherine Engelbrecht, True the Vote has spent 13 years pushing the false narrative that voter fraud is widespread in Democratic areas. And True the Vote has raised millions of dollars with that narrative. But exactly how that money has been spent, according to Mother Jones reporter Cassandra Jaramillo, remains a mystery.

“A review of thousands of pages of documents from state filings, tax returns, and court records…. paints the picture of an organization that enriches Engelbrecht and partner Gregg Phillips rather than actually rooting out any fraud,” Jaramillo reports in an article published on June 8. “According to the documents, True the Vote has given questionable loans to Engelbrecht and has a history of awarding contracts to companies run by Engelbrecht and Phillips.

Within days of receiving $2.5 million from a donor to stop the certification of the 2020 election, True the Vote distributed much of the money to a company owned by Phillips, (attorney James) Bopp’s law firm, and Engelbrecht directly for a campaign that quickly fizzled out.”

True the Vote, according to Jaramillo, has “engaged in a series of questionable transactions that sent more than $1 million combined to its founder, a longtime board member romantically linked to the founder, and the group’s general counsel, an investigation by Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting has found.”

True the Vote has a shameful history. The group claims that its mission is to “prevent voter fraud,” but its real mission is making it more difficult to vote — especially if one is African-American. Sen. Barbara Boxer of California has been a vehement critic of True the Vote’s efforts to discourage African-Americans and Latinos from voting, saying that a more accurate name for the group would be “Stop the Vote.”

Nonetheless, True the Vote’s voter suppression efforts have made Engelbrecht a star in the MAGA movement and the right-wing media.


“A former PTA mom-turned-Tea Party activist, True the Vote founder Catherine Engelbrecht has played a pivotal role in helping drive the voter fraud movement from the political fringes to a central pillar in the Republican Party’s ideology,” Jaramillo observes. “Casting herself as a God-fearing, small-town Texan, she’s spread the voter-fraud gospel by commanding airtime on cable television, space on the pages of Breitbart News, and even theater seats, as a new feature film dramatizing her organization’s exploits, 2000 Mules, plays in cinemas across the country.”

A "documentary" by far-right conspiracy theorist Dinesh D’Souza, 2000 Mules claims to offer proof that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from Trump. But the movie proves nothing, and D’Souza’s sloppy reporting has drawn widespread criticism. Never Trump conservative Amanda Carpenter, for example, has slammed 2000 Mules as a badly done, embarrassing cash grab on D’Souza’s part.

According to Jaramillo, Reveal’s findings don’t look good for True the Vote.

“The records show: True the Vote regularly reported loans to Engelbrecht, including more than $113,000 in 2019, according to a tax filing,” Jaramillo notes. “Texas law bans nonprofits from loaning money to directors; Engelbrecht is both a director and an employee.”


Reprinted with permission from Alternet.

Video Reveals RNC Scheme To Disrupt Vote In Democratic Precincts

With President Joe Biden continuing to suffer from weak approval ratings and voters expressing considerable frustration over inflation, Democratic strategists fear that the 2022 midterms could bring a major red wave like the red waves of 1994 and 2010. To make matters worse, Republicans have been ramping up their voter suppression campaign. And according to reporting from journalist Heidi Przybyla in Politico, part of the GOP game plan is looking for ways to challenge votes in Democratic-leaning areas.

Politico, Przybyla reports, has obtained “video recordings” of “Republican Party operatives meeting with grassroots activists” that “provide an inside look at a multi-pronged strategy to target and potentially overturn votes in Democratic precincts.” The plan, according to Przybyla, is to “install trained recruits as regular poll workers and put them in direct contact with party attorneys.”

Przybyla writes, “The plan, as outlined by a Republican National Committee staffer in Michigan, includes utilizing rules designed to provide political balance among poll workers to install party-trained volunteers prepared to challenge voters at Democratic-majority polling places, developing a website to connect those workers to local lawyers and establishing a network of party-friendly district attorneys who could intervene to block vote counts at certain precincts.”

The RNC staffer in Michigan that Przybyla is referring to is Matthew Seifried. In a recording of a training session held on October 5, 2021, Seifried told his colleagues, “Being a poll worker, you just have so many more rights and things you can do to stop something than (as) a poll challenger…. It’s going to be an army. We’re going to have more lawyers than we’ve ever recruited, because let’s be honest, that’s where it’s going to be fought, right?”

Seifried, according to Przybyla, “also said the RNC will hold ‘workshops’ and equip poll workers with a hotline and website developed by Zendesk, a software support company used by online retailers, which will allow them to live-chat with party attorneys on Election Day.”

Przybyla notes that “election watchdog groups and legal experts say many of these recruits are answering the RNC’s call because they falsely believe fraud was committed in the 2020 election.”

Nick Penniman, founder and CEO of the election watchdog group Issue One, told Politico, “This is completely unprecedented in the history of American elections that a political party would be working at this granular level to put a network together. It looks like now, the Trump forces are going directly after the legal system itself — and that should concern everyone.”

Penniman believes that the RNC strategy is to “create massive failure of certification” in Democratic precincts.

“The real hope is that you can throw the choosing of electors to state legislatures,” Penniman told Politico.

Law professor Rick Hasen, an expert on election law who also teaches political science professor at the University of California, Irvine, is quite critical of the RNC plan to install poll workers in heavily Democratic precincts.

Hasen told Politico, “You shouldn’t have poll workers who are reporting to political organizations what they see. It creates the potential for mucking things up at polling places and potentially leading to delays or disenfranchisement of voters.”

That is especially true, Hasen added, “if (the poll workers) come in with the attitude that something is crooked with how elections are run.”

Reprinted with permission from Alternet.

Election Subversion Replacing Voter Suppression As New GOP Threat

The language of the voting rights movement is changing. For decades, it had been centered around overcoming voter suppression and Jim Crow, which is shorthand for intentional barriers to stymie voters at the starting line -- affecting their voter registration, their voting options, and whether their ballots will be accepted. But today, thanks to Donald Trump’s 2020 election-denying loyalists, the focus is shifting to the finish line, where counting votes is what matters.

Election subversion is the new political buzz phrase.

One day after Georgia’s May 24 primary, where 2020 presidential election deniers lost GOP nominations for governor and secretary of state, Marc Elias, the Democratic Party’s top election lawyer, posted a piece on his website: “Election Subversion Is the New Voter Suppression.” A day before Georgia’s primary, Brave New Films, a progressive documentary shop, held online screenings of its updated film about voter suppression during Georgia’s 2018 governor’s race to include post-2020 subversion by Trump’s allies. It was retitled, “Suppressed and Sabotaged.”

Just days before, a trio of pro-democracy groups, including States United Democracy Center, whose advisors include Republicans who reject Trump’s 2020 claims, issued a masterful report, “A Democracy Crisis in the Making: How State Legislatures are Politicizing, Criminalizing and Interfering with Election Administration,” which details how plans to overturn popular votes are becoming legally institutionalized. It traces how power grabs by GOP state legislators, via bills being introduced and passed since Trump’s defeat, are being woven into state law and vote-counting rules to allow hyper-partisans to intervene and tilt the results at key junctures.

The New York Times, in its Sunday, May 22 edition, cited the report in a front-page analysis affirming that nearly half of Republican lawmakers in the top swing states have already acted to subvert results. It found “44 percent of the Republican legislators in the nine states where the presidential race was most narrowly decided” used their office’s authority to “discredit or try to overturn” 2020’s presidential results. States United’s report traces their subsequent actions, pushing and passing bills to let legislators and appointees intervene to subvert election results.

The threat and terminology of subverted or sabotaged election results is meant to be jarring. It is not merely a preview of early June’s House hearings about the January 6 insurrection, which is likely to show Americans that Trump allies in Washington and the states took part in a willful, political, and likely criminal, effort to overturn the 2020 presidential election. The emergence and naming of election subversion as a deepening threat is equally, if not more so, about the future elections – in 2022 and 2024 – rather than the last presidential election.

“We have a democratic crisis in the making,” States United concluded. “All of us who care about our democracy—regardless of political affiliation—must continue to use every tool we have to protect free and fair elections in this country, and to reject efforts to undermine them.”

But a buzzphrase can lose its meaning, especially if imprecisely or overused in politics. In the above examples, subversion was cited for different purposes. Elias was sounding alarm bells, saying that Republicans have an advancing strategy and Democrats don’t yet have a response. Brave New Films cited subversion to inspire the get-out-the-vote efforts in Georgia and other states holding May 24 elections, and to push back on assertions by Georgia’s GOP that higher turnout in 2022’s early voting, compared to 2018, did not mean that the state’s Republicans were not still targeting Democrats blocs. The States United report sought to expose how Trump-inspired legislators have been using disinformation and introducing chaos into an orderly process to justify potential power grabs by their branch of state government.

Despite these analyses, elevating the prospects for election subversion in 2022 and 2024 is hampered by a problem common to many similar issues: While warning signs abound, the threat has not yet materialized. It is too early in 2022’s cycle to cite examples of Republicans subverting the popular vote at this stage in the process – in primaries. (The closest example is from Texas, where, under technicalities in a new state law, 12.4 percent of absentee ballots cast on March 1 were rejected after voters mistakenly filled out return envelopes.) The fall general election is when most electoral power grabs are likely to surface.

The Times’ May 22 analysis hinted at that reality. Its report underscored that many Republicans, already in statehouses, tried but failed to subvert the 2020 presidential results, which shows a power-grabbing mindset. Looking to 2022’s general election and beyond, the Times noted that would-be subverters have not yet reached critical mass as far as hijacking future results. “In most states, the lawmakers who challenged the 2020 results do not yet have the numbers, or the support of governors, secretaries of state or legislative leaders, to achieve their most audacious aims,” the Times said.

Mindsets And Actions

Still, it is undeniable that Trumpist Republicans embrace power-grabbing tactics. The Times report focused on legislators who acted to overturn the will of the people in their state. Since then, in numerous 2022 Republican primaries, many members of Congress who were elected on the same ballot where Joe Biden won – but voted to reject their state’s Electoral College slate after the January 6 riot – have been rewarded by voters. They won their primaries.

And Trump has urged his handpicked candidates to prematurely declare victory. In May 17’s Pennsylvania primary, he told Dr. Mehmet Oz, his pick for U.S. Senate, to declare victory and not wait for a recount. (Oz did not follow Trump’s script.) As the June hearings by the House’s January 6 committee approach, the panel is expected to show how scores of state and federal Republican legislators took part in a concerted but seat-of-the-pants effort to overturn the presidential election.

While the uprising may emerge as a criminal conspiracy – violating state and federal election laws in place at that time, what has unfolded in GOP-led swing states since January 2021 has been a more careful and deliberate strategy to achieve similar aims – by passing new laws empowering Republican legislators to interfere at key junctures with counting votes.

“Contrary to what some argue, I don’t expect Republican election officials to blatantly ignore the election results and declare that the candidate who received fewer votes has won,” Elias wrote on May 25. “The Republican election subversion plan is more sophisticated than that. Instead, I expect Republicans to use false allegations of fraud as a pretext to remove ballots from the vote totals and then certify those incomplete results.”

“To accomplish this, Republicans — before an election takes place — will seek to sow doubt in the legitimacy or integrity of the ballots they aim to challenge,” he continued, alluding to the role that disinformation plays in fomenting electoral coups. “Maybe they’ll say that ballots cast in a certain kind of drop box are invalid, or that ballots collected by third-party organizations are illegal, or that voters who were given food and water while waiting in line should have their ballots discarded. The list of potential unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud is endless.”

The report by States United Democracy Center, Protect Democracy, and Law Forward, further breaks down the interrelated building blocks of the subversion strategy that Republicans have been honing and putting in place since the 2020 presidential election. Unlike Trump’s sloppy post-election lawsuits, where conspiratorial claims and a lack of factual evidence led to 60-plus state and federal rulings against him, Trumpist legislators have been introducing bills, and, in many cases passing them, to usurp counting votes – which is a different strategy. (It also fits with an untested legal theory, where they claim the U.S. Constitution grants this authority.)

The groups’ report delves into little-understood details of election administration, which, in contrast to Trump’s stolen election clichés, is what makes these developments legally potent and increases the number of insider-driven tracks to subverting the popular vote. Under the modern version of Jim Crow, ruling politicians over-policed many steps in the voting process, never knowing what would have the greatest impact in any year. This post-2020 strategy takes that scatter-shot approach to ballot-verifying and counting process.

“This year alone [2022], lawmakers have introduced scores of new bills that increase the likelihood of election subversion, whether directly or indirectly,” the report’s summary said. “In some cases, the potential subversion is quite direct — for example, bills that give the legislature the power to choose a victor contrary to the voters’ will. In others, the impact is less direct but still dangerous. Some bills would introduce dysfunction and chaos into the election system and could lead to delay, uncertainty, and confusion, all of which could provide cover for subversion.”

The Blueprint

The report describes five categories of interrelated “legislative maneuvers” that build on each other and can cascade. The first is passing new laws that “would give legislators direct or indirect control over election outcomes, allowing lawmakers to reject the choice of voters.” While no such bills have become law so far in 2022, the authors state that “the fact that they are being introduced indicates that legislatures are considering the option.” However, this category includes giving legislators greater control over the statewide and county election boards that certify winners, which have become law in Georgia, for example.

The second legislative maneuver is launching post-election “audits” or reviews by partisans with little or no experience in election administration and technologies. This is where undermining public confidence and chaos via made-for-rightwing-media spectacles is a deliberate tactic.

Seventeen states saw bills to allow these reviews, which “threaten to call election outcomes perpetually into doubt. They would tie up election administrators and likely would amount to state-sponsored vehicles for disinformation,” the report said, which is what happened in Arizona, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania. “The bills… lack standardized procedures, lack basic safeguards to protect the security of voting equipment and cast ballots, or fail to require that reviews be conducted by non-partisan election administration experts.” Post-2020 reviews did not alter any state’s presidential results but looking ahead “could be used to illegitimately delay certification of results, opening the door to conspiracy theories and subversion.”

The third maneuver is “shifting power from professional election administrators to partisan legislatures or legislatively appointed officials,” the report continued. This tactic would disrupt how the legislative and executive branches of state government function.

“It is traditionally the role of the state executive branch to appoint election officials, issue more granular regulations, and administer elections according to the rules set by the legislature. Among other benefits, this traditional allocation of power allows election administrators to respond to changing circumstances and exigencies,” it said. This cooperation is what happened in 2020 when public health and election officials collaborated to make voting safer during the pandemic by encouraging voters to use mailed-out ballots – which Trump assailed.

Intentionally disrupting these roles, where legislators with little nor no experience managing elections start imposing administrative decisions that run counter to the best practices of civil service election professionals, leads to the fourth category of overreach, “creating unworkable burdens in election administration.”

“We are seeing a wave of legislation that interferes with the most basic routines and procedures of local election administrators — such as voter roll maintenance, testing election equipment, and tabulating ballots — in ways that impose new, unworkable burdens on them,” it said. “One particularly dangerous flavor of these bills, under consideration in six states, would require all ballots to be counted by hand, practically guaranteeing delays, higher rates of counting error, and increased risk of tampering by bad actors.”

Graham Whines That Voting Rights Push Depicts Republicans As 'Racists'

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) complained on Tuesday that Democratic efforts to protect the right to vote are really just about making Republicans look racist. And though GOP-run states passed dozens of bills to make it harder to vote in just the past year, he said the issue is completely "manufactured."

Mere days after Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and his office tried to gaslight the nation into believing Republican state legislators were not trying to suppress voting rights, Graham made similar comments in a Senate floor speech.

"As to voting rights itself, I think this is the most hyped, manufactured issue in a long time," the South Carolina Republican argued. "It's not a problem in search of a solution, it's a manufactured problem."

Graham then defended efforts in some states to change voting laws to require photo identification in order to vote by mail, before accusing Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of trying "to basically say that Republicans, at our heart, are a bunch of racists when it comes to voting."

For 2024 Election, The Damage Is Already Done

The 2016 presidential election may be remembered as the last one in which the voters on the losing side trusted the result. It used to be the unquestioned norm. But in the era of Donald Trump, norms are like eggs — made to be broken.

The morning after, Hillary Clinton graciously conceded the election, despite getting nearly 2.9 million more votes. While her supporters were stunned by the outcome and exasperated by the Electoral College, they recognized the bitter fact that they had lost according to the rules of the game. No serious effort was made to contest Trump's victory.

Their resigned attitude was in no way surprising. For more than two centuries, losing candidates almost always took defeat with stoic grace. Some even managed humor. After losing to Dwight Eisenhower in 1952, Adlai Stevenson recalled Abraham Lincoln's reply when asked how he felt about an election loss: "He was too old to cry, but it hurt too much to laugh."

Even when there were credible allegations of fraud, the candidates and the country moved on. Richard Nixon lost in 1960 by a minuscule margin, and many Republicans suspected that corrupt shenanigans tipped Illinois and Texas to John F. Kennedy. But Nixon firmly rebuffed pleas for him to challenge the outcome.

As vice president, he oversaw the official certification of the result, then congratulated his opponent and praised "the proud tradition of the American people of developing, respecting and honoring institutions of self-government."

Nothing could be more different from what happened in 2020. Donald Trump did his worst to convince his supporters that Joe Biden won only through a massive fraud. He demanded that Vice President Mike Pence block the certification of the election by Congress.

Those were bad enough. What's worse is that the efforts by him and his accomplices since then have thoroughly rotted the confidence most Americans once had in their electoral system.

Over the past year, Republicans have mounted an offensive against the people and institutions they blame for Trump's defeat. Most visible was the violent assault on the U.S. Capitol, which aimed at forcing Congress to overturn the decision of the American people. But less conspicuous steps have been taken with the intention of ensuring that next time, such desperate measures won't be needed.

In Georgia, where Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger rebuffed Trump's demand that he "find" enough votes to erase Biden's victory margin, the legislature removed the secretary of state as both chair and voting member of the state election board. It gave itself the power to appoint the majority of the board's members and authorized the board to suspend county election officials and take over elections in some circumstances. The latter provision is most likely to be used against Democratic county officials.

In Arkansas, a new law authorizes the legislature to take charge of elections in a county if a legislative committee questions the "appearance of an equal, free and impartial election."

In Arizona, The Washington Post reported, "GOP legislators took away the ability of Secretary of State Katie Hobbs (D) to defend election lawsuits — but only for her final election in that office, in 2022 — while transferring that power to Republican Attorney General Mark Brnovich."

Similar efforts in other states could produce changes in time for 2024. All this comes on top of a host of laws to curb early voting and mail-in voting, stiffen voter ID rules and reduce the number or hours of polling stations. Georgia and Florida went so far as to make it illegal to give water and snacks to voters waiting in long lines.

All these changes are aimed squarely at Democratic voters. The Republican goal is not so much to win over those Americans as to keep them from voting.

Trump himself has made plain his desire to reduce the number of people casting ballots. Democratic efforts to promote voting by mail, he said in 2020, could allow "levels of voting that, if you ever agreed to it, you'd never have a Republican elected in this country again."

He and his confederates have primed GOP voters to treat any defeat as proof the vote was rigged. But the measures they have taken practically guarantee that Democrats will see a Republican victory as thoroughly illegitimate — which it may very well be.

Trump failed to destroy American democracy a year ago. But he has polluted our politics in a way that badly corrodes the public faith our system requires. And rust never sleeps.

Article reprinted with permission from Creators.com

Delta, Coke Facing Boycott Campaigns Over Georgia Election Law

Delta Air Lines and Coca-Cola, two of Atlanta's biggest brands, are facing consumer boycott threats after Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp signed new voting restrictions into law last week. Social media posts carrying the hashtags #BoycottDelta, #BoycottDeltaAirlines and #BoycottCocaCola proliferated on Twitter as critics of the Republican-backed legislation accused the two Atlanta-based companies of not having done enough to stop its passage. While voting rights advocates called for companies to condemn the Republican initiative in recent weeks, Delta issued carefully worded statements on the importan...