Contempt for Democracy: Attacks on Voting Rights


In Harris County (Houston), Texas, a tea party group called King Street Patriots is engaged in a systematic attack on voting rights. They are working dirty hand in dirty hand with a Republican County voter registrar to suppress the votes of those they believe unworthy, that is, those who might disagree with their own political choices.

Of course, they say they just want fair and open elections. “It’s really about truth,” says King Street founder Catherine Engelbrecht in an 8-minute video that includes doctored images and phony charges of “fraud” against…well, you only see pictures of African-Americans when fraud is discussed, so the implication is clear.

Maybe it was just coincidence that the warehouse containing all — all — of Houston’s voting machines burned down mysteriously just as King Street Patriots and their ally, Tax Assessor-Collector Leo Vasquez, went public with their fraud allegations. Whatever the case, the voter intimidation and suppression campaign is clearly part of a well-funded national effort to put barriers in the way of voters suspected of disagreeing with the perpetrators’ right-wing agenda.

The contempt for democracy demonstrated by partisans who think noting of violating the fellow citizens’ right to vote is staggering. Not only are election outcomes potentially altered, the health of civil society itself is altered.

I wrote that back in 2004 after surveying decades of GOP voter suppression campaigns for my book, The Politics of Deceit. Voter suppression is the most under-reported political scandal of my lifetime, and it pains me to admit that I under-reported it myself when I was a political writer for daily newspapers.

Journalists tend to shrug it off as a kind of prankish misdemeanor. But mail pieces like that one pictured above (read about it at Lone Star Project) are clearly intended to scare would-be voters into thinking any misstep will land them in jail. Mailers like this are now a common part of every election.

Groups like King Street Patriots hide behind rhetoric that they are the guardians of fair, open and honest elections. If that is true, why do they lie? Why do they invent stories of fraud where none exist? Why do they doctor images in their video? If truth is what they want, why do they poison it?

Their lies betray their real goal: to limit the voting rights of their political opponents. Let me detail one of their lies. They claim repeatedly that in Houston, six people are registered to a vacant lot. The claim is the symbolic center of their phony accusations of voter fraud.

It didn’t take very many minutes of research to discover how ridiculous this charge was. Incidentally, the Liberty Institute has taken the image down from its website. LI is run by King Street Patriots lawyer, Kelly Shackleford, the guy who tried to suppress the Alaska Legislature’s Sarah Palin report. Anyway, it turns out that there was a rent house on that vacant lot until 2010. A demolition permit was issued in September, 2009. Tax records indicate the house stood until 2010. The six registered voters mentioned in the attack were renters going back ten years.

If any doubt remains, here’s a Google Earth photo of the house that once stood on King Streets’ allegedly vacant lot.

King Street Patriots doesn’t care, of course, because the truth of an allegation is irrelevant. Like all voter suppression and intimidation campaigns (Greg Mitchell’s account of the the 1934 California gubernatorial race tells a great story about how unfounded accusations of fraud can be used to suppress votes) racist allegations of widespread fraud are used to stir anger among (usually white) conservative voters and intimidate minority voters.

Here’s another example. In their video, King Street Patriots uses a doctored image of an African-American rally-goer holding a sign that reads, “I Only Got to Vote Once.” The sign is lettered in the Comic Sans font and was clearly photo-shopped. Once again we have to ask, if truth and fairness are what they want, why phony-up images? This one actually makes me chuckle for its sheer absurdity. Under what possible circumstances would anyone publicly complain that they only got to vote once?

By the way, there is a national effort to find the young female victim of this particular little fraud. Go to to participate.

The Right wants its suckers to believe that scary people are out there undoing what would otherwise be the natural result of “fair” elections: the absolute hold on power by, well, them.

King Street Patriots appears to be connected to the national right-wing network funded by the notorious Koch brothers. Jane Mayer’s recent piece on them in the New Yorker should be mandatory reading. I think the voter intimidation and suppression campaigns in 2010 will be better funded and more organized than ever before. And I think the best way to discredit them is to expose their lies.

An argument over a lot at 2307 Jackson Street in Houston, Texas, may seem trivial. But it’s not. Caught in a lie, King Street Patriots betrays its true intentions, intentions shared by a national network of anti-democracy forces that will disrupt the 2010 elections any and every way they can.

Author: Glenn W. Smith

Glenn W. Smith has spent the past 30 years in journalism and politics, where he’s made a name for himself as a writer, campaign manager, activist, think tank analyst and, as Daily Kos founder Markos Moulitsas says, a “legendary political consultant and all-around good guy.” “There’s no one like him,” says author George Lakoff. CNN commentator Paul Begala says, “He has unmatched experience, a graceful pen (or pixel nowadays) and deep insight into the best and worst of us.” Novelist Sarah Bird speaks of his “lucid and lyrical” prose. And, she says, he’s fun. Huffington Post founder Arianna Huffington says Glenn writes with “grace and abundant humor” and “uses his colorful experiences in Texas to enlighten us all.”

Smith led Ann Richards’ successful 1990 campaign for Governor of Texas. He worked for former Texas Lt. Gov. Bill Hobby and U.S. Senator Lloyd Bentsen. Earlier, Smith was a political reporter for the Houston Chronicle and the Houston Post. He’s coordinated national campaigns for groups such as In 2004, he authored the highly acclaimed book, The Politics of Deceit: Saving Freedom and Democracy from Extinction. He also wrote Unfit Commander, a book that detailed George W. Bush’s mysterious disappearance from military service.

In 2004, Smith was featured in the film, Bush’s Brain, a documentary about Karl Rove. Smith provided commentary on Rove’s role as then-President Bush’s senior advisor. He has made numerous media appearances with Chris Mathews on Hardball, Joe Scarborough, Brit Hume, and many others. He writes a regularly for top national web sites, including FireDogLake and Huffington Post.

As a senior fellow at George Lakoff’s prestigious Rockridge Institute in Berkeley he studied, wrote and taught on the power of metaphor and narrative in political communications. He also lectured on religion and politics at the Starr King School for Ministry in Berkeley. As a sponsor and organizer, he has pulled together numerous national events with progressive religious leaders. He also organized a celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King at Riverside Church in New York City as well as “Freedom and Faith” bus tours, which was a nationwide campaign for social justice and progressive values.

Smith’s play, Double Play, which explored American Western myths and legends, was held over to sold-out audiences. He’s even written and performed songs in the Americana tradition, such as his best-known song, “Helping Marty Robbins,” a tribute to his hometown, Houston.

Most recently, Smith is the creator of DogCanyon, a political and cultural web site covering state, national and global issues from a Texas perspective. DogCanyon is an exhilarating and unique site that gets the connections between politics and culture and explores both the personal side of politics and the ups, down, craziness and beauty of “life its ownself,” as humorist Dan Jenkins would say. DogCanyon offers heartfelt personal essays, hard-hitting political analysis, and, most importantly, laughs.

As Paul Begala said, Smith writes in “the finest, firmest, fearless tradition of Texas essayists like Molly Ivins.”

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