Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Do We Need Jimmy Carter To Ensure Fair Elections in Texas?

I recently attended a meeting held by some of Harris County’s precinct officials and election judges, most of whom are extremely hard working and deeply committed volunteers. A subset of this group has formed a committee to investigate voter suppression and integrity concerns in Harris County (Houston area). They toil away relentlessly in a tireless attempt to guarantee equal and fair access to the county’s elections in this Tom Delay gerrymandered state. This is no small feat given the GOP is in charge of about everything here. The challenges the volunteers face are significant and difficult. Fortunately for voting Democrats in Harris County, we have such committed and patriotic defenders of both our state and national Constitutional rights. We had better hope and pray they never give up because as it stands now, our democracy here is hanging on by mere shreds.

Our mayor in Houston is supposed to be a Democrat and yet he failed to give this group’s selected committee members the respect, time and appreciation they deserve for their well founded research, data and findings. In fact, he was more deferential to the GOP county clerk’s people present and wasted 30 minutes of the mere 60 minutes allocated by spinning irrelevant yarns about this that and everything except voting issues.

For this appalling reason I decided to write to the mayor today and to also post my letter to him as a diary. I think it is high time for Texas Democrats to take the fight to the people who are running and very likely messing with our election outcomes, as well as those officials who chose to do nothing to stop the contemptible and downright illegal shenanigans.

Should Harris County, the most populated in Texas, flip blue, the Texas GOP will be in a big world of hurt. It is for this reason alone that I believe the GOP will do everything it can get away with to purge/scrub/cancel voter rolls, provide inadequate, pre-rigged, and/or mal-functioning voting machines to mostly minority and poor district, and engage in beyond the pale voter intimidation. Indeed in Harris County, the election folks have come up with a “potential felons” list with names that will likely be scrubbed from the rolls. What in heaven’s name is a “potential felon?” That could be anyone now that our Constitutional rights have been flushed down the toilet by the crooked. lying and incompetent Bush Administration.

It is time to hold the elections’ folks feet to the fire, as well as those of their supervisors, and the Secretary of State.

What do they do to ensure fair, honest and transparent elections to all Texans? If they won’t give us a straight answer, or refuse to answer at all, let’s call Mr. Jimmy Carter and the U.N. and let them know that Texas is a third world type banana republic.

The Honorable Bill White

Dear Mayor White,

I had the opportunity to hear you speak just prior to the onslaught of Hurricane Katrina at a Young Democrats meeting at Rice University. Although I am no longer a “young” Democrat I was nonetheless fortunate enough to attend. I was extremely impressed by how you encouraged a group of very gifted students, many of whom will become future leaders in a number of fields, to consider careers in public service. I was also impressed by your highly skillful and deeply compassionate approach in planning for the tens of thousands of Katrina victims who were to come to Houston for refuge. I am, to this day, very proud of our city’s generous and heartfelt support for those who had to flee such deadly and appalling conditions with no help whatsoever from our federal agencies. It did not matter what one’s political party affiliation, religious beliefs or race were at the time. As Houstonians we were stood together as one to help those in dire and hopeless circumstances.

Maybe we can do likewise in achieving an open and honest democratic election process for all eligible Houstonians.

As the national election of 2008 looms near, I hope you summon your outstanding leadership skills and fully engage our party’s democratic principles in making certain that all eligible Houstonians can exercise their constitutional right to vote. I am particularly concerned because, since the national elections of 2000 and 2004, volumes have been written by election experts and non-partisan organizations about numerous voting machine malfunctions and overall irregularities. To cover all of the voting abnormalities would require at the least 100 or so pages and to be as brief as possible, I will mention just a few of the facts. I have provided sources below to support the facts I present.

Professional (with advanced degrees) statisticians, computer scientists and mathematicians have documented data proving that much was amiss in both the 2000 and 2004 in terms of machine reliability, especially in terms of security, exit poll data, pre and post electoral processes. This vast group of professionals is certainly not the “conspiracy theorists” the Republican Party will routinely summon when caught trying to achieve certain outcomes. News reports from various battle ground states, in particular, have documented evidence of voter suppression, intimidation, the willful placement of fewer and/or mal-functioning machines in minority, poor and mostly Democratic precincts and questionable vote counting processes (e.g. Ohio 2004 when the Secretary of State locked down a particular precinct when votes were being tallied due to “homeland security concerns.” Ohio’s Secretary of State, by the way, Ken Blackwell, was also chair of one of Bush’s reelection campaigns in Ohio.)

In Texas where Democrats are supposedly a minority, what safeguards do we have at our disposal to ensure open, fair and transparent elections? What guarantees are in place to convince me as a Houstonian that our elections, controlled by a most unforthcoming and unresponsive GOP County Clerk and Secretary of State, are accurate? These folks also count the votes after all. How do I know provisional and absentee ballots are not being tossed into dumpsters as Black Box Voting.org discovered was the case in certain precincts in Florida in 2000 and in 2004?

Of particular concern are the voter rolls and what is being done to them prior to an election? Are our county officials involved in “caging” whereby specific populations are targeted? Guess who these populations might be? I think you know. Caging consists of sending a targeted group “do not forward” notifications to their homes. The notification is returned to the county clerk’s office if someone has moved including those serving in the military and has been shipped to Iraq or Afghanistan; or if one has had the misfortune to become homeless. The outcome for these people, who should have every right to vote if eligible, and most are, will be one of complete disenfranchisement. Their names will be “cancelled” from the rolls. When they show up to vote, they will be denied the right.

How, when and who decides whose name to cancel from the rolls? Who precisely is sent notifications? What is the process and what laws govern such a practice?

Should you think the concept of “caging” is a figment of my imagination, an investigative reporter, forensic economist and author, Mr. Greg Palast, has discovered such lists from 2004 whose contents have been turned over to Representative John Conyers, Chair of the House Judiciary Committee.

Caging by the way is a federal felony. Maybe our election officials could use a gentle reminder of this fact.

What assurances do I have as a voter in Harris County that voter caging is not taking place right here and now, as it did in Florida, New Mexico and Ohio in both 2000 and 2004? Indeed, the White House has turned the present U.S. Justice Department into yet another political arm of the GOP. And the firing of 9 U.S. attorneys for purely partisan reasons is further evidence of the GOP’s long term goal to ensure a permanent Republican majority. What “firewall” is in place to protect our electoral process in Texas from such criminal and un-American acts?

What assurances do I have as a voter that there will be sufficient machines in my precinct that are fully functional and with intact and secured seals? There is no paper trail so how am I to know that my vote isn’t flipped to the wrong candidate? How do I know that it is even counted? What oversight and accountability processes are in place before, during and when the votes are being counted to ensure the integrity of our election and democratic process for all eligible residents in Harris County? This is the 21st century after all. It should not be technologically or practically impossible or even difficult to guarantee completely accurate and transparent election processes.

Given the historical difficulty the Harris County Democratic election judges and precinct officials have had in communicating with the County Clerk’s and Secretary of State’s offices, I can only imagine the worst. It seems that our state’s election officials have forgotten that their job is to serve the voting public and not the sole interests of their party and their party’s financial backers. If these officials insist they do serve ALL Texans why do they fail to return Democrats’ phone calls in a timely fashion, if at all?

Surely we won’t have “homeland security” issues in the 3rd or 5th wards in Houston during the election of 2008? Or will we?

Summoning election lawyers after an election is a waste of time. Transparency, oversight and accountability need to be put into place now.

As a Texas Democrat I and many others like me have had it with elected “Democratic” officials who behave as a Republican would. I trust that you, Sir, do not fall into this category. But I must respectfully caution that many of us may think otherwise if our electoral process here is not placed under much, much tighter scrutiny, public transparency and oversight. Those running our elections and managing the voter rolls must be held accountable. They are required to answer voters’ questions and address our concerns. This is what they get paid to do.

We deeply appreciate anything that you can do to expedite such a process immediately.

Surely we will not be forced to call former President Mr. Jimmy Carter and the U.N. in order to achieve open and fair elections in Texas!

Sources on electronic voting data:

Election Mathematics.org
Election Archive.org
Election Archive UCV Analysis

Background of voting irregularities and suppression since 2004:

Brad Blog

On voter caging:

Mr. Greg Palast, Armed Madhouse

Background info on Florida 2000 election (Palast and the BBC)

BBC Newsnight

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