The headline was a grabber — “BREAKING: NAACP Takes Over Houston Polling Station, Advocates for President Obama.”
The report that followed was certainly alarming: on November 2, it said, people in NAACP shirts brought bottled water to voters at a polling place, then they moved some voters to the front of the line, spoke out for President Obama, and “basically ran” a Houston, Texas, polling place while poll workers did nothing — according to Katie Pavlich in Townhall.com on November 3. The bias, inaccuracy, and speed with which this story spread on the internet is a case study of dishonest journalism.
Pavlich had not observed the reported event or interviewed any of the participants. She based her story on the written “incident report” of an interested party, Eve Rockford, reportedly a poll watcher for the judicial campaign of attorney Don Self. Rockford was trained by True The Vote, a self-proclaimed voter fraud watchdog based in Houston. Pavlich provided no other confirmation of the story and did not respond to a request to do so two days later.
By that time Pavlich’s story had been picked up and repeated, often verbatim, by the Drudge Report and dozens of partisan Republican internet sites, including GOPUSA on November 5, with the headline: “NAACP Takes Over Polling Location.” GOPUSA is a private company whose mission is to spread the conservative message throughout America, according to its website.
Houston Chronicle Makes Stab At Getting Story Right
That same day, the Houston Chronicle started to outline a more credible account in a brief story by Mike Morris , that began: “A disturbance at the busy Acres Homes early voting location Friday night was related to representatives of the NAACP protesting long wait times for disabled voters, county officials said Sunday.” Pavlich hadn’t mentioned that there were disabled voters, or that those were the voters who were being moved to the front of the line. Eve Rockford hadn’t mentioned disabled people in her affidavit, which provided an altogether imprecise and unclear account of what may have happened.
Doing basic due diligence, Morris called county officials, although it’s not clear from his reporting which, if any of them were present for the “disturbance.” Asked about the initial story, Assistant County Attorney Douglas Ray confirmed that NAACP representatives were complaining about the long waiting time for disabled people and trying to move them to the front of the line. But Ray told Morris: “It wasn’t like they were taking control of the place. It wasn’t like we did nothing about it. That’s just not true at all.”
As “Disturbances” Go, Not That Disturbing
Ray acknowledged that when poll officials intervened with the NAACP representatives, the scene grew heated, but that officials were able to calm it down and restore proper procedures in relatively short order. There were no arrests. The police were not even called.
That Friday, November 2, in Houston was the last day of early voting at 37 early voting precincts where long lines outside the polling place were common. The temperature was in the eighties, with a high of 87, under partly cloudy skies with a light southerly wind. At the Home Acres Multi-Service Center, where the disturbance occurred, more than 2,500 voters voted that day, with polls remaining open till 10 pm across the city. As Eve Rockford’s affidavit described that Friday afternoon: “At 2:25 the NAACP 3 representatives arrived with probably 50 cases of bottled water and began loading them on dollies handing them out to people standing in line.”
Reporter Morris was unable to reach Rockford for comment and was not able to confirm that hers was a real name for a real person. When he talked to True The Vote, who trained Rockford, that organization referred him to the Self-for-Judge campaign.
True The Vote Has a Contradictory Reality
True The Vote is a Houston-based, self-described “citizen-led effort to restore truth, faith, and integrity to our elections,” founded in 2009. It joined Facebook in March 2011, where it links to sites like as Townhall.com, Breitbart.com, and Election Law Center (“more red than the ivory tower”) that has just filed a suit against the “Democrat Party” for alleged election law violations, including “a near take-over of a polling location by members of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People). Incidents were so blatant that the NAACP members were actually moving people forward in line to vote ahead of other voters.”
True The Vote calls itself “a non-partisan initiative to educate and train citizens to work within our electoral system to restore honor and integrity to the electoral process,” but its website and Facebook page are dominated by partisan Republican, Tea Party, and evangelical voices to the exclusion of others.
The founder and president of True the Vote is Catherine Engelbrecht who married oilman Bryan Engelbrecht in 2008, the same year she launched her Facebook page. The Engelbrechts are two of the three directors of True The Vote,. The organization’s 990 filing with the IRS shows that Catherine works 40 hours a week, while each of the other directors works just one hour a week, but all work without compensation. True The Vote reported income of $136,057 and expenses of $224,942 for 2011.
“Iran To Go Nuclear In Less Than A Month!”
The Engelbrechts are also directors of True The Vote’s parent organization, King Street Patriots, which they founded in 2009 and put on Facebook the same year, announcing “nullification” as their first principle. The sites feature the same circle of right wing activists as True The Vote, but with many more attacks on President Obama and posts like this from April 13, 2010: “Iran to go nuclear in less than a month!”
2010 was also the year Catherine Englbrecht “discovered” that the New Black Panther Party was operating in Houston – only it wasn’t. In making that claim, she was accusing a voter registration group, Houston Votes, who later sued her for defamation. At about the same time, Harris County Voter Registrar Leo Vasquez was accusing Houston Votes of being “our area’s new ‘ACORN’ organization” for submitting more that 5,000 deficient deficient voter registration applications, which Houston Votes emphatically denied.
True The Vote set out to wage war against voter fraud in 2012, but its efforts have been slowed by the difficulty of finding actual voter fraud in the United States. In September, the New York Times publish a lengthy report by Stephanie Saul, highlighting some of True The Vote’s credibility problems, including its claims of busses full of illegal voters in San Diego or Wisconsin, claims that appear to have had no basis in fact.
Any Unchallenged Falsehood Might Appear Credible
Failing to find witches tends to slow any witch hunt, but True The Vote hasn’t given up by any means. Its newest post on its website trumpets the “nonpartisan, nonprofit grassroots organization” effort to join the federal lawsuit against Florida, on the side of the state’s effort to purge its voter rolls.
At the end of its recent press release, True The Vote states that: “True the Vote, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization based in Houston, TX has developed an exportable model with which to train poll workers across the country and equip grassroots leaders and volunteers for involvement at every stage of the electoral process. The organization promotes ideas that actively protect the rights of legitimate voters, regardless of their political party affiliation.”
Without a lot more honest and aggressive reporting by mainstream media, too many people are likely to think those might be true statements.