Texas Officials’ Communications with ‘Voter Fraud’ Activists

EN ESPAÑOL

American Oversight launched the State Accountability Project in March 2019 with the goal of shedding light on voter suppression and election issues in Texas, Georgia and Florida. Over the last nine months, we have worked in collaboration with local organizations in all three states to root out key election issues and to learn how best to deploy our expertise. We’ve filed more than 150 requests to county and state offices, on issues ranging from election security to voter-ID laws. As we enter 2020, we’re looking back on what we have discovered and sharing our plans for the Project’s future.

We began our work in Texas with a suite of requests aimed at determining whether the offices of the governor, the secretary of state, and the attorney general had communicated with “voter fraud” activist groups like the Texas Public Policy Foundation, the Public Interest Legal Fund, and Empower Texans. We also requested records of communications between those state offices and the American Legislative Exchange Council or any politicians linked to the conservative model-legislation machine. The requests also went to eight counties in Texas: Zavala, Travis, Tarrant, Starr, Hidalgo, Harris, Dallas, and Cameron. These counties were selected based on population size, demographics, and each county’s history with voting-rights abuses. 

Among the noteworthy responses we’ve received are documents from the governor’s office, which reveal that the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, reached out to Gov. Greg Abbott several times to invite him to events. In a production from the secretary of state’s office, we found that Elections Director Keith Ingram attended the Heritage Foundation’s election briefing conference in February 2019. That set of documents also includes texts between Ingram and Texas State Sen. Bryan Hughes regarding fake voter guides.

Documents from the office of the attorney general reveal that in March 2017, U.S. Judge Brantley Starr, who had been appointed by President Donald Trump, met with Catherine Engelbrecht, the founder of a conservative voter-suppression group that was investigated by Congress in 2010 for voter intimidation and suppression.

Records from Starr County reveal that Texas election officials were subject to three phishing attempts in the six months leading up to the 2018 midterm elections. Records show that Ingram issued several directives warning officials of these attempts, and even created an email address where officials could report phishing attempts. 

In September and October, using information we gathered from the documents we’ve already received and from public reporting, we submitted new requests for state-level communications with voter-fraud activists. You can find those requests here.

Our next suite of requests followed up on reports from February 2019 that 95,000 names were marked to be “purged” from Texas voter rolls. These voters were flagged as non-citizens using a method that has since been deemed faulty. After the state rescinded its list of “non-citizens,” we filed requests to select counties (Tarrant, Travis, Dallas, Harris, Cameron, Hidalgo, Zavala and Starr) as well as to the secretary of state’s office for voter-roll maintenance directives related to the confusing series of events. We are still awaiting responses for most of these requests, but the responses we have received are available here

Just last month, we began investigating polling-place closures in Texas. According to a report by the Leadership Conference Education Fund, the state has had the highest number of closures in the nation since 2013’s Shelby County v. Holder Supreme Court decision that gutted the Voting Rights Act. We focused on three counties where we saw reporting on major polling-place closures: Travis, Harris and Dallas.  

As we look to 2020, there are several areas of interest we plan to pursue. Here are a few of our priorities for the next year of voting defense in Texas: 

  • HB 4181: This newly passed law would, as the Austin Chronicle reports, “hide how the sausage is made” by shielding legislative records from Texas open records laws, thus making legislators exempt from public oversight. We’re working on requests to the legislature and to the offices of the governor, attorney general, secretary of state, and lieutenant governor to find out more about the origins of this anti-transparency bill.
  • Mobile polling places and on-campus voting: New laws aimed at reducing the availability of mobile polling places and on-campus voting will undoubtedly make it more difficult for Texans to vote. We plan to request information about the origins of these laws. 

 

Comunicaciones entre Funcionarios de Texas y Activistas de “Fraude Electoral” 

American Oversight lanzó el Proyecto Estatal de Rendición de Cuentas en marzo de 2019 con la meta de arrojar luz sobre la represión del voto y problemas con elecciones en Texas, Georgia, y Florida. A lo largo de los últimos nueve meses, hemos trabajado en colaboración con organizaciones locales en los tres estados para identificar las cuestiones claves y aprender cómo podemos hacer mejor uso de nuestra pericia. Hemos presentado más de 150 solicitudes en oficinas locales de condados y estatales, sobre una variedad de temas como seguridad de las elecciones y leyes de identificación de votantes. A medida que ingresamos al nuevo año, repasamos lo que hemos descubierto, y compartimos nuestro plan para el futuro del Proyecto. 

Empezamos nuestro trabajo en Texas con una serie de solicitudes para determinar si las oficinas del gobernador, el secretario del estado, y el fiscal general se habían comunicado con grupos activistas de “fraude electoral,” como Texas Public Policy Foundation, Public Interest Legal Fund, y Empower Texans. También solicitamos registros de comunicaciones entre estas oficinas estatales y el American Legislative Exchange Council o políticos conectados a la máquina del modelo de legislación conservadora. Las solicitudes también se enviaron a ocho condados en Texas: Zavala, Travis, Tarrant, Starr, Hidalgo, Harris, Dallas, y Cameron. Estos condados fueron seleccionados por el tamaño de la población, la demografía, y el historial de cada condado con abusos de los derechos al voto. 

Entre las respuestas notables que hemos recibido se encuentran documentos de la oficina del gobernador que revelan que el Heritage Foundation, un think tank conservador, contactaba al gobernador Greg Abbott varias veces para invitarlo a eventos. En una producción de la oficina del secretario de estado, encontramos que el director de elecciones Keith Ingram asistió una sesión informativa electoral de el Heritage Foundation en febrero 2019. Esa colección de documentos además incluye mensajes de texto entre Ingram y el senador estatal de Texas Bryan Hughes sobre guías para el votante falsas

Documentos de la oficina del fiscal general revelan que en marzo 2017, el. Juez Brantley Starr, quien había sido apuntado por el Presidente Donald Trump, se reunió con Catherine Engelbrecht, la fundadora de un grupo conservador dedicado a la represión del voto que fue investigado por el Congreso en 2010 por intimidación y represión del voto. Finalmente, archivos del condado de Starr revelaron que funcionarios de elecciones fueron susceptible a tres intentos de phishing (fraude electrónico) en los seis meses antes de las elecciones de mitad de periodo 2018. Expedientes obtenidos por American Oversight demuestran que Ingram envío varias advertencias sobre estos intentos, y hasta creó un correo electrónico donde oficiales pueden informar de los intentos de phishing. 

En septiembre y octubre, usando información que obtuvimos de los documentos que recibimos y de informes públicos, presentamos solicitudes nuevas para obtener comunicaciones al nivel estatal con activistas de fraude electoral. Puedes encontrar esas solicitudes aquí

Nuestra próxima serie de solicitudes siguió las noticias de febrero 2019 en las que se reportó que 95,000 nombres habían sido marcados para ser eliminados de las listas de votantes registrados en Texas. Estos electores fueron marcados no ciudadanos usando un método que desde entonces se ha considerado defectuoso. Después que el estado rescindió su lista de “no ciudadanos”, presentamos solicitudes a selectos condados (Tarrant, Travis, Dallas, Harris, Cameron, Hidalgo, Zavala, Starr) tanto como a la oficina del secretario de estado para obtener directivas sobre el mantenimiento de las listas de votantes registrados relacionados con la serie de hechos confusos. Todavía estamos esperando respuestas para la mayoría de estas solicitudes, pero las respuestas que hemos recibido están accesible aquí

Solo el mes pasado, empezamos a investigar la clausura de sitios de votación en Texas. Según un informe del Leadership Education Fund, el estado ha tenido el número más alto de clausuras en la nación desde la decisión de Shelby County v. Holder del Tribunal Supremo del 2013 que destruyó el corazón de la Ley de Derecho al Voto. Nos enfocamos en tres condados donde vimos informes de clausuras graves: Travis, Harris, y Dallas.  

Mientras miramos hacia 2020, hay varias áreas de interés que planeamos seguir. Algunas de nuestras prioridades para el próximo año en defensa del voto se encuentran aquí:

  • HB 4181: Esta ley recién aprobada escondería, como informa el Austin Chronicle, “como se hace la salchicha” excluyendo documentos legislativos de las leyes de registros públicos de Texas, de forma que legisladores son hechos exentos de la vigilancia pública. Estamos trabajando en solicitudes dirigidas a la legislatura y las oficinas del gobernador, del fiscal general, el secretario de estado, y vicegobernador para saber más sobre el origen de esta ley en contra de la transparencia.
  • Lugares de votación móviles y votación en el campus: Leyes nuevas dirigidas a reducir la disponibilidad de los lugares de votación móviles y la votación en campus indudablemente harán más difícil para que los Texanos voten. Planeamos pedir información sobre el origen de estas leyes.

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