Voter Intimidation: Correcting the “narrative”

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The first two days of early voting are done, and the Big Story so far, if we follow the Lazy MSM Narrative ™, is that a bunch of thug pollwatchers from a local Tea Party group are busy intimidating voters right and left.

Two of the worst examples of this sort of reporting yesterday came from the Houston Chronicle and KTRK-13. Neither report actually rounded up any voters who had legitimate stories of pollwatcher efforts* to prevent them from voting (which would outrage us, to be sure), so rumor, innuendo and invective directed against the King Street Patriots/True The Vote pretty much carried the accounts. And according to Catherine Engelbrecht of King Street Patriots/True The Vote, neither news organization actually asked her for comment before running their stories, a violation of journalistic norms given the serious attacks being made. The Chronicle, apparently realizing that a story about voter intimidation that could feature no actual intimidated voters was not really journalism, ran a somewhat more balanced piece today (with contributions from beat journalists) that emphasized the efforts of election officials to calm the charged situation by reminding everyone of the election rules (including the fact that pollwatchers are a legitimate and legal part of the election process, and that they must operate under fairly restrictive rules that certainly don’t give them the power to turn away voters).

Interestingly, as these area news leaders** worked to cover alleged early-voting irregularities, neither one reported on allegations about electioneering by Dem Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee in a polling place (discussed by Michael Berry about halfway through this recording of yesterday’s KPRC-950 show) or allegations of inappropriate intimidation of a poll worker by Dem Harris County Commissioner El Franco Lee in his polling place (reported by Melissa Clouthier at Liberty Pundits) — the sorts of behavior (among others) that pollwatchers are actually sent out to dissuade.

Cory Crow suggests the endgame of Texas progressives in what appeared to be a choreographed effort over the first couple of days of early voting to smear King Street Patriots/True The Vote and establish a narrative of voter intimidation (through their blog networks and faux-news outlets, and even ultimately in some Lazy MSM Narratives), is to lay the groundwork for legal challenges in any close races. Perhaps it’s also an effort to gin up turnout among unenthusiastic Democrats, lest Matt Angle’s effort to flip the Texas House in time for redistricting (nearly successful!) be thwarted (and thwarted, in part, by little old ladies volunteering to be pollwatchers! The gall!).

What is unfortunate is that so much acrimony choreographed from above is filtering down to the ground, where a lot of civic-minded folks (election judges, clerks, and yes, pollwatchers) are just trying to make sure all valid votes are counted and that we have honest elections under trying circumstances. King Street Patriots/True The Vote put out a statement today that concludes:

True the Vote trains citizens that a polling place is a sensitive site and all actions must be carried out in a civilized and lawful manner. True the Vote is dedicated to ensuring that elections in Harris County are free from fraud and intimidation of any voter.

Should those goals really generate the smears, harassment, threats of violence, and vulgarities that have been directed at pollwatchers who may have been trained by this organization (or by any other group, political party, or candidate, for that matter)?

* The KTRK story led with the tale of a voter (Willie Jones) who claimed to have all required paperwork being turned away from a polling location. The implication of the story was that mean King Street Patriots/True The Vote pollwatchers somehow prevented him from voting. In reality, under Texas law, a precinct judge ultimately makes that call (never a pollwatcher). Indeed, even then, Engelbrecht tells me today that based on what she saw in the report, the voter should have been allowed by the precinct judge to cast a provisional ballot. So much for voter intimidation.

** The Chron is the area’s default newspaper of record. KTRK-13 news frequently wins the sweeps period, and has long described itself as “Houston’s News Leader.”

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Kevin Whited is co-founder and publisher of blogHOUSTON. Follow him on twitter: @PubliusTX