In live internet broadcasts last week, a Master of Discovery appointed by the Texas Legislature to investigate allegations of a stolen election in West Houston indeed found some ‘fact patterns’ that looked scandalous, but you can’t tell it by reading any press reports. The hearing was supposed to look for evidence of voter fraud committed by Democratic voters. Instead, every time one of these curious patterns emerged, it was a hint of possible fraud not by Democratic voters, but against them.
On Thursday for example, Master of Discovery Will Harnett (R-Dallas), a cum laude graduate from Harvard, noticed that several voter registrations in the West Houston area looked strangely alike. They were all dated late 2003, presented accurate mailing addresses, yet re-registered voters to addresses where they did not live. In effect, the series of fraudulent registrations ‘deported’ African American voters out of Texas House District 149 and therefore made the voters appear illegal when they attempted to vote in their usual precincts.
So when the defeated Republican incumbent in the District 149 race went looking for evidence of ‘massive voter fraud’ that would explain his embarrassing loss to a Vietnamese immigrant, he snared the names of these ‘illegal’ voters and brought them to the state capitol accusing them on live broadcast of voting where they did not live. Instead of proving these voters had cast illegal ballots, however, the Republican team of lawyers actually produced evidence of another kind.
Thanks to the careful eye that Hartnett cast upon the evidence, it appeared that someone was moving voters without their knowledge. Hartnett suggested the cards might be forwarded to the Harris County District Attorney. In press reports Friday, Saturday, and Sunday I have not been able to locate a sentence, much less a headline about Hartnett’s discovery of this criminal pattern.
On Friday Hartnett noticed another curious thing. As he examined original questionnaires that were supposed to be filled out by alleged illegal voters and notarized as depositions, he found two kinds of ink used to fill out the answers and two kinds of handwriting. Larry Veselka, the Yale-educated lawyer who represents the elected Democrat in the race, Hubert Vo, then noticed that handwritten ‘no’ and ‘NA’ answers on at least two questionnaires looked to be written in the same hand.
Again, nobody reported this alleged ‘tampering with evidence,’ especially not the state capitol press corps, who let this open-air revelation pass without even quoting the words that were mentioned in the broadcast. However, since the proceeding took place under the jurisdiction of Austin prosecutor Ronnie Earle, maybe reporters are simply waiting to quote him on the matter of ‘assisted depositions.’ Or maybe I’m trying too hard to find a sensible motivation for media behaviors.
Finally, Hartnett was caught grinning at the flexibility he found at the official website of the Harris County voter registrar, which changed its listing of more than one voter from legal to illegal sometime during early January, following consultations with Republican lawyers. Hartnett seemed perversely amused when lawyers for the defense showed him a web page confirming a voter registration, dated early January, as Republican lawyers submitted more recent web pages showing the voter was not registered. Sometimes this duel of conflicting web pages seemed enough for Hartnett to say that he just couldn’t be sure if the voter was illegal or not.
At one point Republican lawyer Andy Taylor openly admitted that when he was not satisfied with a listing he found at the web site, he contacted the registrar’s office, presented his own findings, and got voters kicked off the rolls so that he could submit revised web pages as evidence. That wasn’t mentioned in the press, either.
In the end, it appears that the Republican challenge not only failed to prove ‘widespread fraud’ among Democrat voters of West Houston, but actually served up a fine public record of practices by Republicans and unknown others that would suppress their rights.
But you had to be watching the hearings in their 19-hour entirety to know any of the above, because according to inscrutable laws of Texas journalistic selection, nothing of this sort has yet been counted as news. How could so many eyes of Texas be upon the hearing, and yet so little be seen? If this is the kind of reporting we get about publicly broadcast events, what kind of independent reporting can we expect during this legislative season session about anything happening behind the scenes?
GREG MOSES is editor of the Texas Civil Rights Review and author of Revolution of Conscience: Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Philosophy of Nonviolence. His chapter on civil rights under Clinton and Bush appears in Dime’s Worth of Difference, edited by Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org