ABC News Targets Group Fighting Voter Fraud, Hints at Racial Motive

Nightline correspondent Dan Harris on Thursday profiled an organization fighting voter fraud, suggesting that the non-partisan group might have a racial motive for targeting certain neighborhoods. Talking to True the Vote founder Catherine Engelbrect, Harris offered this loaded question: "Is your goal really to end voter fraud or is your goal really to intimidate voters who disagree with you politically and scare them away from the polls?" [MP3 audio here.]

Harris followed up, "You are not in any way directly targeting these communities?" Except for Engelbrect, everyone the correspondent talked to backed up this notion. Harris highlighted Teresa Sharp, a woman who had her right to vote challenged: "But Teresa and other Democrats say it's not about voter integrity but about voter suppression, specifically, trying to intimidate low-income people, minorities and students who might vote for President Obama."

Harris made sure to assert that "Study after study has found voter fraud to be virtually nonexistent." However, he made no mention of ACORN or notable examples such as Democrat Al Franken's 2008 Senate race. As the Washington Examiner explained:

In the '08 campaign, Republican Sen. Norm Coleman was running for re-election against Democrat Al Franken. It was impossibly close; on the morning after the election, after 2.9 million people had voted, Coleman led Franken by 725 votes.

Franken and his Democratic allies dispatched an army of lawyers to challenge the results. After the first canvass, Coleman's lead was down to 206 votes. That was followed by months of wrangling and litigation. In the end, Franken was declared the winner by 312 votes. He was sworn into office in July 2009, eight months after the election.


During the controversy a conservative group called Minnesota Majority began to look into claims of voter fraud. Comparing criminal records with voting rolls, the group identified 1,099 felons -- all ineligible to vote -- who had voted in the Franken-Coleman race.

As for True the Vote's efforts, reported this on Texas:

Engelbrecht’s group "snitched" yet again, submitting their findings to the appropriate local authorities. The local authority tasked with election matters was the Harris County Tax Assessor and Voter Registrar, Leo Vasquez.

Vasquez office investigated and presented his office’s findings to the public they served. Among the many concerns and findings, Vasquez announced in a press conference on August 24th 2010 that his investigation of only 24,000 registrations, the number of registrations from the previous month, only 7,000 were new voters. He stated that the other 17,000 were problematic. He stated that Houston Votes was the "registration arm of Texans Together Education Fund" and "served as the area’s new ACORN organization."

A transcript of the November 1 segment can be found below:


TERRY MORAN: With just five days until the Presidential election, the race simply could not be closer. So, why is one powerful group using a little known law that allows them to challenge the right of their fellow citizens to vote? They say they are fighting voter fraud. Critics say it's voter suppression, specifically of minorities. ABC's Dan Harris set out to investigate for "Your Voice, Your Vote."

DAN HARRIS: Teresa Sharp is a grandmother who says she's voted in every election since she was 18. She's even served as a poll worker.

TERESA SHARP: Voting, to me, is like, sacred.

HARRIS: So, imagine her surprise when she got this letter in the mail.

SHARP: "Dear Mrs Sharp. You are hereby notified that your right to vote has been challenged by a qualified elector under RC-3503.24," whatever that is.

HARRIS: Her sons Christopher and Herbert Jr also received similar letters. So did her daughters, Azaneth and Eleanor, and her elderly aunt, too.

SHARP: There's somebody out here trying to scare people into not voting.

HARRIS: But who? Who prompted the county government to send out these letters? The answer, a grassroots organization called True the Vote. True the Vote believes voter fraud is a sweeping national epidemic. These are their recruitment videos.

CATHERINE ENGELBRECT (True the Vote founder): Willful fraudulent behavior.

SPOKESPERSON (TRUE THE VOTE RECRUITMENT VIDEO): People voting who are not the people who they said they were.

HARRIS: True the Vote has enlisted and trained an army of citizen volunteers to challenge voters in the name of what they call voter integrity. It sounds admirable, even patriotic. But Teresa and other Democrats say it's not about voter integrity but about voter suppression, specifically, trying to intimidate low-income people, minorities and students who might vote for President Obama.

SHARP: They're basically wanting to say black people are dumb. No, we're not.

HARRIS: We set out to learn about True the Vote. We found out that its founder and leader is this woman, Catherine Engelbrect, who travels the country speaking about how voter fraud is a hidden menace, threatening the fabric of our democracy. In light of all the controversy, she agreed to sit down with us for her first national television interview. Is your goal really to end voter fraud or is your goal really to intimidate voters who disagree with you politically and scare them away from the polls?

ENGELBRECT: Our goal, really, is to encourage citizens to get involved in the process. It has been a continued shock and disappointment, frankly, to hear these allegations that continue to be leveled at us. It's unfortunate that there are those that have tried to take this and twist it into something that it's not.

HARRIS: Engelbrect started True the Vote three years ago, after serving as a poll watcher in Houston and she says witnessing things that disturbed her.

ENGELBRECT: We recognize, there's - something's not quite right.

HARRIS: They are doing a community service, they say, by making sure there's no voter fraud.

SHARP: Right. Just the poor black neighborhoods, right? Everybody else is clean. You know, we're the dirty people. We're the fraudulent folks.

HARRIS: She smells a rat here. She feels like she's being targeted because she's black.

ENGELBRECT: Teresa Sharp has nothing to worry about because our citizens go into this race blind, party blind.

HARRIS: You are not in any way directly targeting these communities?

ENGELBRECT: No, absolutely not. I mean, this is literally nothing more than citizens doing what is legally allowed, what anyone can do, in an effort to better our overall process. And there's nothing more to it than that.

HARRIS: Engelbrect insists her group is nonpartisan, just as the videos claim.

NARRATOR: True the Vote is a nonpartisan initiative developed by citizens for citizens.

HARRIS: But you yourself run a Tea Party group.


HARRIS: Your organization has been recently shown to have donated $5,000 to a Republican organization. That doesn't sound non-partisan.

ENGELBRECT: Well, you've lined up a lot of things there. And I make no bones about the fact that we have a separate organization. True the Vote, though, has continued to be and will always be non-partisan. We all should be able to agree about election integrity.

HARRIS: And then there's this. The group says it is now mobilizing a million poll watchers to go to voting places around the country this coming Tuesday. These are their recruiting and training videos. The problem, critics say, is that those poll watchers are mostly white and many of the polling places they will target are mostly black. It happened in Texas back in 2010.

CAROL GALLOWAY (Former Houston City Council): I think it's just coming from that particular party, trying to intimidate the voters.

HARRIS: How do you respond to those complaints?

ENGELBRECT: We have looked at - we take those very seriously. And we look into them. Here in Houston, you can talk to our county attorney who will tell you that they are all completely unfounded.

HARRIS: So we did actually talk to the county attorney and he said he found several legitimate complaints. He also said that when he went to yours offices, he saw evidence that you were specifically targeting minority neighborhoods.


HARRIS: So what did you find? Were these people being disruptive?

DOUGLAS RAY (Sr. Assistant County Attorney): (senior assistant county attorney): Some of them were being very disruptive.

HARRIS: Was there a racial component here?

RAY: Well, I hate to attach that, but it does appear that there was that.

HARRIS: The county attorney's office directed us to this early voting place in Houston, where we spotted these poll watchers in a predominantly black neighborhood. This was just last week and the complaints had already begun.

ALBERTA WILLIAMS (Felt harassed while voting): They are trying to find any and everything to stop citizens from voting.

HARRIS: But here's the twist. Study after study has found voter fraud to be virtually nonexistent.

There was one study that found that voter fraud happens as much as people getting hit and killed by lightning and another study in 2005 that showed that the federal government was charging more Americans with violating migratory bird statutes than election fraud.

ENGELBRECT: What we've experienced suggests that there's room for improvement.

HARRIS: Has your system turned up one clear-cut case that you can name right now of obvious fraud?

ENGELBRECT: I think the last thing that we turned in to the counties that we actually turned in, I think were 33 names. However, we're looking at close to 2,000 that have almost identical matches.

HARRIS: But even if all 2,000 cases turn out to be outright, obvious fraud, that's 2,000 cases in a country where tens of million people vote.

ENGELBRECT: Well, I mean it's the same country that in 2000 elected a president based on 537 votes.

HARRIS: Lots of people agree with her and they will be flooding the polling places across the country this Election Day. As for Teresa Sharp, the county threw out the challenge against her and just the other day, she voted early, without incident.

SHARP: Too many people sacrifice their life for me to have that opportunity.

-- Scott Whitlock is the senior news analyst for the Media Research Center. Click here to follow him on Twitter.