Houston's Voting Machines Go Up in Smoke

A mysterious early morning fire destroyed virtually all of Harris County's electronic voting gear on Friday. Harris County includes Houston, the nation's fourth largest city. The details from the Houston Chronicle:

A day after a fire destroyed virtually all of Harris County's electronic voting gear, officials were still determining the cause of the warehouse blaze and furiously exploring ways to accommodate voters come early November.

Houston's fire marshal's office hasn't made a ruling on whether Friday's early-morning fire was accidental or deliberately set, said Harris County Clerk Beverly Kaufman, who hopes to hear something on the cause early this week. "It would break my heart to think someone would do something like this to the election process," she said, adding that she was unaware of anyone who might have had a motive to burn down the building.

Houston Fire Department officials did not return phone calls on Saturday.

The building in the 600 block of Canino on the city's north side did have a sprinkler system, but Kaufman said she was unsure if it was properly functioning or if there might have been any failures.

The three-alarm blaze broke out in the 28,000-square-foot warehouse just after 4 a.m., destroying some 10,000 pieces of election gear housed there.

The total loss was valued at about $40 million — $30 million in voting equipment and $10 million for the building, said Kaufman.

The machines were set to supply nearly 800 polling sites for early voting, which begins Oct. 18.

Over at the Huffington Post, Glenn Smith thinks that there's more to the story than just some random fire.

A mysterious fire last Friday destroys all of the voting machines in Harris County (Houston), Texas. Arson investigators have not yet issued an opinion. Meanwhile, a well-funded right-wing group emerges in Houston and begins raising unfounded allegations of widespread voter fraud. A video on their website pictures only people of color when it talks of voter fraud. White people are shown talking patriotically about the need for a million vigilantes to suppress illegal votes.

In the video, an unidentified spokesman for "TrueTheVote" says, "If we lose Houston, we lose Texas. And guess what? If we lose Texas we lose the country." The former Mayor of Houston, Democrat Bill White, is running against secessionist Republican Gov. Rick Perry this year. White's counting on a big turnout in his home town. The fire and the voter suppression campaign guarantee a greatly diminished turnout.

TrueTheVote's video is well produced. Participants speak in calm and knowing tones, disguising the racist agenda behind their project. We don't yet know where the group's money comes from. But they have money.

As I've said before, right-wing voter suppression campaigns are the most under-reported political scandal of the last 50-100 years. But there's never been anything like the criminal destruction of all the voting machines in the nation's fourth largest city. You don't have to be a conspiracy theorist to suspect the machines in Houston were destroyed by an arsonist. Warehouses don't regularly and spontaneously combust at four in the morning, especially warehouses containing all the voting tools in a pivotal city in a pivotal election.


Here's the True the Vote Video from King Street Patriots:


Well, the first speaker is David Horowitz, the radical right winger that runs the Freedom Center that monitors university professors for alleged ties to left-wing causes. Horowitz spoke to a local GOP booster club in Houston back in May of this year that is chaired by Catherine Engelbrecht, one the co-founders of the King Street Patriots that produced this video. For someone who claims that she had little involvement in the political arena before the election of Barack Obama being a mother, wife and business owner and all in Richmond, Texas, she sure has made up for lost time. She is the lead organizer for the Houston Tea Party Patriots and helped to found another group back in December 2009 called Texans for Nullification. She is also active in Glenn Beck's 9-12 Project. The other founder of the King Street Patriots is a woman by the name of Lynn Lasher, an owner of a chocolate sauce company. 

While the King Street Patriots may be extremist right wingers, it has ties to the Texas GOP. Attending some of their functions are local Congressmen Kevin Brady, Pete Olson, and Ted Poe. The group has an $65,000 annual operating budget.

Another name associated with King Street Patriots is Robert L. Bradley Jr, who previously served as Director of Public Policy Analysis at Enron, where he was a speechwriter for CEO Ken Lay. Robert Bradley now runs the Houston-based Institute for Energy Research (IER), one of those junk-science institutes that is funded by the oil & gas industry to attack climate research and to advocate generally for oil & gas interests. The IER has, for example, produced research and videos attacking the Cape Wind farm in Massachusetts suggesting that it costs too much while proposing massive development of natural gas fields off the North Carolina coast instead. The non-profit IER advocates positions on environmental issues including deregulation of utilities, climate change denial, and claims that conventional energy sources are virtually limitless.

In the summer of 2009, Bradley also established the American Energy Alliance (AEA), a 501c4 organization which states that it is the "grassroots arm" of the IER. The AEA states that, by "communicating IER’s decades of scholarly research to the grassroots, AEA will empower citizens with facts so that people who believe in freedom can reclaim the moral high ground in the national public policy debates in the energy and environmental arena." AEA states that its aim is to "create a climate that encourages the advancement of free market energy policies" and in particular ensure drilling for oil is allowed in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and in US coastal waters. The IER is the sole organization to partner with the AEA. Despite being a "grassroots organization," the AEA receives its funding from the oil & gas industry. The largest single contributor to the AEA is Exxon-Mobil. Every single employee of the AEA is a former GOP House Staffer. 

Lastly, Bradley also blogs at MasterResource, a blog dedicated to analysis and commentary about energy markets and public policy. Mr. Bradley, politically, is a libertarian. He's an adjunct scholar of the Cato Institute and the Competitive Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C.; and a visiting fellow of the Institute of Economic Affairs in London. Bradley is also a senior research fellow of the Center for Energy Economics at the University of Texas at Austin.

If you're looking for where the funding for the True the Vote video came from, Robert Bradley is a good place to start.


Tags: Right-Wing Extremism, Texas politics, Tea Party Movement (all tags)



RE: Houston's Voting Machines Go Up in Smoke

Interesting video. I like the part where the commentators keep saying that this isn't about Democrats or Republicans while either bashing the Democrats directly, by association (e.g., with ACORN), or inbetween the lines (e.g., "if we lose Houston [to the Democrats], we lose Texas [to the Democrats]").

And, of course, none of their claims are substantiated; the most detail they go into involves an anecdote that was even described by the video itself as unverifiable. Funny how people can manage to provide no meaningful information in almost nine minutes of speaking.

But I suppose people will actually buy it (for the patriotic music, if nothing else) if they'll buy the birther nonsense. (I actually met one in person a few days ago.)

by Patrick Garies 2010-08-30 07:05AM | 0 recs
Here's an idea...

As a native Texan, born in Houston, I know that there is a polar difference between Houston (liberal) and Dallas/Ft.Worth (conservative). Maybe we need to borrow half of he voting machines from Dallas and transport them to Houston, thus leveling the playing field for both cities. Better yet, why not let all Texans vote by mail like in Washington and Oregon? This would do away with all that "voter fraud" the "True the Vote" people are worried about, and would not require storing hundreds or thousands of voting machines in vulnerable warehouses so arson can affect an election. Bet the True the Vote people wouldn't like this idea, though. It would guarantee that all those people of color would have an equal chance to vote without giving them (TtV) the opportunity to suppress the voter turnout in precincts that wouldn't go their preferred way.

by mcarnes 2010-08-30 11:24PM | 0 recs


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