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Refutes His Complaints as False and Defamatory
Houston, Texas, August 27,2010 - FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
On Tuesday, August 24, Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector and Voter Registrar Leo Vasquez made reckless and false allegations against Houston Votes in an apparently coordinated, partisan effort to suppress voter registration and to intimidate citizens into not voting. Sadly, this type of shameful tactic has worked all too well in the past. Houston Votes is committed to non-partisan voter registration and helping register the over 600,000 citizens eligible to vote who are not even registered in Harris County.
Fred lewis, head of Houston Votes, said, "Those who propagate lies and distortions like those of Mr. Vasquez and his partisan allies are eroding our democracy, and we ask the Voting Rights Section of the Justice Department to immediately investigate and monitor his office and his radical allies,"
Mr. Vasquez's histrionic complaints are false and defamatory. Houston Votes seeks to register as many Houstonians as are eligible, which Mr. Vasquez unfortunately sees as a "burden" and a threat. Rather than celebrate new registrants, Mr. Vasquez apparently intends to reduce his workload by intimidating people from registering. He and his staff are paid with taxpayer dollars to process voter registration cards. They should do their jobs without complaining or engaging in partisan, political activity.
The recklessness and falseness of Mr. Vasquez's allegations, combined with his unprofessional and partisan actions, raise serious questions about his political motivations. Houston Votes is asking the Justice Department to investigate voting rights violations by Mr. Vasquez and his office through a political campaign to intimidate voter registration. The Registrar's Office has a long history of voter suppression. We have reason to believe that his office is continuing its systematic practice of illegally not approving registration applications from eligible citizens despite public outcry and costly litigation.
Mr. Vasquez's press conference, as part of his official non-partisan duties, was a political circus, with dozens of partisan operatives present. Mr. Vasquez appears to have abused the power of his office by collaborating with the King Street Patriots, a partisan organization that took credit for uncovering the "fraud" alleged against Houston Votes This political organization's website states "that current political initiatives must be focused on mobilizing the conservative electorate". It appears that Leo Vasquez openly coordinated with King Street Patriots to further personal political goals and retard the efforts of Houston Votes in registering people. He also appears to have shared legally confidential voter registration data with partisan political third parties, which is unlawful. Both activities warrant a criminal investigation by the Justice Department.
At the press conference and in the attached response, Houston Votes addresses and answers all of Mr. Vasquez's reckless, false and defamatory complaints. Vasquez is attempting disingenuously to categorize as fraud and perjury Houston Votes activities, when we were following his staff's directions and making common, ordinary human mistakes made by others.
ATIACHMENT TO HOUSTON VOTES' PRESS RELEASE
Houston Votes' Detailed Response To Leo Vasquez's False and Reckless Allegations:
Below, Houston Votes refutes in detail Mr. Vasquez's false and reckless allegations, evidences possible illegal sharing with third-parties by Mr. Vasquez's office of confidential voter registration information, and reveals his office's apparent cooperation with partisan groups attempting to suppress voter registration and voting. Houston Votes asks for an immediate investigation and monitoring of his office by the Voting Rights Section of the Justice Department to protect the rights of all Harris County citizens' to register and vote.
Houston Votes Refutation of Leo Vasquez's False and Misleading Allegations:
It is important to note that it was at Houston Votes' initiative (and not Mr. Vasquez's as he stated erroneously at his press conference) that Fred Lewis, head of Houston Votes, asked on July 6 to meet with the Registrar "to ensure registration applications are submitted properly." Seventeen days later, on July 23, 2010, Mr. Lewis and Mr. Hudelson on behalf of Houston Votes met with the Registrar's staff. They went over the County's court-ordered changes in processes for approving registration cards and also discussed their desire to cooperate to work out any registration problems that arose. The Registrar's staff repeatedly stated at the meeting that they had changed their ways regarding unfairly denying registrations, which now appears to be false. Mr. Lewis specifically told the Registrar's staff that just as their office made mistakes, that with a temporary operation as large as Houston Votes, that there would be mistakes, and even possible dishonesty, despite their best efforts to prevent it.
Houston Votes' goal is to register 100,000 out of the more than 600,000 eligible county citizens that are unregistered. The project involves supervising both a large volunteer registration operation as well as 50 paid canvassers in the field. Because paid canvassing is hard work and pays only $10 an hour, Mr. Lewis told Mr. Vasquez's staff that there unfortunately were likely to be a few bad actors but that Houston Votes would terminate dishonest employees immediately.
Mr. Lewis made it clear at the July meeting that Houston Votes would cooperate fully with Vasquez's office to have as clean and as honest a process as possible; and he asked that Vasquez's office call him immediately if there were any problems so that he could address them. Vasquez's office never contacted Mr. Lewis. Apparently, the Registrar preferred to ambush Houston Votes rather than correct problems. Attached is a letter by Mr. Lewis to Mr. Vasquez dated July 6, 2010, which evidences the good faith of Houston Votes and confirms the duplicity of Mr. Vasquez and his cohorts.
In early August, when Mr. Lewis heard rumors that Mr. Vasquez was criticizing Houston Votes, Mr. Lewis on his own initiative called the Registrar's Office. He and Mr. Hudelson met with Mr. Vasquez on August 6. At this meeting Mr. Vasquez said there was a problem with duplicate cards and that one registrant's card had been submitted 5 or 6 times (the same example he raised at the press conference). Mr. Lewis told Mr. Vasquez that he appreciated Mr. Vasquez bringing this to his attention and he apologized. He told Mr. Vasquez he would address it immediately. Houston Votes' staff looked into the matter, and all offending employees were fired that day. Every problem that Mr. Vasquez brought timely to Houston
Votes' attention has been addressed immediately. Mr. Vasquez seems to prefer grandstanding and allowing problems to go unresolved rather than providing Houston Votes immediate information about possible problems so that we could stop them.
Mr. Vasquez also falsely charges, without asking Houston Votes, that it pays canvassers a salary plus commission. The implication is that Houston Votes provides a financial incentive for people to inflate registrations. Mr. Vasquez is wrong. Houston Votes pays all canvassers $10 an hour, and there is no quota on how many cards they have to collect. Canvassers are paid regardless of the number of cards they collect, although we do expect canvassers to work hard.
Response to Specific Allegations by Mr. Vasquez:
1) 1,597 Multiple Applications. Mr. Vasquez provides no substantiation of this number. While Houston Votes found a number of dupllcates after Mr. Vasquez brought this to our attention in earlv August, we fixed the quality control problem as soon as possible and are aware of only a minimal number of duplicates submitted since. We were growing faster than we thought possible - registering over a 1,000 people a day - and at the beginning we simply failed to catch the duplicates. There was no coordinated attempt by Houston Votes management to do anything illegal, and all employees identified as possibly dishonest were terminated. Mr. Vasquez provided a false picture.
2) 1,014 applications of persons already registered. Mr. Vasquez provides no substantiation of this number. People re-register all of the time because they do not remember when they registered and whether they re-registered, as required, after they have moved. At its trainings, the Registrars Office tells volunteer deputy registrars to re-register voters if there is any doubt whether they are registered. Following Vasquez's staffs training advice is not fraud, but instead is best practices, at least in this instance.
3) 1,133 applications without a driver's license or social security number. Again, there is no substantiation of this charge. When Mr. Lewis meet with Mr. Vasquez's team in July - during which Mr. Vasquez was not present for the substantive discussion - the Registrar's staff told Mr. Lewis that if a person did not list either their driver'S license or social security number, but had a driver's license, that the office would still process the card. Regrettably, applicants often refuse to provide a driver's license or social security number because of fears of identity theft in our crime-filled times, as Mr. Vasquez's staff knows. The card~ Houston Votes submitted reflect what applicants told Houston Votes. This does not constitute fraud or wrongdoing.
4) 1,030 Incomplete Applications. There is no proof of this number or any details. Mr. Lewis at the July meeting specifically asked the Registrar's Office about incomplete addresses, because the Harris County Registrar's Office has had a long history of hyper-technical rejections relating to addresses. The Registrar's staff specifically stated that now they would look up any incomplete addresses and complete the applications if possible. When Houston Votes first began, some inexperienced canvassers, despite training, did not fill out the cards correctly, particularly the address, which is a common problem with deputy registrars. Vasquez's office recanted their prior statements at the early August meeting, telling us to not submit incomplete applications and they would not look up addresses. Mr. Vasquez is
complaining that Houston Votes' staff was committing fraud and over-burdening his office when they
, simply were following his own staffs instructions. It is telling that Mr. Vasquez's examples at the press conference of incomplete applications relate from before he arbitrarily changed his staffs policies. His office's pattern of changing its policies on Houston Votes appears to have been a classic example of bait and switch.
5) 325 Teenagers Too Young to Vote. Again, this number is unsubstantiated. Any such cards are not fraud but a mistake. Houston Votes caught a number of such applications, which it has not submitted to Mr. Vasquez. Some of the canvassers, despite being trained, did not understand that they may not register teenagers, even if they turn 18 before the election, unless at the time of registration the person was 17 years and 10 months old. This is a common problem with registration cards, and Mr. Vasquez's office knows it.
6) 25 Applications of Non-Citizens. Again, there is no evidence for this number, and there was no dishonesty involved. Houston Votes caught a number of applicants that checked they were non-citizens, and we did not submit their cards. If Houston Votes accidently submitted a truthful card of a non-citizen, then it was a mistake, and the person was not registered. No voter fraud occurred.
Leo Vasquez is using his official office, under color of state law, to slander and defame Houston Votes was demonstrated at the press conference when he represented that no other organization made similar mistakes and errors when processing voter registration applications and insisted that his "evidence" was indicative of systematic intent to defraud and overwhelm the voter rolls. However, records suggest that as early as March of this year, volunteer deputy registrars affiliated with other organizations made many of the same application errors that Leo Vasquez identified.
A random, very limited sampling of the pending database from March 5, 2010 to May 12, 2010 - before Houston Votes began its efforts - reveals a.t a minimum:
• 70+ Voter Registration Applications that were not accepted because of Non-citizenship.
• 230+ Voter Registration Applications that were not accepted under the County's reason code MMM for Multiple Mistakes Made.
This limited sampling does not reflect the full scope of application mistakes during the time period preceding Houston Votes' registration drive. If political motivation is not a factor behind Vasquez's complaints, one must ask why were there no press conferences or allegations of voter fraud against others that made similar mistakes. We believe leo Vasquez is selectively using common mistakes and errors that take place during registration drives to politically attack our organization because we have the largest effort to increase voter participation among disengaged communities. That is why we are calling for a civil rights investigation of his office, which we believe is abusing the voting rights of the citizens of Harris County.
Partisan Political Connections:
It is our belief that Leo Vasquez is abusing his office for political purposes. His office apparently collaborated with the partisan tea party organization, King Street Patriots, to make false and reckless allegations against individuals and organizations that he wishes to silence. This blatant disregard for the office he holds, and the crucial duties he is supposed to fairly perform, requires a complete investigation by all appropriate authorities.
King Street Patriots took credit for uncovering the "fraud"! alleged against Houston Votes, According to King Street Patriot's attorney, KelJy Shackelford of the liberty Institute, Leo Vasquez apparently openly coordinated with his client, sharing voter registration applications that the office does not share with anyone else: "King Street Patriots is double-checking all registrations leading up to the election, and will be releasing information each week on what they've uncovered." Vasquez appears to have shared with this group confidential voter registration data, which is unlawful.
King Street Patriots is clearly partisan: liKing Street Patriots believes that current political initiatives must be focused on mobilizing the conservative electorate:", The videotape on the front page of King Street's Web site quotes favorably a person stating that their aim is to influence the vote in Houston. "In the legislature in Texas there is a seven vote conservative majority, and what that mean is, in the big picture, if we lose Houston, we lose Texas ... if we lose Texas, we lose the country." Vasquez's office, which has a legal duty to be non-partisan, is seemingly coordinating with overtly political groups interested in suppressing registration and voting for political purposes. The Civil Rights Division of the Justice department should investigate immediately Leo Vasquez, his office, and these third parties for criminal and civil violations of our voting rights laws and breaches of confidentiality.
1 http://www.prnewswi;e.com/news-releases/vo I u ntee rs-expose-voter - fr aud -in -harris- cou n ty- tens-of-thous and sof -regi strati on s-q uestioned- by- king-st reet -patri ots-l0 141S004.html
2 http://www.libertyinstitute.org/news_and_updates.php?category=8&article=127 3 http://www.kingstreetpatriots.org!about
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