Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

Karl Rove

“Phantom” voters

This is a molehill, not a mountain.

Sixteen small counties across Texas appear to have more registered voters on their rolls as of 2010 than qualified citizens of voting age – a phenomenon prompting conservative Washington, D.C., watchdog group to question whether the “overcounts” could raise the potential for election fraud.

The Chronicle reviewed public records for all Texas counties and found evidence of surplus registered voters in rural Texas counties scattered statewide, including East Texas counties like Chambers, Trinity, and Polk, as well as border counties like Presidio in Big Bend country and Maverick County surrounding the border at Eagle Pass.

Tom Fitton, president of nonprofit Judicial Watch, told the Chronicle his group plans to ask the Texas Secretary of State to examine all Texas counties with oversized voter rolls. The group has demanded probes in other states as the result of its own nationwide comparisons of 2010 voter registration and census data.


Loving County, the sprawling arid ranchlands in Southwest Texas that are said to be the least populated of all U.S. counties, reported 105 registered voters in January 2010, though the census found only 40 people of voting age.

Large extended families – mostly related to office holders – come back to vote, said Sheriff Billy B. Hopper, who also serves as voter registrar.

Other rural counties with surplus voters have been the site of more recent election or voter fraud investigations by the Office of the Attorney General, records show. But spokesman Jerry Strickland had no comment about the voter registration figures.

Rich Parsons, a spokesman for the Secretary of State’s office, said the office has a policy of not commenting on any outsiders’ analysis of voter rolls. But he said that having more registered voters than citizens over the voting age in rural counties is not unexpected. It could be explained by various factors, including retiree and campus voters, who might vote in Texas but be counted as residents of other counties or other states in the census, as well as voters who moved away from rural counties but failed to cancel old registrations.

There are a variety of factors at play here, the vast majority of which are likely to be innocent if you bother to drill all the way down. Before anyone gets too worked up about this fairly un-shocking allegation, allow me to refresh everyone’s memory about a little kerfuffle involving a well-known political figure from a few years back.

Still walking free among us

Presidential adviser Karl Rove may live in Washington. But in his heart — and for voting purposes — he remains a Texan. Which means he is not legally entitled to the homestead deduction and property tax cap he’s been getting on his Palisades home for the past 3 1/2 years.


Rove is now registered to vote in Kerr County, about 80 miles west of Austin in the Texas Hill Country. He and his wife, Darby, have owned property there, on the Guadalupe River, since at least 1997, according to county property records.

But as far as the locals know, the couple have never actually lived in either of two tiny rental cottages Rove claims as his residence on Texas voter registration rolls. The largest is 814 square feet and valued by the county at about $25,000.

“I’ve been here 10 years and I’ve never seen him. There are only, like, three grocery stores in town. You’d think you’d at least see him at the HEB” grocery, said Greg Shrader, editor and publisher of the Kerrville Daily Times.


Down in Texas, when you register to vote in a place where you don’t actually live, the county prosecutor can come after you for voter fraud, said Elizabeth Reyes, an attorney with the elections division of the Texas Secretary of State. Rove’s rental cottage “doesn’t sound like a residence to me, because it’s not a fixed place of habitation,” she said. “If it’s just property that they own, ownership doesn’t make that a residence.”

Still, under state law, the definition of a Texan is really pretty loose, Reyes said, even for voting purposes. So someone would have to file a complaint.

In the end, she said, “Questions of residency are ultimately for the court to decide.”

Rove, of course, was never prosecuted for voter fraud. That’s one example of how someone can be legally registered to vote someplace where the Census would not find him. The Chron story has others, and a more recent Texas Trib story from 2010, when now-State Sen. Brian Birdwell was fighting off allegations that he was a resident of Virginia as recently as 2006 and thus ineligible to run for the Senate (I trust you can tell from the information given how that turned out) has yet another.

The state’s election law calls residence “one’s home and fixed place of habitation to which one intends to return after any temporary absence.” It also says you don’t lose your residence by temporarily moving somewhere else and that you don’t necessarily become a resident of another place if it’s not your intention to stay there. And it says the issue is subject to case law.

Residency fights aren’t based on a clear set of rules, and politicians regularly avoid them. The law has lots of gray areas in it — you can reside in one place, sleep every night in another, all while intending to live in a third spot.

That mostly has to do with residency for purposes of being a candidate for office, but the principle is the same. In Texas, you’re a resident of wherever you say you are, and it’s damn hard to legally establish otherwise. Despite the lurid headline on this story, there’s no evidence of fraud here. There’s barely even a suggestion of it.

Hey, big secret spender

I know you’re as shocked as I am to learn that there are unknown entities spending large quantities of money in this election.

Campaign finance watchdogs say the tactic conceals important information about who is backing a political cause, but both groups insist they have followed the law and anonymity had nothing to do with their rationale for setting up as nonprofits.

“We are plunging deep into scandal,” said Craig Holman, a campaign finance reform advocate for Public Citizen, a Washington-based consumer advocacy organization. “Without disclosure, we have no idea where this money is coming from and no way to determine whether it’s legal or illegal. You could have drug cartels investing in an election on the Texas border, wanting to soften the laws, and there would be no way to know it.”


The national trend has manifested itself locally this year with two groups: King Street Patriots, an advocacy organization that was accused by Democrats this week of being responsible for complaints of voter intimidation at minority precincts; and Renew Houston, the driving force behind a ballot initiative asking voters to pay for a 20-year, $8 billion infrastructure program for the city.

Both organized under section 501(c)(4) of the tax code as “social welfare” organizations, which by tax law requires that at least 51 percent of their spending be dedicated to non-political purposes such as education. The use of that designation also exempts them, under federal law, from having to disclose donors.

The Texas Democratic Party on Monday said that under Texas law, King Street Patriots, due to the nature of its political advocacy, should be registered as a political committee, which would require that its donors be publicly disclosed. The party said it would include the group in a lawsuit over allegations of illegal election practices.

“You can spend all the money you want in Texas on political speech, you’ve just got to tell people who’s paying for it,” said Chad Dunn, general counsel of the Texas Democratic Party. “But when you have the King Street Patriots out there doing what they’re doing on the side, it’s all in the dark.”

The US Chamber of Commerce and Karl Rove are leading the way on this. The Chamber has been arguing that it should be allowed to continue to shield the identity of its donors because some of them might face criticism and bad publicity for doing so. Who knew they were all such delicate flowers? Seems to me that’s a pretty good argument for them to not make such donations, but what do I know?

While the amount of money being sloshed about is unprecedented, it’s not like we’ve never seen this sort of thing before. Remember Texans for True Mobility? How about those anonymous attack mailers against Adrian Garcia in 2003? The only difference between then and now is the level of brazenness, and the size of the checks.

It’s unfortunate to see the Prop 1 campaign lumped in with these other groups on this story, since they did the right thing and disclosed their donors when they weren’t required to, and became an official PAC when they switched from getting on the ballot to advocacy mode. They’ve had some other issues with their campaign, but they got this right.

Here comes Karl

As I noted two weeks ago, Tuesday is the day that Karl Rove slinks into town for a fundraiser in support of four Harris County Republican candidates for State House. Rove’s a busy man these days, what with dodging all those subpoenas and appearing on teevee, so I guess maybe we should all feel lucky that he considered these races, plus Big Bad John’s, worthy of his time and attention. Certainly, HD144’s Ken Legler, who reported no cash on hand in July ought to be grateful.

If you’d like to give Rove an appropriate greeting during his “Fugitive Fundraiser Tour”, you can meet up with the Sherrie Matula campaign tomorrow at their headquarters, 17300 Saturn (Suite 105), Houston, TX 77058 (map), tomorrow at 5 PM for some good old-fashioned blockwalking. Call the campaign at 281-282-1351 or email [email protected] to let them know or if you have any questions. You can also sign the HCDP petition calling on Rove to take responsibility for his actions, which will be delivered to his office at Fox News. I know, I know, not likely to have any effect on the guy, but what the heck.

Greg has more. And I see that the local GOP is kicking up a fuss about money raised by a guy involved in the John Edwards situation. Hey, all’s fair in love and war, but I don’t see them turning down Rove’s money, and I think what he’s accused of is a bit more serious than having an affair. If they want to talk about about what constitutes “tainted” money and when it should be refused or returned, I’ll be more than happy to engage in that discussion.