Michael Gaynor
Would you buy a used car from Congressman Elijah Cummings?
By Michael Gaynor
September 10, 2013


Congressman Elijah Cummings, Democrat of Maryland and ranking member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, has election integrity organization True the Vote in his sights. He eared on Martin Bashir's MSNBC show last July 16 and preposterously proclaimed, "Martin, let me be very clear. I have a position that is one about truth and trust and integrity. I have said it in the Committee and I have shown it. Whether it's the NAACP or whether it's True the Vote or any other organization, I'm going to fight for every single organization to be treated fairly and properly. Period. And that's about integrity."

Noble words!

And sheer nonsense.

To be sure, Congressman Cummings supports the NAACP and appears to treat it "fairly and properly."

But he pretends that True the Vote pursues voter suppression instead of election integrity and uses his office to harass True the Vote.

A screen capture from the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform website taken on July 16, 2013 (http://democrats.oversight.house.gov) asserts that True the Vote has a "'horrendous record' of filing inaccurate voter registration challenges across the country" and that "[a]s part of a broad effort to promote the integrity of our nation's elections" Congressman Cummings had "requested documents from Catherine Engelbrecht, President and Founder of True the Vote."

The truth is that on October 4, 2012 Congressman Cummings sent to Engelbrecht an open seven page letter on letterhead of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform claiming that "True the Vote and its affiliated organizations have been challenging the registration of thousands of legitimate voters based on insufficient, inaccurate, and faulty information" and requesting, by October 14, 2012, the following:

"(1) a list of all individual voter registration challenges by state, county, and precinct submitted to governmental election entities, including correspondence and determinations by election officials relating to each challenge;

"(2) copies of all letters sent to states, counties, or other entities alleging non-compliance with the National Voter Registration Act for failing to conduct voter registration list maintenance prior to the November elections;

"(3) a list of voter registration rolls by state, county, and precinct that True the Vote is currently reviewing for potential challenges;

"(4) copies of all training materials used for volunteers, affiliates, or other entities;

"(5) copies of computer programs, research software, and databases used by True the Vote to review voter registration;

"(6) all contracts, agreements, and memoranda of understanding between True the Vote and affiliates or other entities relating to the terms of use of True the Vote research software and databases;

"(7) a list of all organizations and volunteer groups that currently have access to True the Vote computer programs, research software, and databases; and

"(8) a list of vendors of voter information, voter registration lists, and other databases used by True the Vote, its volunteers and its affiliates."

It sure seems that Congressman Cummings wanted True the Vote to cease its pre-election activities immediately and focus instead on the impossible task of complying with his onerous, expensive, blunderbuss document request during the next ten days.

True the Vote was not intimidated or fooled.

The next day, Engelbrecht emailed Congressman Cummings, offering to meet with him to discuss True the Vote, since Congressman Cummings' "letter yesterday and comments to CNN this morning demonstrate a second-hand knowledge or poor staff-researched understanding of [True the Vote's] activities" and it was "both obvious and unfortunate that [he was] not familiar with all of the details of the mission or methods of True the Vote."

On October 18, 2012, Congressman Cummings replied to Engelbrecht in an eight-page letterthat he "accept[ed] [her] offer to come to Washington to answer these allegations, but only after [she] provide[d] the documents [he] requested," charged that Engelbrecht "should have no reason to withhold documents from Congress about [her] activities" and added six more document and information requests:

"(1) the number of poll monitors that True the Vote has trained and the political party these poll monitors requested to 'represent at poll' when they registered with True the Vote, organized by state, county, and precinct;

"(2) a list of polling places that True the Vote intends to place volunteers to serve as poll monitors, organized by state, county, and precinct;

"(3) a list of polling places True the Vote volunteers have signed up to work as poll monitors, organized by state, county, and precinct;

"(4) copies of voter rolls that True the Vote may utilize to review voter eligibility on Election Day;

"(5) copies of materials used to train volunteers for poll monitoring, including groups 'empowered' by True the Vote that share access and use of True the Vote's website portal; and

"(6) all correspondence with national, state, and local political parties regarding poll monitoring by volunteers of True the Vote and its affiliates during early voting periods and on Election Day."


Then Congressman Cummings went on MSNBC's "The Ed Show" to rage that True the Vote had "gone silent" instead of complying with his requests.

True the Vote attorney Brock C. Akers, by letter to Congressman Cummings dated October 29, 2012, protested Congressman Cummings' either knowingly false or reckless statements about True the Voter and pointed out that he had "demand[ed] information from [True the Vote] – without any right or authority to do so – in the time calculated to keep us from our task of reducing voter fraud and re-extended Engelbrecht's invitation to meet with him. He explained that True the Vote is "a group of concerned citizens, both Democrats and Republicans, who are fed up with the business as usual activities where voter fraud becomes the rule rather than the exception, and no one seems to care, and admonished Congressman Cummings as follows: "We care. You should care. Instead of doing all you can to thwart the efforts of those attempting to eliminate voter fraud, one might think you would join us in these efforts. But eliminating or reducing voter fraud is apparently not your interest."

On December 20, 2012, in response to Akers' letter, Congressman Cummings wrote Engelbrecht that he proposed to meet her in Washington, D.C. on January 16, 2013 "[a]s part of [his] ongoing investigation into efforts to challenge the ability of legitimate voters to register and vote."

On January 4, 2013, Engelbrecht wrote back:

"I am in receipt of your most recent letter, dated December 20, 2012. I thought it might be helpful to address some of the topics you raised as there seems to be a continued pattern of misunderstanding about what True the Vote does, our mission and goals, especially as they pertain to our election process. It appears that your office made a number of assumptions about True the Vote which are categorically inaccurate. I would like to help clarify these issues.

"True the Vote believes that citizens have an important role to play in our democratic process and we encourage citizen engagement in the electoral process. Toward that end, True the Vote educates interested citizens to verify their local voter registrations with available Social Security Death index and National Change of Address records. Should they find discrepancies, citizens make local election authorities aware of their findings in accordance with applicable state laws. True the Vote is not a party to any challenges or official notices sent.

"True the Vote does not train or encourage election observers to challenge any voter registration on Election Day. This incorrect assumption is a common yet false claim made by some less reputable journalists. Further, True the Vote explicitly instructs election observers to not speak with any voter or person in the polling place, with the exception of election officials. As a point of fact, most states do not allow citizen election observers to offer a challenge to a voter.

"Finally, True the Vote made no effort to coordinate with any political party during the past election cycle. Further, True the Vote received zero monies from 501(c)(4) organizations.

"I appreciate your efforts to clarify the false information about True the Vote that has been reported in the news media and on the Internet. should you wish to receive further clarification, my willingness to meet in your office still stands at a time and date of mutual convenience."

Congressman Cummings has yet to take up Engelbrecht on her offer to meet, or apologized for his partisan attacks on and harassment of non-partisan True the Vote.

© Michael Gaynor


The views expressed by RenewAmerica columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of RenewAmerica or its affiliates.
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Michael Gaynor

Michael J. Gaynor has been practicing law in New York since 1973. A former partner at Fulton, Duncombe & Rowe and Gaynor & Bass, he is a solo practitioner admitted to practice in New York state and federal courts and an Association of the Bar of the City of New York member... (more)


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