The 2020 election was conducted under extraordinary circumstances. No one knows that better than Catherine Engelbrecht of True the Vote, an organization that has monitored and advocated greater election security for twelve years. She joins Peter Schweizer and Eric Eggers on the latest episode of TheDrillDown to detail the work her group did for the new movie, 2000 Mules, by Dinesh D’Souza.
The film draws deeply on unprecedented work done by True the Vote, which purchased the very same GPS and mobile app location data used by internet marketers and mapping applications to show that certain nonprofit groups funded by Silicon Valley billionaires to “get out the vote” in several key states were employing people to retrieve absentee ballots and place them in drop boxes that had been located strategically in large cities.
True the Vote combed through more than 1,000 terabytes of data and claims to have identified 242 individuals who made at least ten visits to the precise locations of ballot drop boxes and at least five visits to the office addresses of nonprofit, “get out the vote” groups that were active in those areas in the month before Election Day. The location patterns of these “mules,” as D’Souza’s film calls them in its title, suggest these individuals were picking up ballots at the offices, then distributing them to one or more drop boxes. This practice, known as ballot harvesting, is illegal in most states except in extremely limited circumstances.
Engelbrecht has been involved in election integrity efforts since 2010 when she worked as an election observer in her hometown of Houston, Texas, and noticed many suspicious things happening at polling places. She began documenting what she saw and reporting it to local and state election officials, convinced that if they were made aware of procedural problems she saw, they would take steps to prevent it. She gained some notoriety for her efforts and began hearing from others in Pennsylvania, Florida, Ohio, and other places. Her organization grew from that humble beginning. True the Vote became “the eye of the storm,” as she tells Peter and Eric, in 2012 after she filed suit against Obama administration appointees in the IRS who denied her group’s nonprofit status application along with many other conservative leaning groups associated with the Tea Party movement.
“Our election system isn’t intended to be perpetually broken,” she tells Peter and Eric. “So why is it?”
In 2020, many observers noted the rash of changes to election protocols, often done through bureaucratic fiat with the excuse of anti-COVID measures, which removed some of the safeguards that stop election fraud from occurring. As Mollie Hemingway showed in her book, Rigged, massive amounts of money were spent by billionaires like Mark Zuckerberg to stand up nonprofit groups like the Center for Technology and Civic Life to help people vote. These groups later boasted of how effective they had been, often doing the jobs that are normally done by state employees.
Drop boxes are one example. Absentee ballots in most elections are mailed in envelopes. There are laws preventing third parties from collecting and delivering these ballots, to a polling place. But drop boxes obscure how the ballots got there, and states like Pennsylvania that set them up in large cities like Philadelphia did not monitor them to ensure the boxes were not tampered with, nor that individuals were not placing large piles of ballots into them at a single time.
Eric, whose 2018 book FRAUD dealt with these questions extensively, notes that in Georgia in 2020 there were thirty-eight drop boxes placed in Fulton County (Atlanta). The Government Accountability Institute did a quick analysis of those locations and found that thirty-five of them were placed in areas that Hillary Clinton carried heavily in 2016. Only three of the boxes were placed in areas that Trump won.
Peter asks Catherine what reforms need to be done. She offers four:
- Get the voter rolls accurate. Private industry would go bankrupt if they had to rely on out-of-date information.
- End the mass mailout of ballots. “It is rife with opportunities for subversion.”
- Remove the drop boxes for returning absentee ballots.
- Make election fraud penalties “pack a punch.”
“This doesn’t need to be partisan. These should be things we can all agree on,” she says.
Eric adds a couple more ideas. First that we prevent what occurred in 2020, with all of the odd contingencies adopted because of COVID, from becoming a template or a business model for future elections, and secondly that plans such as that proposed by the new elections commissioner in Broward County, Florida, for nonprofits to “adopt a precinct,” be squelched before more such groups begin to intrude on the normal workings of elections.