Myths about voter ID are reemerging in the wake of a federal judge's ruling against the government in North Carolina, a voting rights case right-wing media characterized as a "huge loss" for the Obama Administration, despite the fact that the decision is preliminary and the government has prevailed in similar cases in other states.
In 2013, the Supreme Court struck down Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act in Shelby County v. Holder, a provision that required states with a history of suppressing the minority vote to pre-clear changes to their election laws with the Department of Justice or a federal court. Almost immediately after the decision in Shelby County, states that had been subject to the preclearance requirement, like North Carolina, began passing and implementing strict voter ID laws, an expensive fix to a problem that is essentially non-existent. Nevertheless, unnecessarily restrictive and redundant voter ID laws have become a favorite policy proposal for conservatives and right-wing media.
A recent order denying DOJ's request for a preliminary injunction against North Carolina's new voter ID requirements -- part of the "country's worst voter suppression law" -- has now given right-wing media a fresh opportunity to dredge up old misinformation about the legal struggle over these measures. Frequent National Review Online contributor Hans von Spakovsky, a vocal proponent for oppressive voter ID laws and questionable election procedures, called it "a huge loss" for Attorney General Eric Holder and the DOJ, and claimed that the judge "simply shreds the arguments by the DOJ" in the opinion:
Judicial Watch filed an expert report in the case through an amicus brief that showed that in the May 2014 primary election, black turnout was up an astounding 29.5 percent compared with the last midterm primary election in May 2010. White turnout was up only 13.7 percent. As Judicial Watch said, these results were "devastating to the plaintiffs' cases because they contradict all of their experts' basis for asserting harm."
[T]his is a significant blow to DOJ and other opponents of commonsense election reforms.
That is particularly true when one remembers that this is DOJ's second big loss in the Carolinas. South Carolina attorney general Alan Wilson beat DOJ in 2012 when a federal court threw out a claim that South Carolina's voter-ID law was discriminatory. That law is in place today -- and there is a high probability that North Carolina's voter-ID requirement will also be in place in 2016 for the next presidential election.
A new report has debunked the primary voter fraud argument right-wing media have used for years to promote unnecessarily strict voter identification laws, which alienate eligible voters and often have the effect of suppressing the vote in minority and heavily-Democratic jurisdictions.
These kinds of voter ID laws, which require voters to present certain forms of ID at polling locations when attempting to vote, disproportionately affect people of color and can cost states millions of dollars to implement. But right-wing media have continued to promote them, especially since 2013, when the Supreme Court struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) that prevented suppression efforts in states with a history of racially-motivated voting laws. As Ezra Klein noted on the August 6 edition of MSNBC's All In, right-wing media have consistently raised the specter of in-person "voter fraud" to justify their support for these redundant and highly restrictive voter ID laws.
But as election law experts repeatedly point out, the specific type of fraud that voter ID can prevent -- voter impersonation -- is extremely uncommon.
National Review Online contributors John Fund and Hans von Spakovksy have been at the forefront of right-wing media's push for burdensome voter ID laws, calling Texas's law "a good thing," despite the fact that voters reported being turned away from the polls. Both Fund and von Spakovsky have advocated for further gutting what's left of the Voting Rights Act, making it nearly impossible for citizens who have been prevented from voting due to needlessly cumbersome election laws to legally challenge these oppressive regulations. Fund has also downplayed how difficult it can be for citizens -- particularly people of color, women, and low-income voters -- to obtain the right kind of identification needed to vote. In response to a Pennsylvania state court case that found the state's voter ID law unconstitutional, Fund called evidence that thousands of voters lacked the proper ID nothing more than an "inflated estimate."
While evidence of widespread voter fraud has yet to surface, right-wing media figures have nevertheless insisted that "there are plenty of instances" of voter fraud and that there is "concrete evidence ... of massive voter fraud." But according to a new study by Loyola University law professor Justin Levitt, the in-person voter fraud that strict voter ID prevents is still nearly non-existent. Levitt's study, which "track[ed] any specific, credible allegation that someone may have pretended to be someone else at the polls, in any way that an ID law could fix" found just 31 instances of this potential voter fraud between 2000 and 2014. According to Levitt, "more than 1 billion ballots were cast in that period."
Election fraud happens. But ID laws are not aimed at the fraud you'll actually hear about. Most current ID laws (Wisconsin is a rare exception) aren't designed to stop fraud with absentee ballots (indeed, laws requiring ID at the polls push more people into the absentee system, where there are plenty of real dangers). Or vote buying. Or coercion. Or fake registration forms. Or voting from the wrong address. Or ballot box stuffing by officials in on the scam. In the 243-page document that Mississippi State Sen. Chris McDaniel filed on Monday with evidence of allegedly illegal votes in the Mississippi Republican primary, there were no allegations of the kind of fraud that ID can stop.
Instead, requirements to show ID at the polls are designed for pretty much one thing: people showing up at the polls pretending to be somebody else in order to each cast one incremental fake ballot. This is a slow, clunky way to steal an election. Which is why it rarely happens.
From the August 6 edition of MSNBC's All In with Chris Hayes:
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From the June 25 edition of Fox News' Hannity:
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Conservative talk radio hosts lashed out at Mississippi Republican Sen. Thad Cochran for beating his tea party primary challenger, Chris McDaniel, with the help of votes from blacks and Democrats.
The Washington Post debunked a right-wing conspiracy theory promoted by Fox News tying the crash of former IRS official Lois Lerner's computer to a letter the IRS received from the House Ways and Means committee 10 days earlier. The Post pointed out that the letter addressed a different subject than the controversy linked to Lerner.
From the June 20 edition of Fox News' Special Report:
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Fox News helped Republican Gov. Scott Walker (WI) rehabilitate his image following newly released details on a criminal investigation into potential coordination between Walker's recall campaign and outside spending groups, dismissing allegations of wrongdoing as merely attempts "to trash him."
Documents unsealed on June 19 offered details on an extensive investigation into whether the Walker campaign was involved in a "criminal scheme" to illegally coordinate campaign activities with outside spending groups during his 2011 and 2012 recall elections.
Walker took to Fox & Friends the following day for a softball interview to respond to the allegations.
Walker repeatedly denied any wrongdoing, emphasizing that the investigation was halted by a federal judge. Co-host Steve Doocy agreed, speculating "These are documents that, for a case that does not exist anymore, it's not going anywhere, and they're just opening it up -- it looks like they're just trying to trash you." When Walker responded that the allegations detailed in the documents are nothing more than attacks by political opponents and the media, Doocy went on:
DOOCY: So the show's over, but they're trying to trash you. Are they trying to do to you what they did to Chris Christie in New Jersey?
Scott Walker, answering the charges. Not that there are any charges, just people trying to trash him.
It is true that the nearly two-year-old investigation is currently halted, and that no charges have yet been filed. But what Fox and Walker fail to admit is that the issue appears far from over. As Vox explained:
State law requires that any such nonprofits spending on election ads do so independently, without any coordination with Walker or his aides. Prosecutors are arguing that they didn't do so -- that, instead, Walker and two of his campaign consultants participated in a "criminal scheme" to "utilize and direct" the nonprofits' behavior. The investigation is being conducted under Wisconsin's unique John Doe law, which allows for many of the proceedings to be kept secret. The district attorney of Milwaukee, a Democrat, initiated the probe, but several other county prosecutors joined in, and a special prosecutor has since been appointed.
Importantly, no charges have been filed against anyone, and none appear imminent. Most of the legal wrangling so far has focused instead on whether prosecutors had probable cause to raid and subpoena documents from the consultants and nonprofit groups they believe to be involved.
It's an investigation being led by both Democrats and Republicans across five counties. In January and May 2014, a state judge and federal district court judge, respectively, ruled that prosecutors issued subpoenas without probable case during the investigation, but the state judge later stayed his own order, and the matter is currently pending before a federal appellate panel, which released the new documents at the prosecutors' request.
Fox News adoringly highlighted the story of a 92-year-old Texas woman after she started "raising a stink" about her struggle to vote under the state's new draconian voter ID law, treating her story as an isolated case and ignoring thousands of Americans disenfranchised by similar laws.
A stringent new voter ID law enacted June of 2013 in Texas obstructed the ability of 92-year-old resident Ruby Barber to cast a ballot. From the New York Daily News:
Ruby Barber, a senior citizen in the small town of Bellmead, Texas, had been unable to vote because she could not find her nearly century-old birth certificate that she'd need to obtain a voter ID under a new state law.
"I'm sure (my birth) was never reported because I was born in a farmhouse with a coal oil lamp," Barber, 92, told the Waco (Texas) Tribune. "Didn't have a doctor, just a neighbor woman come in and (delivered) me."
The host of Fox News' America's Newsroom, Martha MacCallum and reporter Casey Stegall offered glowing support for Barber and her struggle to vote, praising her plucky persistence to get back her right to vote. But Fox treated Barber's case as an isolated one -- a hiccup in an otherwise necessary policy to combat voter fraud.
The reality is that Barber represents a much larger group of Americans disenfranchised by Texas' new voter ID law where - up to 800,000 Texas voters, according to the League of Women Voters of Texas.
Fox host Steve Doocy couldn't think of one Republican "who wants to take away the right to vote," despite the frenzy of GOP-led states passing voting restriction laws and the acknowledgement of a Republican politician that the efforts are aimed to win elections.
On May 21, Fox & Friends jumped on former DNC chairman Howard Dean for reportedly stating at a campaign event in Colorado that Republicans are "not American" because they "think it's OK to win by taking away the right to vote." To co-host Steve Doocy, Dean's remarks amounted to a "new low," because no Republican "wants to take away the right to vote":
DOOCY: Excuse me, Dr. Howard Dean. Name one Republican who wants to take away the right to vote. There are Republicans who view that, you know, you should be qualified to have the vote. Only those who are registered and legitimately can vote, those are the ones who should vote. But take away the right to vote? I don't know anybody who's up to that standard.
A long-time supporter of Dinesh D'Souza, Megyn Kelly hosted the right-wing media darling after he pleaded guilty to campaign finance fraud to resuscitate the myth that his indictment was political payback.
D'Souza, who rose to right-wing media darling status after producing an anti-Barack Obama film rife with lies and outlandish claims, was indicted by federal prosecutors in January, charged with violating campaign finance laws by "arranging excessive campaign contributions to a candidate for the U.S. Senate," and allegedly reimbursing "people who he had directed to contribute $20,000" to the unnamed candidate.
After D'Souza's initial indictment, Fox host Megyn Kelly provided D'Souza a platform to push the myth that his indictment was political retribution. Kelly said the charges raised "red flags for some because D'Souza, who has pleaded not guilty, is behind the box office hit 2016: Obama's America, a film that is very critical of the president." D'Souza responded that he couldn't speak about the case specifically, but that he knows "for a fact" that Obama was personally unnerved by his film and said, "I am a public critic of the president, and I do recognize this has made me, to some degree, vulnerable to some forms of counter-attack."
Then, on May 20 D'Souza pleaded guilty to violating campaign finance laws and making false statements, and will be sentenced in September, facing up to two years in prison.
And still, Megyn Kelly continued to champion D'Souza, hosting him that evening to keep alive the myth that D'Souza's indictment was political retribution. Kelly asked D'Souza whether his guilty plea was what the Obama administration "wanted all along," and highlighted people who claimed that the prosecution was political, asking "is this about Dinesh D'Souza or is this about upholding campaign finance laws?" During the interview, Kelly again hid the fact that Fox News had aggressively pushed the myth that D'Souza's indictment was political payback for his criticism of Obama:
Dinesh D'Souza, the right-wing media darling who conservatives had claimed was targeted for prosecution because he is a critic of the Obama administration, has pleaded guilty to charges of campaign finance fraud.
D'Souza, famous for producing an anti-Barack Obama film rife with lies and outlandish claims, was indicted by the FBI in January and accused of violating campaign finance laws by "arranging excessive campaign contributions to a candidate for the U.S. Senate," and allegedly reimbursing "people who he had directed to contribute $20,000" to the unnamed candidate. On May 20 D'Souza pleaded guilty to violating campaign finance laws and making false statements. He will be sentenced in September and likely faces imprisonment of ten to 16 months.
Right-wing media figures -- many of whom went to bat for D'Souza's flawed film -- rallied to the filmmaker's defense following his initial indictment, claiming he was being prosecuted for his political beliefs. Fox News host Sean Hannity labeled D'Souza "the latest victim to be targeted by the Obama White House." Matt Drudge accused Attorney General Eric Holder of "unleashing the dog" on "Obama critics," and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones responded to the charges, saying, "This is like Nazi Germany ... once they're done with these guys, they're coming after you and I." Radio host Laura Ingraham characterized the indictment as being "more about stifling political dissent" than any serious allegations of wrongdoing, and Rush Limbaugh described it as an effort to "criminalize" conservatives.
During one such interview in February, Fox host Megyn Kelly said the charges "raised red flags for some because D'Souza, who has pleaded not guilty, is behind the box office hit 2016: Obama's America, a film that is very critical of the president." D'Souza responded that he couldn't speak about the case specifically, but that he knows "for a fact" that Obama was personally unnerved by his film and said, "I am a public critic of the president, and I do recognize this has made me, to some degree, vulnerable to some forms of counter-attack."
This right-wing media defense was reportedly part of a deliberate plan by D'Souza. The New York Times reported in April that, in a conversation with one of his alleged straw donors, D'Souza said that if he were charged "he might plead guilty, but would initially plead not guilty because that 'gives him a window of opportunity to get his story out there.'"
Conservative pundits were more than happy to oblige this desire. Now will those who championed D'Souza's virtuousness finally condemn his crimes?
For her part, Ingraham will not. She responded immediately to news of the plea by downplaying the seriousness of the crime and doubling down on her claim that D'Souza was prosecuted for political reasons.
Right-wing media are cherry-picking newly released emails from Judicial Watch to allege that the Washington D.C. office of the IRS initiated the flagging of Tea Party groups, omitting the full email chain that reveals the Cincinnati IRS office first flagged Tea Party applicants for tax-exempt status for further review.
Now that the 2014 midterm elections are just around the corner, right-wing media are dragging out some of their favorite attacks on voting rights, despite the fact that these myths have been thoroughly debunked.
While defending the Supreme Court's decision to undo decades of precedent and policy in campaign finance law, hosts of Fox News' The Five falsely suggested that unions can donate unlimited amounts of money to political candidates. In fact, unions are barred from directly donating to candidates and political parties.
In its April 2 decision on McCutcheon v. FEC, the Supreme Court decided that overall campaign contribution limits, previously set at $123,200 per individual per two-year election cycle, were unconstitutional. This allows future contributions to be spread among an unlimited number of political candidates, political parties, and PACs.
On April 4, as The Five co-host Bob Beckel criticized the decision and explained that these contribution limits were passed into law following the Watergate scandal, his fellow hosts Dana Perino and Eric Bolling claimed that unions face no limits on contributions, while there were limits on individuals.
But Perino and Bolling are incorrect. While unions, as well as corporations, can as of the 2010 Citizens United decision spend unlimited amounts on elections, they are still barred from direct contributions to candidates or political parties -- which is what the McCutcheon case was about. As USA Today explained:
It's the most important campaign-finance ruling since the high court's 2010 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruling allowed corporations and unions to spend unlimited amounts independently to influence elections.
The limits on campaign contributions had stood for nearly 40 years. The high court drew a distinction between those contributions, which it said could lead to corruption, and money spent independently in its landmark 1976 Buckley v. Valeo ruling. Independent spending was expanded in the Citizens United case to include unlimited spending by corporations and labor unions.
Independent expenditures, which unions are allowed to make, are not the same as direct contributions to political candidates and political parties. A guide to federal election rules from The Campaign Legal Center states: "Corporations and labor unions are prohibited from using treasury funds to make a contribution to candidates, political parties, and many types of PACs."