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.
From the April 11 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:
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Right-wing media champions of voter purges have been quiet in response to a federal appeals court's decision that Florida officials' attempts to remove noncitizens from voter rolls clearly violated federal law, which protects citizens from these overbroad and error-riden challenges.
Shortly before the 2012 election, Florida Governor Rick Scott (R) and his Secretary of State Kenneth Detzner (R) undertook an effort to purportedly purge the state's voter rolls of noncitizens. The Department of Justice challenged the purge in court, arguing that Florida had violated federal law that prohibits states from booting voters off the rolls within 90 days of a federal election. This law is in place to prevent depriving citizens of the vote because of faulty database checks, performed without enough time to correct the state's errors.
At the time, right-wing media outlets like The Wall Street Journal and National Review Online were overwhelmingly supportive of Governor Scott and his attempts to block people from voting. WSJ's senior editorial writer Jason Riley dismissed the DOJ's challenge, since "[t]he Obama Administration sees racial animus and voter-suppression conspiracies in any Republican-led effort to improve ballot integrity." NRO contributor Hans von Spakovsky also dedicated numerous posts to the issue, calling the DOJ's lawsuit "spurious," and evidence of "politics and ideology driving the legal decision-making" at the agency "as opposed to nonpartisan, objective analysis of the facts and the law."
Von Spakovsky had even more to say on the subject. In a different post about the case in 2012, he complained about the DOJ's "lawlessness" in its attempts to restore the voting rights of affected citizens in Florida:
Time and again, the Holder Justice Department has exhibited politically driven law enforcement. But its latest instance of lawlessness is absolutely brazen.
This goes far beyond Holder's previous actions, such as belittling claims of voter fraud and trying to stop voter ID and other reform measures intended to improve the integrity of the election process. This letter would directly abet vote thieves in a key state as Holder's boss seeks reelection [in 2012].
After the conservative justices gutted the Voting Rights Act in Shelby County v. Holder, right-wing media complained that criticisms of the legal challenge were overblown because other provisions of the VRA remain intact to fight voter suppression. But now some of those same right-wing media figures have begun to flip-flop on that position, arguing that another crucial component of the VRA is unconstitutional as well.
Right wing media hailed a federal court decision allowing Arizona and Kansas to enforce strict proof of citizenship laws for voter registration, a change that will disproportionately effect young, minority, and elderly voters, suppress voter turnout, and impose significant time and financial burdens.
On Wednesday, a Kansas federal judge ruled that it was unlawful for the federal Election Assistance Commission (EAC) to deny states' ability to enact state-specific voter registration requirements. The Washington Post reported that now "both states require new voters to provide birth certificates, passports or other documentation to prove their U.S. citizenship to election officials." This is a secondary form of verification, in addition to the attestation of citizenship already required.
Breitbart portrayed the ruling as a "big win for Arizona and Kansas on election integrity," while The Washington Times described the ruling as a "boost for states' rights." Radio host Laura Ingraham hosted Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who has been instrumental in drafting anti-immigrant legislation and brought this case, as a guest to defend the ruling as maintaining "the integrity of the voting process," and hype accounts of voter fraud:
But these voting laws have historically denied thousands of people access to the ballots. When Kansas first enacted rules that voters must provide proof of citizenship in 2013,14,000 registrations were held in suspense by the state. When a now-defunct proof of citizenship law in 2004 first passed in Arizona, 31,000 voters were denied registration, 90 percent of whom were American-born citizens.
Though proof of citizenship laws effect all voters, they disproportionately effecy minorities. The Advancement Project noted that proof of citizenship laws "impose significant time and financial burdens," and disproportionately effect minority groups such as Latino citizens and newly naturalized citizens. The New York Times reported that "studies have shown that the poor and minorities often lack passports and access to birth certificates needed to register under the laws in question."
The idea that the ruling is in response to rampant voter fraud is false. As past voter purges aimed at the threat of non-citizen voting have demonstrated, the alleged problem is wildly exaggerated. Just this past December, the Republican Secretary of State for Ohio revealed that after investigating unfounded conspiracy claims, only 17 non-citizen (not undocumented) votes out of 5.63 million were discovered, leading him to admit the problem was "rare." The American Immigration Council has explained that the warnings of a serious problem for election integrity due to non-citizen voting have been overhyped elsewhere:
There is no evidence that significant numbers of noncitizens are registering to vote. Nevertheless, in recent months several states have asked the federal government for access to immigration data in order to determine whether non-citizens are on the voter registration rolls.
The Associated Press reported in September 2012 that efforts by state election officials in Colorado and Florida to turn up cases of noncitizens illegally registered to vote have yielded very few results. In Colorado, an initial list of 11,805 suspected noncitizens on the voter rolls has shrunk to 141, which amounts to .004 percent of the state's 3.5 million voters. Likewise, in Florida, a list of 180,000 suspected noncitizens on the rolls has shrunk to 207, which accounts for .001 percent of the state's 11.4 million registered voters. It turns out that some of the individuals in question did not even know they were registered to vote, or were actually U.S. citizens legally entitled to vote.
The New York Times notes that, in 2011, "New Mexico's wasteful investigation of 64,000 'suspicious' voter registrations found only 19 cases of voters who may have been noncitizens."
Photo via Michael Flesher at http://www.flickr.com/photos/fleshmanpix/6732137133/
From the March 5 edition of Fox News' The Kelly File:
James O'Keefe, a right-wing performance artist known for his undercover videos that supposedly "expose" progressive "fraud," has released a new video falsely accusing conservative Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) of "excluding whites" from protection under his new Voting Rights Amendment Act (VRAA), a distortion of this bipartisan bill that has already been repeated in the National Review Online.
O'Keefe's new video shows him mysteriously dressed in camouflage, dancing to New Order's "Round and Round," and ultimately "confronting" Sensenbrenner at a town hall meeting about supposedly alarming anti-white language in the VRAA. Sensenbrenner, as he has in the past, began working on both sides of the aisle on this new VRA legislation last year, after the Supreme Court gutted crucial voter suppression protections in Shelby County v. Holder.
In the video, O'Keefe lectures Sensenbrenner on his own bill, claiming that "[i]n the legislation, it seems to contain language that explicitly removes white people from the protections of the Voting Rights Act." Sensenbrenner interrupts O'Keefe to correctly point out that the law "does not do that. There is nothing targeting people by race in the Voting Rights Act." O'Keefe eventually accuses Sensenbrenner of "doing the work of [U.S. Attorney General] Eric Holder and the race-hustlers with this language in the bill."
The New Hampshire Union Leader relied on anecdotal evidence from past elections to revive the misleading threat of voter fraud to endorse voter ID laws that restrict the right to vote.
In a January 27 editorial, the Union Leader cited two cases of potential fraud that it claims justifies the paper's support for strict photo ID laws:
Adam Kumpu of Milford was fined $1,000 and his mother, Janine Kumpu of Milford, was fined $250 for the fraud. Janine Kumpu obtained an absentee ballot in her son's name, and he used it to vote in Milford last November. He also voted in person in Keene.
That was proven fraud. Then there is the mystery of a vote recorded in Caitlin Legacki's name in the 2012 general election. The bloggers at Granite Grok reported last week that someone voted in Manchester in 2012 under the name of former Jeanne Shaheen spokesperson Caitlin Legacki.
We confirmed with the city clerk's office that a vote under Legacki's name and address was recorded. But Legacki moved out of New Hampshire shortly after the 2008 election (in which she voted) and was in St. Louis on Election Day 2012, working for U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill. "It certainly was news to me" that she was checked as having voted in Manchester in 2012, she told us last week.
The Union Leader's anecdotal evidence is futile since neither case was prevented by the voter ID law in place in New Hampshire prior to the 2012 election, nor do the examples prove the law's effectiveness in deterring the minuscule amount of fraud that occurs in elections. New Hampshire's voter ID law requires an eligible photo ID, or voters must sign an affidavit confirming their identity and intention to vote. The Kumpu family example would not be stopped by stricter ID laws as absentee ballots are counted after the polls close in New Hampshire, thus making the redundant vote unpreventable solely with voter ID legislation. The second case, as the editorial noted, could have been a simple mistake, and was not prevented by the ID law. In addition, it does not show any proof that anyone engaged in fraud.
Right-wing media have sunk to new lows in smears against President Barack Obama's nominee to head the Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division, former NAACP Legal Defense Fund (LDF) top official Debo Adegbile, a highly-qualified and widely praised civil rights litigator who has been senior counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Conservative Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) is a legal expert who led the last reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) in 2006 and has since called for the renewal of this crucial civil rights law after the Supreme Court struck down a key part of it -- but you won't hear about that from Sensenbrenner on Fox News.
Sensenbrenner used to be a favorite of Fox, appearing repeatedly on the network to provide expert legal analysis informed by his experience helming historic legislation, such as the Patriot Act. Fox host Sean Hannity once called Sensenbrenner "one of the guys that has always been on principle ... fighting the good fight every day." But that all changed when the conservative justices of the Supreme Court struck down the heart of the VRA in the now infamous Shelby County v. Holder and Sensenbrenner reached across the aisle to once again draft a reauthorization.
Now, this preeminent Republican can't seem to get his voting rights expertise heard on Fox News.
In June of 2013, the Supreme Court in Shelby County found that Section 4 of the VRA was unconstitutional in a bitterly split 5-4 decision. This section, which requires states with a documented history of racial discrimination at the polls to seek preclearance from the Department of Justice before making significant changes to voting procedures, provided much-needed protection for voters who might otherwise be disenfranchised. In fact, it worked so well that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg argued that striking down the provision was tantamount to "throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet." Just days after the Court struck down Section 4, states like North Carolina immediately began to construct barriers to democratic participation.
As part of the bipartisan group trying to fix the damage that Shelby County caused, Sensenbrenner is now urging his Republican colleagues to renew the VRA and reinstate its protections, calling the VRA "one of the most important pieces of civil rights legislation ever passed, and is vital to our commitment to never again permit racial prejudices in our electoral process" and adding that "[b]y striking down Section 4, the Court presented Congress with both a challenge and a historic opportunity. We are again called to restore the critical protections of the act by crafting a new formula that will cover jurisdictions with recent evidence of discrimination."
Sensenbrenner feels so strongly about the VRA that on January 16, he joined Democratic congressmen and senators to introduce "bipartisan legislation to uphold the most vital principles of the historic law."
But Fox viewers probably didn't hear about it. That's because, according to a Nexis search, Fox apparently hasn't had Sensenbrenner on to discuss this new piece of legislation, or the VRA decision in general.
Media Matters conducted a search of Nexis transcripts of Fox News and Fox Business Channel for the name "Sensenbrenner" from June 25, 2013 to January 24, 2014.
National Review Online contributor John Fund used anecdotal evidence of voter fraud and specious legal analysis to continue to advocate for oppressive voter identification laws.
On January 17, a Pennsylvania judge ruled that the state's voter ID law was unconstitutional under the state constitution because "hundreds of thousands of qualified voters ... lack compliant ID," and that the state had failed to ease the burdens associated with obtaining one. As The Nation recently reported, "getting a voter ID in Pennsylvania was a bureaucratic nightmare" after the statute went into effect because "[t]here are 9,300 polling places in the state, but only seventy-one DMV offices."
But Fund apparently didn't find this scenario all that nightmarish. In a recent editorial, he dismissed the number of voters without appropriate ID as "inflated" and argued that the law should still be rescued by the state legislature:
In 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld on a 6-to-3 vote the constitutionality of laws requiring voter ID at the polls. Justice John Paul Stevens, one of the left-of-center judges on the Court, wrote the opinion in a case involving Indiana's voter-ID law: He found that the Court could not "conclude that the statute imposes 'excessively burdensome requirements' on any class of voters."
But our Constitution decentralizes our election procedures over 13,000 counties and towns, and states themselves are in charge of writing voter-ID laws should they choose to do so. Some do it better than others.
Last Friday, Judge Bernard McGinley of the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court found that his state's voter-ID law violated Pennsylvania's constitution because the manner in which it was implemented placed an unreasonable burden on voters. The law, passed in 2012, had been blocked from taking effect while the court case against it ground forward. McGinley's decision is likely to be appealed to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Or the legislature could pass a new version of the law that would answer the judge's objections.
McGinley concluded that the law had been implemented in a sloppy, haphazard way and that the state had not done enough to help provide IDs to voters who lacked one.
When Pennsylvania's voter-ID law is either appealed or rewritten, let's hope that the state does a better job debunking the inflated estimates that hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians lacked an ID.
The state should also emphasize that even when voters show up at the polling place without an ID, they can vote on a provisional ballot. The state will count that ballot if the voter mails, faxes, or e-mails a copy of acceptable ID within six days of the election. If a person lacks the money to obtain the background documents necessary to acquire a voter ID, he can sign an affidavit attesting to that fact, after which his vote will be counted without further questions.
Fund's claim that the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of strict voter ID laws is misleading -- the case he references is Crawford v. Marion County Election Board, which challenged an Indiana voter ID law specifically, not the constitutionality of ID requirements in general. In the Pennsylvania case, the judge made sure to note that Crawford was not particularly relevant to his analysis, because the underlying facts that supported the legal challenges were so dissimilar. But Fund ignores this important distinction between the two cases in favor of his preferred narrative: that discriminatory voter ID laws are awesome.
Immediately after President Barack Obama nominated the highly-qualified and widely respected Debo Adegbile to be the next assistant attorney general for civil rights at the Department of Justice, right-wing media attacked this top lawyer of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund for purportedly being a "racialist."
Writing on an obscure right-wing blog, J. Christian Adams, a frequent Fox News guest who served in the highly politicized and disgraced Bush-era DOJ and "whose claim to fame as a federal lawyer seems to be his penchant for accusing black people of discriminating against whites," accused Adegbile of "racialis[m]" and the venerable NAACP Legal Defense Fund of a "radical racial agenda." From a November 14 post on Pajamas Media:
Adegbile hails from the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, an organization that has pushed a radical racial agenda including attacks on election integrity measures, opposition to criminal background checks for hiring, and racial hiring quotas for state and local governments.
Adegbile's name was mentioned as a possible nominee to the federal bench. Because of his advocacy for racialist policies, such a nomination would face serious confirmation difficulties. But in Eric Holder's Justice Department, nakedly racialist policies are standard fare, and Adegbile will fit right in.
This is an an-your-face nomination. This is the White House sending a message to Republicans and conservatives that the radical racial policies of the Justice Department will continue full speed ahead.
[I]n the Obama Justice Department, the law is not as important as the cause. And with Adegbile, the cause is racialist.
In another context, the venue and content of this thinly-veiled insinuation of so-called reverse racism could be easily ignored. Unfortunately, on the topic of executive and judicial nominees of the current president, Adams' attack is disturbingly similar to the same sort of race-baiting that jumps from little-read blogs to prominent right-wing platforms like Fox News, the editorial page of The Wall Street Journal, National Review Online, and even the mouths of GOP congressmen engaged in the ongoing blanket filibustering of the president's diverse nominees.
Accusing select presidential nominees of racialism or anti-white bias is a tired page of right-wing media's playbook against those who litigate and uphold longstanding civil rights precedent, a body of law that tends to help most those systematically disadvantaged by racism. This rant has been directed with more or less subtlety at Labor Secretary Thomas Perez (who previously led the DOJ's Civil Rights Division), Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, and Attorney General Eric Holder.
Assumedly, these charges have some sort of salience with those unfamiliar with American history and basic civil rights law.
National Review Online is pointing to instances of trouble at Texas polling places as proof that the state's overwhelmingly stringent voter ID law is "a good thing."
NRO contributors Roger Clegg and Hans von Spakovsky argued that because four prominent, white Texans were eventually able to vote after experiencing problems with their identification, complaints about the voter ID law are "hysterical." They went on to claim that a New York Times article that characterized the new ID law as "mak[ing] a dent at the polls" is overblown.
From Clegg and von Spakovsky's November 9 post:
A New York Times headline Thursday declared: "Texas' Stringent Voter ID Law Makes a Dent at the Polls." A careful reading of the article will leave many readers scratching their heads about that title.
The article begins by noting that three prominent Texans -- state judge Sandra Watts, state senator Wendy Davis, and state attorney general Greg Abbott -- all had photo IDs that did not quite match their names on official voter rolls, and so all had to sign affidavits before they could vote. But ... they all could and did vote.
Jim Wright -- another Texan, whom the Times helpfully identifies as a former U.S. Speaker of the House -- had an expired driver's license, and so he had to produce a birth certificate. But ... he also voted.
So, when all is said and done, where's the "dent"?
It's worth noting that these four voter-ID "victims" are hardly the poor, minority voters that the Left asserts are targeted by these laws. To the contrary, all four are white and quite prominent, one a Republican. They not only got to vote, they were alerted to discrepancies in their voter registrations that they can now get corrected.
This is the new Jim Crow?
The post went on to conclude that "there was really no problem after all" and that "there apparently are not large numbers of Texas voters who lack identification."
Evidently, the fact that one in 10 registered voters in Texas lacks valid identification is of no great concern to NRO. Although Texas will provide "election identification certificates" to voters free of charge, voters must provide proof of citizenship and identity in order to get one. The documentation required to obtain a certificate -- such as a U.S. passport -- is generally not free.
Fox News lent credence to True the Vote's fearmongering over Obamacare and voter registration during the network's 2013 election night coverage, never acknowledging the extremist nature of the tea party group.
When signing up for health insurance on the HealthCare.gov exchanges created by the Affordable Care Act (ACA), customers are prompted with the option to register to vote. This is due to the 1993 National Voter Registration Act, which requires state agencies engaged in public assistance to offer voter registration services, including the state and federally-run exchanges.
According to True the Vote (TTV), an activist tea party group which describes itself as an election watchdog organization, the registration option will "corrupt" voter rolls and lead to "bogus voter registrations." As evidence, the group links to a report from Demos, a liberal think tank, detailing how many Americans could potentially register to vote because of the ACA. True the Vote's theory is that health care navigators like Planned Parenthood -- organizations that assist people in exploring their insurance options in the exchanges -- will use the registration information "in political activities."
A November 5 Special Report package treated True the Vote's conspiracy theory as a damning revelation. Host Bret Baier introduced the segment by saying, "The president's plan is not just about making sure everyone has insurance. There is also a not-so-subtle political objective."
Fox correspondent Shannon Bream then profiled True the Vote's concerns, featuring TTV president Catherine Engelbrecht's claims that "the implications of this are mind-blowing."
BREAM: Pursuant to the National Voter Registration Act, state agencies that provide public assistance are also required to give applicants the opportunity to register to vote. A number of states believe that includes the health care exchanges. ... The Demos document also stresses that navigators be trained to walk applicants through the voter registration process, but it's the navigators critics are worried about, saying groups with partisan agendas like Planned Parenthood shouldn't be handling voter information. True the Vote, which calls itself a citizen-led organization aimed at restoring integrity to the U.S. election system, says it's been unable to get any answers about how the voter registrations are being transmitted or verified. And worries about the potential for confusion.
What Fox never admits is that True the Vote is a discredited organization with a partisan agenda.
The National Review Online is trying to push back on the mea culpa of a judge who now thinks strict voter ID does in fact impermissibly discriminate, maintaining its long-standing position as a supporter of election changes that have been widely denounced as blatant forms of voter suppression.
In 2007, well-known and respected conservative Judge Richard Posner of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit upheld a voter ID law in Indiana that was the first in a wave of increasingly stricter restrictions on the right to vote passed by Republican-controlled legislatures. Affirmed by a splintered Supreme Court, as the sole high-profile legal decision on the sort of unnecessary and redundant voter ID laws that are now widely promoted by the GOP, Crawford v. Marion County Elections Board has been incessantly trumpeted by right-wing media as the legal underpinning for their obsession with election changes that are documented to suppress the vote.
Now that Posner has bluntly admitted he was wrong and the evidence shows that strict voter ID is "now widely regarded as a means of voter suppression rather than fraud prevention," NRO is resorting to smearing the judge's integrity and intelligence.
Legal contributor Hans von Spakovsky, the repeatedly discredited champion of photo voter ID laws as the alleged "solution" to the virtually non-existent "problem" of in-person voter fraud, responded to the news of Posner's recent admission by claiming the judge had "been taken in" by the "Left's well-oiled propaganda machine." NRO's in-house legal expert, Ed Whelan, asserted that a switch in judgment by the judge was "weak" and praised a Washington Post columnist who attacked the judge as unethical for speaking publicly.
Von Spakovsky's attempt to rebut Posner's revelation by pointing to increased turnout in communities of color was a rehash of his continued failing of Statistics 101. As has been explained to von Spakovsky and others by statisticians, academics, and congressmen, just because more persons of color are voting now as the country grows more diverse doesn't mean that overly restrictive voting changes aren't suppressing the vote.
Not only is this confusing causation with correlation, but suppressing the vote also occurs when it becomes harder to do, not just when it is blocked entirely. The federal judge who blocked Texas' strict voter ID law because 600,000 to 800,000 citizens do not have easy access to the supporting documentation needed for the new identification requirements held that "a law that forces poorer citizens to choose between their wages and their franchise unquestionably denies or abridges their right to vote."