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 June 25 edition of The Blaze's The Glenn Beck Program:
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Fox News has consistently denied that voter ID laws discriminate against minority groups and disenfranchise legal voters, yet after just one day of implementation, Alabama's voter ID restriction has already discredited these claims.
In 2011, Alabama passed a state law requiring voters to present a photo ID in order to be allowed to cast a ballot, but implementation of the law was delayed due to a Voting Rights Act's (VRA) formula that required jurisdictions with a history of racial discrimination to "preclear" their election rule changes with the Department of Justice. The preclearance rule was gutted in the 2013 Shelby County v. Holder Supreme Court decision, and Alabama's June 4 primary election was the first opportunity for the state's voter ID law to take effect.
Fox News has claimed that DOJ protections are no longer necessary to ensure that voter rights are protected against discriminatory state laws, attacking claims that voter ID laws are discriminatory as a "liberal ruse" to gain minority votes, and panning the idea that such requirements would suppress votes. In June 2013, Fox host and attorney Megyn Kelly hosted National Review Online's Andrew McCarthy to argue that race-based voter suppression "has long ago passed to the dustbin of history," calling anyone who thinks otherwise demagogues and "race hucksters." On May 21, Fox & Friends co-host Steve Doocy claimed that no Republican "wants to take away the right to vote."
These claims were put to the test this week, as Alabama's voter ID law went into effect.
According to a report by MSNBC's Zachary Roth, 93-year-old Willie Mims was turned away from the polls because he lacked photo ID and was denied the opportunity to cast a provisional ballot:
Willie Mims, 93, showed up to vote at his polling place in Escambia County Tuesday morning for Alabama's primary elections. Mims, who is Africa-American, no longer drives, doesn't have a license, and has no other form of ID. As a result, he was turned away without voting. Mims wasn't even offered the chance to cast a provisional ballot, as the law requires in that situation.
Jenny McCarren of Empower Alabama, a progressive group that gave Mims a ride to the polls, recounted the story for msnbc. McCarren said Mims's voter file showed he has voted in every election since 2000, as far back as the records go.
How many Alabamans lack ID isn't known - in part because the state made no effort to find out before the ID law. But nationwide, most studies put the figure at around 11%, and as high as 25% for African Americans.
Days earlier, The Washington Post reported that new evidence from a University of Southern California study found that "discriminatory intent underlies legislative support for voter identification laws," which the Post said raises "questions about the constitutionality of voter ID laws." The study examined the reactions of real lawmakers in order to reach its conclusions:
Is bias in responsiveness to constituents conditional on the policy preferences of elected officials? The scholarly conventional wisdom is that constituency groups who do not receive policy representation still obtain some level of responsiveness by legislators outside of the policy realm. In contrast, we present a theory of preference-induced responsiveness bias where constituency responsiveness by legislators is associated with legislator policy preferences. Elected officials who favor laws harming minority groups are also less likely to engage in non-policy responsiveness to minority groups. To test this proposition, we conducted a field experiment in 28 U.S. legislative chambers. Legislators were randomly assigned to receive messages from Latino, Anglo, English-speaking, and Spanish-speaking constituents asking if a driver's license is required for voting. If legislators supported voter identification, Latino constituents were less likely than Anglo constituents to receive communications from legislators. The implication is that discriminatory intent underlies legislative support for voter identification laws.
Both of these findings reinforce facts that Fox has been denying for years. Voter ID laws can disenfranchise voters -- particularly minorities, students, and the elderly.
As the Brennan Center pointed out, "free IDs are not equally accessible to all voters," and laws requiring voters to show ID put a burden on low-income individuals, disproportionately affecting the ability of traditionally Democratic-voting demographics to cast a ballot. According to Brennan Center data, 11 percent of Americans say they do not possess government-issued photo identification, and this number includes "25 percent of African Americans, 16 percent of Hispanics, and 18 percent of persons aged 65 and older."
Republicans have previously admitted that the impetus behind GOP efforts to pass discriminatory voter ID laws and other voting restrictions is a desire to win elections. Listing accomplishments of the GOP-led state legislature in 2012, Pennsylvania House Majority Leader Mike Turzai (R) proclaimed:
TURZAI: Pro-Second Amendment? The Castle Doctrine, it's done. First pro-life legislation - abortion facility regulations - in 22 years, done. Voter ID, which is going to allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania, done.
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.
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.