Voting Rights & Issues

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  • VIDEO: Debunking The "Rigged Election" Horror Story


    Donald Trump’s “rigged election” shtick is the product of years of conservative fearmongering about voter fraud and election stealing, and it poses a unique challenge to journalists who want to ensure voter confidence in the election process.

    Faced with dismal polling numbers in the final weeks of his presidential campaign, Trump has resorted to telling his supporters that the election will be “rigged” -- stolen from him because of widespread voter fraud. He’s repeated that warning frequently on the campaign trail, and nearly half of his supporters now believe him.

    The voter fraud talking point – the idea that Democrats will use voters who lie about their identities, dead voters, or undocumented immigrants to cast fraudulent ballots -- has been debunked ad nauseum in research, court decisions, and expert testimony. Politifact rated Trump’s “rigged election” claim a “pants on fire” lie, stating there’s simply no evidence that widespread voter fraud is a real problem, especially in presidential elections.

    But even before Trump’s campaign, a growing number of primarily Republican voters began to believe that voter fraud is a widespread problem.

    That’s thanks in part to conservative media’s near-constant, baseless fear mongering about voter fraud over the past few election cycles. Right-wing outlets, and especially Fox News, have bombarded audiences with exaggerated or misleading claims of voter fraud to create the impression that Democratic victories at the ballot box are largely the result of illegal election rigging. Stories about dead or non-eligible or non-existent voters appearing on voter rolls are regularly touted as proof of nefarious activity, even though those voter registrations never actually translate into votes.

    The most memorable example of this kind of fear mongering came during the 2008 controversy surrounding the non-profit group ACORN. A number of ACORN voter registration employees had been discovered submitting false or duplicate voter registration forms (the laws in many states require third parties who register voters to submit all forms they receive). Fox News devoted countless segments to the story in order to hype hysteria about widespread voter fraud, despite the fact that those forms never produced an actual fraudulent vote. ACORN was eventually cleared of charges of orchestrating voter fraud, but half of all Republican voters still believed ACORN helped steal the election for President Obama in 2012 -- two years after ACORN had closed down.

    Misinformation about voter fraud isn’t only the fault of conservative media. As GOP statehouses across the country have pushed for restrictive voter ID laws -- laws aimed at disenfranchising typically Democratic voters -- local news outlets have repeated Republican talking points about the threat of voter fraud without fact-checking them.

    That kind of round-the-clock saturation helps explain why so many voters have started to doubt the integrity of elections without evidence that it is a problem. And that doubt poses a real threat to a democracy, which relies on voters trusting and accepting the outcomes of elections.

    Trump’s “rigged election” shtick is just one element of a broader problem with media coverage of voter fraud. Regardless of who wins in November, journalists are going to have to be a lot more aggressive about fact-checking right-wing horror stories if they want to restore voter confidence in the election process.

  • Fox Pushes Lie That George Soros Is Using Voting Machines To Rig The Election

    ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN

    Fox & Friends hosts falsely speculated that billionaire and Democratic Party donor George Soros is manipulating voting machines that they claimed he owns in order to rig the 2016 elections and push his “agenda.” In fact, Soros does not have any ownership in the company he is alleged to control voting machines through, and the company’s voting machines are not even being used in the 2016 election.

  • Right-Wing Media Figures Conflate “Voter Fraud” With Voter Registration Inaccuracies

    Fox News Host: “That's Troubling. I Only Know Of One Person That Has Risen From The Dead, So 20, That's A Problem”


    Right-wing media have baselessly stoked fears of widespread voter fraud based on out-of-date or inaccurate voter registration rolls to defend Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s claims that “dead people” and “illegal aliens” are voting. But in doing so they’ve falsely conflated possible registration fraud with the practice of in-person voter fraud; both types are rare, and the latter is virtually nonexistent.

  • James O’Keefe Says Journalists Never Release Raw Footage Because It Would “Tell A Different Story”

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    Project Veritas Action, a group run by discredited right-wing videographer James O’Keefe, recently released two heavily edited videos purporting to reveal that Democratic operatives aligned with Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign were “rigging the election.” O’Keefe is refusing to release the unedited footage his undercover operatives shot -- something his groups have routinely done in the past -- citing a need for journalistic integrity while simultaneously hinting that he had purposely edited the footage to “paint a specific picture.”

    O’Keefe released his latest edited videos on October 17 and October 18 and then almost immediately began complaining that mainstream news outlets were ignoring his efforts due to “fear of retaliation” from a future Clinton administration. Several media figures were quick to point out that O’Keefe’s refusal to release unedited footage from the undercover videos made it difficult for reporters to vet and accurately report on the purported stings, and that O’Keefe’s past track record of misleadingly editing footage make these latest videos even less credible. ThinkProgress reported this afternoon that Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s private charitable foundation gave $10,000 to O’Keefe’s Project Veritas about a month before Trump declared his presidential candidacy, adding further unanswered questions about the videos’ legitimacy.

    O’Keefe’s response to criticism was to argue that journalists never reveal “raw unedited materials” because “it’d probably paint a different picture.” His reaction seemed to simultaneously suggest that:

    (a) he, like other journalists, would never reveal “unedited materials” (though he has before), and

    (b) if reporters like himself did release those materials, they would reveal selective editing (like his materials have before).

    In the post-debate spin room last night, O’Keefe again reiterated his claims that no “journalists” release their “raw, unedited notebooks” and that his refusal to release the raw footage from his latest video series is no different. Media Matters president Bradley Beychok captured O’Keefe’s explanation to Majority.FM’s Sam Seder, in which O’Keefe also appears to admit that his role as a “journalist” includes piecing the videos “together to tell a specific story”:

    SAM SEDER: Are you going to release the full footage of your tapes?

    JAMES O’KEEFE: Why don’t you ask all these journalists here if they’re going to release their full, raw, unedited notebooks?

    SEDER: But it’s a different--

    O’KEEFE: No, listen. Sam--


    SEDER: James, you have to admit it’s a different thing--

    O’KEEFE: Is it? Is it? Is it?

    SEDER: Undercover video where it’s been shown, I mean, there were several reports that showed during the, that you have edited tapes in such a way to prove your--

    O’KEEFE: Name one edit I’ve made. I want you to name right now, for your audience, name one specific edit I have made. Because I can debunk every one of those reports. Go ahead.

    SEDER: Well, I mean, I haven’t [unintelligible].

    O’KEEFE: OK, well I would like you to get back to me.

    SEDER: But you can debunk that by releasing that video. Why wouldn’t you release all the video?

    O’KEEFE: Because no journalist in their right mind would ever release their raw notebooks and if they did, Sam--

    SEDER: Well, it’s not a notebook. It is caught on camera.

    O’KEEFE: Let me tell you something: No journalist ever releases the raw, and the reason, and if they did, if all these journalists released the raw, you would see a different story. They piece words together to paint a specific portrait.

    SEDER: So you paste the words together to paint--

    O’KEEFE: No. I have video. I don’t just have words. I have video.


    SEDER: Are you saying you did piece it together to paint a picture?

    O’KEEFE: That’s what journalism is. Journalism is telling a story. And I will stand by every single edit. I will go to -- I will be in contempt of court to protect my undercover reporters because I’m standing for something greater than myself. I’m standing for the right of citizen journalists. No one here would ever dare release their raw. No one would.

    Project Veritas routinely released hours of raw footage for a number of its alleged stings until mid-2014. O’Keefe says the group stopped doing this because “they’ll manufacture reasons why it’s doctored/fake.” In actuality, O’Keefe’s raw footage -- whether released seemingly voluntarily or not -- has repeatedly revealed egregious instances of selective editing over the years.

    Project Veritas first made national headlines in 2009 with a series of heavily edited videos purporting to show staff members of the now-defunct nonprofit ACORN engaging in criminal behavior. Subsequent investigations revealed that the workers had engaged in no illegal activity, and that O’Keefe had employed “highly selective editing of reality.” He later had to settle a case filed by an ACORN staff member who was fired because of the edited videos, paying the man $100,000 and issuing a public apology.

    O’Keefe’s own unedited footage negated a 2011 attempt to tell a specific story that an NPR executive had called members of the Tea Party “racist.” In reality, the executive had been quoting someone else; that part was conveniently edited out. “How quickly things seem to fall apart when James O’Keefe is the person who put them together,” concluded the Columbia Journalism Review. Washington Post writer Michael Gerson explained that O’Keefe had “manufactured an elaborate, alluring lie.”

    Raw footage from a 2012 undercover video similarly disproved O’Keefe’s story that local officials in New York state were agreeing to waste taxpayer money on a fake company that dug holes and filled them up again. Instead, the footage just showed officials trying to be courteous to actors they believed were constituents in an absurd, manufactured situation.

    O’Keefe stopped releasing his own unedited footage in May 2014, shortly after Media Matters used the raw footage from an edited Project Veritas video purporting to expose “Hollywood’s War On U.S. Energy” to debunk the video. O’Keefe’s group had cut parts of a secretly recorded conversation mid-sentence to paint a certain picture that two environmental producers were accepting funding from foreign oil interests; the unedited footage revealed they were actually discussing something completely different.

    This May, Project Veritas Action released raw footage on YouTube for a video series purporting to show “voter fraud” committed by Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign in New Hampshire, when prompted to do so by the state’s attorney general. At the time, O’Keefe made similar claims about journalistic integrity. This is how the group’s press release ended (emphasis added):

    In order to assist the State of New Hampshire with their investigation of voter fraud and other election-related irregularities, PVA is releasing the raw footage associated with all three videos to Governor Hassan and the Attorney General she appointed, as well as making the footage available to the general public on a YouTube channel.

    “When Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis said that ‘sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants,’ he probably didn’t envision viral YouTube videos,” said PVA President James O’Keefe. “These videos provide ample evidence of criminal behavior to assist the state in the immediate investigation of electoral malfeasance. Hopefully, those caught engaging in voter fraud will receive the swift hand of justice. Likewise, the videos spotlight a significant legislative problem which could have easily been avoided if Governor Hassan hadn’t vetoed last year’s residency bill.” 

  • Fox Business Gets Fooled Again By Gateway Pundit's Email Conspiracy Theory

    Host Stuart Varney Falsely Claims Out-Of-Context Email Proves Clinton Campaign Is “Encouraging” Voter Fraud

    Blog ››› ››› CRAIG HARRINGTON

    Fox Business host Stuart Varney promoted the baseless conspiracy theory that Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta tacitly endorsed mass voter fraud based on a misreading of the contents of stolen emails released by WikiLeaks. Varney’s story comes straight from the discredited right-wing blog The Gateway Pundit, and it marks the second time in as many weeks that the Fox host has fallen for such an obviously fabricated story on air.

    In an attempt to deflect criticism of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s suggestion during the third presidential debate that he might not accept the results of the general election, Varney falsely accused Podesta of arguing in an email that “if you’ve got a [driver’s] license, you should vote … whether you’re a legal citizen or not.” Varney and guest Andrew Napolitano went on to suggest that the availability of driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants in California and some other states would create an environment ripe for mass voter fraud:

    STUART VARNEY (HOST): Now listen to this. Maybe Trump's got a point. A WikiLeaks email from Clinton campaign manager [John] Podesta shows that if you’ve got a license, you should vote. That’s what Podesta thinks, whether you're a legal citizen or not. Here is exactly what he wrote: “On the picture ID, the one thing I have thought of in that space is that if you show up on Election Day with a driver's license with a picture, attest that you are a citizen, you have a right to vote in Federal elections.” … You’ve got to stand up and attest that you're citizen when you're not so you’ve got to lie. He’s encouraging this.

    Once again, Varney is pushing a conspiracy theory from hapless right-wing blogger Jim Hoft based on an intentionally misleading interpretation of emails released by WikiLeaks.

    On October 19, Hoft published a blog claiming “Podesta Says It’s OK for Illegals to Vote With Driver’s License…” in which he highlighted the exact quote cited by Varney and singled out California and other states for providing driver’s licenses to “illegal aliens.” The entire October 20 segment on Varney & Co. is based on this single blog, and Varney’s argument during the segment is pulled directly from Hoft.

    Varney could have followed the link back to the original WikiLeaks source and viewed a days-long email exchange from January 28, 2015, through February 4, 2015, between individuals who would soon join Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s campaign. At no point during the email exchange, which has not been authenticated, does any participant so much as mention the word “immigrant,” much less undocumented ones. The email in question is about how responsive voters are to easing voter registration restrictions -- such as by adopting a policy of automatic voter registration when you receive a driver’s license or other state ID -- and the author simply concludes -- correctly -- that “you have a right to vote in Federal elections” if you “show up on Election Day with a drivers license ... [and] attest that you are a citizen”:

    It would still be a felony for a noncitizen to vote in a federal election, regardless of whether that person has a valid driver’s license. Trump supporters have been trying and failing to turn voter fraud into a core issue of the campaign, but the problem simply does not exist at any meaningful level. Fox News even admitted as much earlier the same day with an on-screen chyron reading “Experts Say Voter Fraud Is Rare.”

    Varney’s face plant on the voter fraud issue marks the second time in as many weeks that he has fallen for an laughable Gateway Pundit conspiracy on air. Last week, the Fox Business host bizarrely claimed that an unsolicited racist email sent to -- not from -- John Podesta somehow proved that Hillary Clinton was a racist.

    Varney should be more careful when regurgitating talking points pulled from fringe blogs like The Gateway Pundit, particularly when their conclusions are based on documents that the U.S. intelligence community stated on October 7 were stolen via Russian state-sponsored hacking in an effort to “interfere with the U.S. election process.”

  • Thanks To Trump, Right-Wing Media’s Voter Fraud Myth Is Backfiring On The Republican Party

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN

    Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s refusal to say whether he will accept the election results during the October 19 presidential debate is proof that right-wing media’s effort to push the myth of widespread voter fraud is backfiring terribly on the Republican Party.

    Since August, Trump has claimed that the election is “rigged,” making the false claim that “People are going to walk in, they’re going to vote ten times,” and saying that there were “illegal immigrants voting all over the country,” including “people that died 10 years ago.” He ramped up the rhetoric at the final presidential debate when he refused to answer moderator Chris Wallace’s question on whether he would accept the election results, saying, “I will look at it at the time. I'm not looking at anything now. I'll look at it at the time.” Trump added “millions of people … are registered to vote that shouldn't be registered to vote.”

    These charges -- that people will be able to vote multiple times, that undocumented citizens can vote, that dead people can vote -- come straight from myths that right-wing media have pushed for years. Conservative media have repeatedly claimed that voter fraud is a rampant problem in elections, and similar to Trump’s charges, have often pointed the finger at immigrants and dead people.

    In truth, voter fraud is extremely rare. One 2012 study concluded that the rate of fraud is “infinitesimal” and that “in-person voter impersonation … is virtually non-existent.” Another found only 31 cases of potential voter fraud anywhere in the country between 2000 and 2014. Experts have also debunked the claim.

    Despite there being no actual evidence of widespread voter fraud, Republican state legislatures in recent years have seized on these claims to pass strict voter ID laws all over the country. Conservative media have defended these laws, claiming they are attempts to “fight voter fraud,” and baselessly insisting “the IDs are free and … no voter is turned away.”

    Now Trump has aimed that myth back at his own party. By claiming the elections are “rigged,” he is in effect claiming Republicans officials who oversee “the balloting in many of the hardest-fought states” would rig the election against him, as The New York Times noted. Many Republicans have condemned Trump’s allegation, such as Republican campaign lawyer Chris Ashby, who called Trump’s charge “unfounded” and “dangerous,” and Ohio’s Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted, who said the claim was “irresponsible.” Trump’s debate comments were condemned by Republicans and Democrats alike.

    Right-wing media, however, have stood by Trump’s rigged election claims. Fox anchors agreed with Trump that dead people potentially could vote, and radio host Rush Limbaugh proclaimed, “What do you mean elections aren’t rigged? Of course they are!” Even Fox contributor George Will, an outspoken critic of Trump, gave credence to Trump’s accusations of a rigged election, saying “Mr. Trump has a point if he would just make it more clearly.” Some in right-wing media have even attacked Republicans criticizing Trump. CNN’s Scottie Nell Hughes, in response to Republican officials like Husted, said, “They are secretary of states, establishment politicians. They have not been for us since the very beginning.” Radio host Mike Gallagher, while interviewing Trump, said he was “baffled at certain Republicans who are pushing back” at Trump’s “suggestion that we better be careful about a rigged election” because Republicans “have always had concerns about voter fraud.”

    In fact, it is possible that Trump’s rigged election claim could lower turnout among his own Republican base. According to The Wall Street Journal, research shows that “[Trump’s] rhetoric could also have the impact of hurting his own campaign” by “lowering turnout among his own supporters.”

    It is not clear if Trump will accept the election results. What is clear, however, is that a myth pushed by right-wing media -- which has led to laws that Republicans have admitted help them politically -- is now boomeranging back on them. Because by running with right-wing media’s voter fraud myth to claim that the election could be rigged, Trump and his media supporters have not only called into question Republican officials' ability to oversee the election, but have also potentially hurt GOP voter turnout. And if conservative media continues to stand by Trump’s rigged election claims, the results could potentially be disastrous for both the country and the Republican Party on November 8.

  • Journalist Who Covered 2000 Florida Election Recount: “No Comparison” With Trump’s “Rigged Election” Claim

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    Jim Kuhnhenn, a journalist who covered the Florida recount in the 2000 presidential election for Knight Ridder newspapers, dismantled the spin from supporters of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump who cited the 2000 recount to defend Trump’s refusal at the third presidential debate to say that he would accept the results of the election.

    Trump has said the election may be “rigged” for months, a claim that comes straight from his conspiracy theorist allies. Trump’s claim -- which has been called “anti-American,” “dangerous,” and “a fundamental challenge to a pillar of democracy” -- has been bolstered by his surrogates and media allies like CNN’s Corey Lewandowski and Fox News’ Sean Hannity.

    On October 19, the night of the third presidential election, Kuhnhenn joined a number of other reporters who said that the comparison between Trump’s “rigged election” claim and former Democratic presidential nominee Al Gore not immediately conceding the 2000 election is inaccurate. Kuhnhenn explained that there is “no comparison” because “the dispute in Florida was about … whether votes had been properly counted. Not about fraud”: