More Right-Wing Media Lies About Voting Rights As Another Election Approaches
Research ››› ››› MEAGAN HATCHER-MAYS
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.
Right-Wing Media's Long-Debunked Voting Rights Lies
Fox & Friends: "There Are Plenty Of Instances" Of Voter Fraud. On the April 4 edition of Fox & Friends, National Review Online columnist John Fund cited discredited right-wing activists as evidence of supposedly rampant voter fraud, and warned "your vote is canceled out":
[Fox & Friends, 4/4/14]
FACT: There Is No Evidence Of Massive In-Person Voter Fraud
The New Yorker: Experts Agree That Voter Impersonation Is "Virtually Non-Existent." Experts agree that actual incidents of in-person voter fraud -- the type of voter fraud that strict voter ID can prevent -- are exceedingly rare, and fears of voter fraud have been largely invented as a way to "excite the base":
[Election law scholar Rick] Hasen says that, while researching "The Voting Wars," he "tried to find a single case" since 1980 when "an election outcome could plausibly have turned on voter-impersonation fraud." He couldn't find one. News21, an investigative-journalism group, has reported that voter impersonation at the polls is a "virtually non-existent" problem. After conducting an exhaustive analysis of election-crime prosecutions since 2000, it identified only seven convictions for impersonation fraud. None of those cases involved conspiracy.
Lorraine Minnite, a public-policy professor at Rutgers, collated decades of electoral data for her 2010 book, "The Myth of Voter Fraud," and came up with some striking statistics. In 2005, for example, the federal government charged many more Americans with violating migratory-bird statutes than with perpetrating election fraud, which has long been a felony. She told me, "It makes no sense for individual voters to impersonate someone. It's like committing a felony at the police station, with virtually no chance of affecting the election outcome." A report by the Times in 2007 also found election fraud to be rare. During the Bush Administration, the Justice Department initiated a five-year crackdown on voter fraud, but only eighty-six people were convicted of any kind of election crime.
Hasen, who calls von Spakovsky a leading member of "the Fraudulent Fraud Squad," told me that he respects many other conservative advocates in his area of expertise, but dismisses scholars who allege widespread voter-impersonation fraud. "I see them as foot soldiers in the Republican army," he says. "It's just a way to excite the base. They are hucksters. They're providing fake scholarly support. They're not playing fairly with the facts. And I think they know it." [The New Yorker, 10/29/12]
Brennan Center For Justice: These Recurring Claims Of Voter Fraud "Simply Do Not Pan Out." New York University School of Law's Brennan Center has repeatedly explained that in-person voter fraud is not a justification for strict voter ID, because voter impersonation is "more rare than getting struck by lightning":
The most common example of the harm wrought by imprecise and inflated claims of "voter fraud" is the call for in-person photo identification requirements. Such photo ID laws are effective only in preventing individuals from impersonating other voters at the polls -- an occurrence more rare than getting struck by lightning.
By throwing all sorts of election anomalies under the "voter fraud" umbrella, however, advocates for such laws artificially inflate the apparent need for these restrictions and undermine the urgency of other reforms.
Moreover, as with all restrictions on voters, photo identification requirements have a predictable detrimental impact on eligible citizens. Such laws are only potentially worthwhile if they clearly prevent more problems than they create.
Royal Masset, the former political director for the Republican Party of Texas, concisely tied all of these strands together in a 2007 Houston Chronicle article concerning a highly controversial battle over photo identification legislation in Texas. Masset connected the inflated furor over voter fraud to photo identification laws and their expected impact on legitimate voters: "Among Republicans it is an 'article of religious faith that voter fraud is causing us to lose elections,' Masset said. He doesn't agree with that, but does believe that requiring photo IDs could cause enough of a dropoff in legitimate Democratic voting to add 3 percent to the Republican vote."
This remarkably candid observation underscores why it is so critical to get the facts straight on voter fraud. The voter fraud phantom drives policy that disenfranchises actual legitimate voters, without a corresponding actual benefit. Virtuous public policy should stand on more reliable supports. [Brennan Center For Justice, 2007]
Mother Jones: "GOP Says Election Fraud Is Rampant," But UFO Sightings Are More Common. According to Mother Jones, the conservative response to voter "fraud" is excessive given that there were more sightings of unidentified flying objects than there were "credible cases of in-person voter impersonation" between 2000 and 2010:
[Mother Jones, 7/2012]
Deneen Borelli: Voter ID Laws Have Nothing To Do "With A Person's Race," Only Election Integrity. In a segment on Fox & Friends Saturday with co-hosts Tucker Carlson and Clayton Morris, conservative commentator Deneen Borelli argued that strict voter ID laws upheld the integrity of the election system and that criticisms of such laws are playing the "race card" and an attempt to "drum up the black voters":
[Fox & Friends Saturday, 4/12/14]
FACT: Wave Of New Laws Make It Disproportionately Difficult To Vote
Rolling Stone: In The Past Four Years, Republican Lawmakers Have "Waged An Unprecedented War on Voting." As reported by The Nation's Ari Berman, state Republicans in "critical swing state[s]" are passing regressive election laws intended to make voting harder, not to maintain the integrity of elections:
Since the 2010 election, Republicans have waged an unprecedented war on voting, with the unspoken but unmistakable goal of preventing millions of mostly Democratic voters, including students, minorities, immigrants, ex-convicts and the elderly, from casting ballots in 2012. More than a dozen states, from Texas to Wisconsin and Florida, have passed laws designed to impede voters at every step of the electoral process, whether by requiring birth certificates to register to vote, restricting voter registration drives, curtailing early voting, requiring government-issued IDs to cast a ballot, or disenfranchising ex-felons.
Pennsylvania will be the ninth GOP state since 2010 to require a photo ID in order to vote; the state's law mandates a government-issued ID or one from a college or nursing home. According to a study by the Brennan Center for Justice, 11 percent of U.S. citizens lack a government-issued ID, but the numbers are significantly higher among young voters (18 percent), voters 65 or older (18 percent) and African-Americans (25 percent). Based on these figures, as many as 700,000 Pennsylvanians may not be able to vote in the next election. (Pennsylvania Secretary of State Carol Aichele claims 99 percent of Pennsylvanians possess the proper ID, which seems unlikely given the state's large student, elderly and African-American population).
The Pennsylvania measures are strikingly similar to model legislation drafted by the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, an influential conservative advocacy group funded in part by the right-wing billionaire Koch brothers. In Pennsylvania, as in other states pushing voting restrictions, Republicans have hyped the bogeyman of "voter fraud" to promote the ID laws, even though, as the Associated Press noted, they were able to cite "no instances of voter fraud that the bill would somehow address." The law, the very type of big-government expansion that Republicans so often decry, will cost the state anywhere from $4.3 million to $11 million to implement.
The law is an unnecessary expenditure by the state and an unreasonable burden on voters. In order to obtain a free ID card to vote, voters must first obtain a Social Security card, birth certificate or certificate of residency, along with two proofs of residency, which costs money and amounts to a poll tax by another name. [Rolling Stone, 3/9/12]
Constitutional Accountability Center: Federal Judges "From Across The Ideological Spectrum" Found These Laws Violated The Voting Rights Act. As explained by Doug Kendall, Director of the Constitutional Accountability Center, part of the reason right-wing activists are trying to gut the Voting Rights Act is because of its "proven success" striking down voter suppression from the 2012 election cycle:
As everyone knows by now, in the run-up to the 2012 election, the right to vote was under siege. Conservatives throughout the country tried to change election rules to disenfranchise ordinary Americans -- passing restrictive voter ID laws, shortening early voting hours, and making it more difficult to register to vote. These restrictions had the greatest impact on young, minority, elderly, and poor voters. They made a mockery of President Lincoln's description of our government being "of the people, by the people, and for the people," and they failed to honor the heroic efforts of generations of Americans to ratify six different Amendments that expanded the right to vote.
For example, on August 30, in Texas v. Holder, a three-judge court unanimously blocked Texas' new voter identification statute, the most stringent in the nation, finding that the statute would inevitably disenfranchise low-income Texas citizens, who are disproportionately African American and Hispanic. The court explained that, unlike Indiana, whose voter identification law was upheld by the Supreme Court in 2008, Texas had gone to great lengths to suppress the vote in poor and minority communities, strictly limiting the types of photo identifications available -- a license to carry a concealed firearm is a valid ID under the law, but not a student or Medicare ID card -- and making it costly to obtain a so-called "free" election ID for use at the polls. For those without one of the five permitted photo identifications, the court found that the law was tantamount to a poll tax, "imposing an implicit fee for the privilege of casting a ballot." The "very point" of the Voting Rights Act, the court explained, was to deny "states an end-run around the Fifteenth Amendment's prohibition on racial discrimination in voting."
Likewise, on August 16, in Florida v. United States, three other judges unanimously held that Florida could not slash the period for early voting, explaining that "a dramatic reduction in the form of voting that is disproportionately used by African Americans would make it materially more difficult for some minority voters to cast a ballot[.]" Florida's reduction in early voting, the court explained, was akin to "closing polling places in disproportionately African-American precincts." Noting that Congress enacted the Voting Rights Act to enforce the Fifteenth Amendment and "provide robust and meaningful protections for minority voting rights," the court held that Florida could not suppress the vote through a significant reduction in the hours of early voting.
Finally, on August 28, in Texas v. United States, in a yet another unanimous ruling, another three-judge court held that Texas' new state legislative and congressional districts could not be squared with the Voting Rights Act, finding that new congressional, state senate and state house district lines had either the purpose or effect of diluting minority voting strength. Importantly, because the court's opinion, authored by George W. Bush appointee Judge Thomas Griffith, held that Texas had purposefully discriminated on account of race in both the congressional and state senate plans, Texas' districting was both a violation of the Voting Rights Act and the Constitution. [Constitutional Accountability Center, 11/9/12]
Former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens: Not "A Fan Of Voter ID" Because Of Serious Impact On Minority Voters. Justice Stevens wrote the majority opinion in Crawford v. Marion County Election Board, a case that upheld Indiana's voter ID law, but later admitted that history has shown that the dissent "got the thing correct" because of the impact on poor and minority voters:
In an interview this week, Justice Stevens said he isn't "a fan of voter ID" and wasn't in 2008. But he said his opinion was correct because the challengers failed to present enough evidence showing the requirement suppressed poor and minority voters. "My opinion should not be taken as authority that voter-ID laws are always OK," Justice Stevens said. "The decision in the case is state-specific and record-specific."
Three justices including David Souter dissented and said they would have struck down the Indiana law.
Justice Souter reasoned that "tens of thousands of voting-age residents lack the necessary photo identification" and the law would disproportionately affect those who have trouble getting to state offices offering photo IDs. The dissent included statistics sourced to Indiana state agency websites.
"I have always thought that David Souter got the thing correct, but my own problem with the case was that I didn't think the record supported everything he said in his opinion," said Justice Stevens, who retired in 2010. "He got a lot of stuff off the Internet and inferred things and so forth." But "as a matter of actual history, he's dead right. The impact of the statute is much more serious" on poor, minority, disabled and elderly voters than evidence in the 2008 case demonstrated, he said. [The Wall Street Journal, 10/17/13]
The Wall Street Journal's Paul Gigot: Voter ID Laws Have Had "Zero Effect On Turnout." Appearing on NBC's Meet the Press, Wall Street Journal editor Paul Gigot claimed voter ID laws have had "zero effect" on minority turnout because "African-American turnout was so much greater in 2012" than it had been in previous elections:
[Meet the Press, 4/13/14]
FACT: Right-Wing Media Don't Understand The Relationship Between Voter ID And Turnout
Director Of The SRR Project: Those Who Argue That Voter ID Laws Don't Impact Turnout Need "A Simple Statistics Lesson." As Sundeep Iyer, lead analyst for the Statistical Reform in Redistricting Project explained, any claim that voter ID laws don't affect minority turnout ignores "Statistics 101":
Any good student of Statistics 101 will tell you that correlation does not imply causation. Apparently, many voter ID supporters never got the memo.
Bad statistical practices -- like old habits -- die hard. Supporters of voter ID requirements are at it again, this time misinterpreting a new set of election results in Georgia. In response to E.J. Dionne's Washington Post column on vote suppression efforts across the United States, Georgia's Secretary of State wrote to the Post's editors about how an increase in black turnout between 2006 and 2010 showed that voter ID laws do not suppress turnout. Hans von Spakovsky repeated the assertion on NPR and in USA Today, and Ohio House Speaker William Batchto the Post's editors about how an increase in black turnout between 2006 and 2010 showed that voter ID laws do not suppress turnout. Hans von Spakovsky repeated the assertion on NPR and in USA Today, and Ohio House Speaker William Batchelder picked up the same message in defending Ohio's proposed voter ID requirement. Citing the Georgia statistics in a see-this-couldn't-be-that-bad sort of way has become a central talking point among proponents of voter ID laws.
Once again, these proponents have mistaken simple correlation for causation. You don't need to be a statistician to know that without controlling for other factors that might influence turnout, the assertion that Georgia's voter ID requirement didn't depress turnout is meaningless -- at best unscientific, at worst just plain wrong. [Brennan Center For Justice, 7/6/11]
Dick Morris: "Concrete Evidence ... Of Massive Voter Fraud" Has Been Found In North Carolina. In a April 8 appearance on Hannity, columnist and former political strategist Dick Morris claimed that new data from North Carolina "proves" that over 35,000 people double-voted in 2012, and that the number of double voters was "probably over a million":
FACT: The Data Doesn't Prove Double Voting Or Voter Fraud
Institute for Southern Studies: North Carolina's "Data Offered Little Proof of Rampant Fraud." Despite Morris' claim that anywhere from 35,000 to over a million people illegally voted twice in the last election, the Institute for Southern Studies points out that not only is right-wing media misleadingly framing the numbers, the data relies on a notoriously unreliable system that rarely leads to "verifiable, prosecuted cases of voting fraud":
[T]he North Carolina election board's data offered little proof of rampant fraud. The 35,750 figure represented people who, when plugged into Crosscheck's database of voter files from 28 states, had the same first name, last name and date as birth of people who had voted in other states in 2012. But many of those can be explain by clerical errors and the fact that a surprisingly large number of people in different states share the same names and birthday.
The seemingly more troubling figure was 765: That was the number Crosscheck flagged as people whose names, birth date and the last four digits of their Social Security matched as having voted in North Carolina and another state in 2012. Hans von Spakovsky, a voting fraud crusader who used to work for the Federal Elections Commission and is now based at the conservative Heritage Foundation, said that was proof North Carolina "had the goods."
Yet the history of the Crosscheck program offers little evidence to suggest such "goods" -- in the form of verifiable, prosecuted cases of voting fraud -- will ever emerge. [Institute for Southern Studies, 4/11/14]
PunditFact: Morris' "Conclusion Is Flawed On Several Fronts." According to PunditFact, Morris' calculations were extremely off with respect to his "over a million" number of double voters because the database that checked the voter rolls shows only "potential duplicate voters," and it almost never uncovers actual voter fraud:
[I]f the past is any guide, there is reason to doubt that the problem of double voting and voting fraud is as large as these figures suggest. The track record of the Interstate Crosscheck program itself shows how quickly the scale can drop from massive to miniscule.
Kansas created the project nearly a decade ago, which is enough time to assess its performance. In a September 2013 presentation, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach said more than 84 million records had been fed into his office's database. At that time, 22 states were in the pool. Kansas found over 120,000 potential duplicate voters based on first and last name and date of birth.
The emphasis is on potential.
Kobach's presentation included the number of cases referred for prosecution. The total was 14.
All of the referrals dated back to at least 2010. That year, over 850,000 people voted. There is no indication that any convictions emerged. That might be due to the workload and priorities of prosecutors but the point remains the same: The Interstate Crosscheck process starts very big and ends very small.
So we know it's unlikely that 35,000-or-more North Carolinians voted twice in 2012.
How did Morris stretch it all the way to 1 million? In his op-ed, he offers some basic, but incorrect, math.
The population of North Carolina is around 9.7 million, or about 3 percent of the overall U.S. population. If 35,000-or-more people voted twice in North Carolina, and if that trend continued all over the country, that would mean about 1.1 million people will have voted twice across the country, Morris figures.
The problem with that calculation, however, is that if the same person votes once in North Carolina and once in Kansas, they will appear as having wrongly voted in both Kansas and North Carolina (2 hits in Morris' calculation) -- but it would actually only be one offense. Morris seems to recognize this mistake. In his op-ed, he shifted to talking about "double-votes".
So not only is the point Morris made on television flawed, his math appears to be inflated by 100 percent. [PunditFact, 4/7/14]
MSNBC: "Flatly False" To Suggest There Were 35,000 Instances of Voter Fraud In North Carolina. MSNBC's Zachary Roth reports that conservatives are overstating the significance of this data as "the investigation [is] not yet even underway," and the North Carolina Board of Elections "hasn't come close to concluding that any specific case involved double voting":
North Carolina Republicans last year passed a sweeping and restrictive voting law, which is currently being challenged by the U.S. Justice Department. The law's voter ID provision would likely have done nothing to stop the double voting being alleged here, but solid evidence of illegal voting could still bolster the state's case that the measure is justified. It could also make it easier for the state to remove from the rolls voters who are thought to be registered in two states -- raising concerns that legitimate voters could wrongly be purged.
But Republicans and conservative media, predictably, aren't waiting for the results of the probe. Instead, they're already shouting voter fraud. "N.C. Board of Elections audit finds up to 35,750 instances of 'double voting' (voter fraud) in the 2012 election," tweeted Republican National Committee spokesman Sean Spicer Wednesday. A headline at National Review made the same claim. In a statement, state Sen. Thom Tillis, the frontrunner for the GOP Senate nomination, pointed to "alarming evidence of voter error [and] fraud."
The notion that the board found over 35,000 cases of voter fraud -- or even one case -- is flatly false. With the investigation not yet even underway, the board, headed by Kim Strach, hasn't come close to concluding that any specific case involved double voting. And there are very good reasons why it's held off.
First, it helps to understand statistics. The political scientist Michael McDonald and election law scholar Justin Levitt have shown in a detailed statistical study that the number of people who share a name and birthdate is much higher than it might at first appear. (Just for fun, take the RNC's Spicer. Though his name is less common than many, online records show 20 different Sean Spicers who were born on September 23rd, his birthday.) That statistical reality, McDonald and Levitt conclude, has big implications for how to treat potential cases of illegal voting.
"I would be very interested indeed in how many of the 35K alleged double voters are the results of mistakes or mistaken assumptions," Levitt wrote Wednesday in an email to a group of election lawyers. "I'm going to bet on the vast majority evaporating upon closer scrutiny."
But that still leaves those 765 cases -- not as eye-popping a number as 35,000, but still significant -- in which the last four digits of a voter's Social Security number also matched that of someone who voted in another state. Statistically, the chances of a false positive are much, much smaller under this scenario.
Even here, though, there are plenty of explanations beyond deliberate fraud. Election experts point to the high frequency of data errors by poll-workers, a possibility that doubles, of course, when matching voters across two states. [MSNBC, 4/3/14]