In the midst of Wisconsin recall election, Wisconsin right-wing radio host Charlie Sykes took to the airwaves to fearmonger about voter fraud and defend the presence of the King Street Patriots -- a Texas-based Tea Party group that was accused of voter intimidation during the 2010 elections -- at Wisconsin polling locations.
The King Street Patriots and their anti-voter fraud effort "True the Vote" boast ties to notorious voter fraud hucksters like James O'Keefe, Hans von Spakovsky, J. Christian Adams (who served as an attorney for True the Vote), and John Fund. The group promised to "man each and every polling location" in Wisconsin to "ensure the integrity of the election." As Talking Points Memo reported of the King Street Patriots' activity in 2010 (emphasis added):
Poll watchers in Harris County, Texas -- where a Tea Party group launched an aggressive anti-voter fraud effort -- were accused of "hovering over" voters, "getting into election workers' faces" and blocking or disrupting lines of voters who were waiting to cast their ballots as early voting got underway yesterday.
Now, TPMMuckraker has learned, the Justice Department has interviewed witnesses about the alleged intimidation and is gathering information about the so-called anti-voter fraud effort.
Harris County, the biggest county in the state, is where a Tea Party group called the King Street Patriots launched an anti-voter fraud initiative called "True the Vote," which recruited poll watchers and amped up fears over groups like the community organizing group ACORN.
Sykes attempted to whitewash the spotty history of the group, describing their work as "outstanding" and casting them as merely a "citizen group" comprised of "Americans who are concerned about voter fraud." His commentary also had the effect of ginning up the threat of voter fraud, which experts agree is not a significant problem. From his June 5 radio show on 620 WTMJ:
SYKES: In the city of Milwaukee, we have the mayor of Milwaukee, who's running for governor, who's made it absolutely clear how seriously he takes voter fraud.
TOM BARRETT [audio clip]: Well, name the name. Name the name. I'm waiting for the first name.
SYKES: There is a group that in fact would provide that name. You might remember the "Verify the Recall" folks -- this was a group, the headquarters is in Texas. They did an absolutely outstanding job of coming up and making a database that allowed people to find out who signed the Walker recall petitions. Right, remember all of that? Well, they're affiliated with a group called the King Street Patriots.
This letter, this came out yesterday. What shocked me the most, I think, about this, is that it came from Phil Walzak, Barrett for Wisconsin. It's the kind of thing that you would expect from some demented extremist like Graeme Zielinski.
"Steve, the King Street Patriots, a group of Texas extremists" -- they are, they are Americans who are concerned about voter fraud.
"Have arrived in Wisconsin. They believe that voter registration for the poor is un-American" -- flat-out lie -- "and would destroy the country." Flat-out lie.
"They have already come to Wisconsin once and intimidated recall petition signers" -- lie -- "and now they've dropped so-called election observers into poll locations across the state."
Yes, Mayor Barrett, because they are doing the job that you refuse to do. And the mayor of Milwaukee, instead of saying, "Hey, we've got nothing to hide, come in and observe," puts out a letter on his own campaign stationery smearing this citizen group.
"Our voter protection team is on alert. We need an additional $100,000 before tomorrow to make sure every last vote is counted. After emailing threats and racial slurs ahead of the 2010 election failed to stop courageous voters from turning out to vote in Houston, the King Street Patriots showed up at the polls and intimidated voters directly."
Tom Barrett is lying.
Just one day after the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) disbanded its Public Safety and Elections Task Force that was responsible for model voter ID and "Kill At Will" self-defense legislation like that linked to Trayvon Martin's death, a new organization emerged to carry the torch for the implementation of voter ID laws nationwide.
In an April 18 press release, the innocuous-sounding National Center for Public Policy Research (NCPPR) heralded "the formation of a 'Voter Identification Task Force,' intended to continue the excellent work of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) in promoting measures to enhance integrity in voting." According to NCPPR chair Amy Ridenour, "conservatives will kick up our support for voter integrity programs. We're putting the left on notice: you take out a conservative program operating in one area, we'll kick it up a notch somewhere else. You will not win. We outnumber you and we outthink you, and when you kick up a fuss you inspire us to victory."
NCPPR's press release ominously concluded with a claim that NCPPR was prepared to pull a metaphoric gun on its political opponents: "Unlike [ALEC critic] the Center for American Progress, the National Center for Public Policy Research eschews the use of violent references such as 'War Room.' We are, however, inspired by a particular passage in the 1987 movie 'The Untouchables': 'They pull a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue. That's the Chicago way.' Indeed." So much for eschewing violent references.
It was only fitting then that the National Rifle Association, the former private sector co-chair of ALEC's disbanded Public Safety and Elections Task Force, would give NCPPR free publicity. During the May 22 edition of NRA News' Cam & Company, NCPPR adjunct fellow Horace Cooper appeared to discuss his organization's voter fraud hysteria.
From James O'Keefe's latest video on "Voter Fraud in America," we learn:
- If James O'Keefe says someone isn't a citizen, you should ask to see their passport.
- If James O'Keefe says someone is deceased, you should ask to see their death certificate.
- If you show up at someone's house with a video camera or call them on the phone, refuse to identify yourself, and demand answers about someone's citizenship, you're probably not going to get a response. (Ambush interview subject to O'Keefe associate: "You haven't told me who you are. You're an 'independent agency'? That's cool. Who are you with?" O'Keefe associate replies "Thank you, sir," and drives off.)
As usual, O'Keefe's videos tell us much more about his deceptive methods and sloppy "journalism" than they do about the subject matter. And as the videos continue to crash and burn, they also tell us quite a bit about his allies in the voter ID movement, who are eager to use his efforts to push for laws that make it harder to vote.
O'Keefe's little lies all serve his big lie: That there is a widespread epidemic of voter fraud in this country that necessitates voter ID laws. Both data and common sense show that this simply isn't the case. But those who seek passage of such laws are apparently willing to use any means necessary, even if it means highlighting the work of an activist who long ran out of credibility.
Indeed, since he began releasing dishonest voter fraud videos in January, O'Keefe has become the toast of the voter ID movement. He has been praised by New Black Panthers Party fabulist J. Christian Adams for having "exposed the truth about voter fraud" and lauded by longtime vote fraudster John Fund ("In Washington, it was child's play for O'Keefe to beat the system"), spoke at the national summit for the Tea Party-backed True the Vote, and appeared with South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson to discuss the need for voter ID.
On at least two occasions, right-wing members of Congress, specifically Reps. Trent Franks (R-AZ) and Steve King (R-IA),have raised O'Keefe's videos during congressional hearings, with King on one occasion questioning FBI director Robert Mueller about the tapes.
When you mischaracterize the status of all three of the voters you are supposedly reporting on, your reporting has no credibility. And with the rest of the voter fraud movement depending on O'Keefe to promote their issue, it's quickly becoming apparent that their own credibility is lacking as well.
In his newest video, conservative videographer James O'Keefe claims that during his organization's latest inept voter fraud sting in North Carolina, "we found ballots being offered out in the name of the dead." Unfortunately for O'Keefe, the person whose ballot his operative sought is actually alive, as is indicated by the raw video his organization posted online.
From the video (at 4:43):
O'KEEFE: We found ballots being offered out in the name of the dead. One man, Michael Bolton, had died April 23, but apparently the Board of Elections didn't get the memo, and his ballot was offered to us on May 8.
In the ensuing video clip, an O'Keefe operative at a polling place tells a poll worker, "The name is Michael G. Bolton." There is then a jump cut, and in the next clip the poll worker is telling the operative to sign or make an mark in the pollbook to affirm his identity. The operative then says he would feel more comfortable if he could show his photo ID, and leaves.
Something very important happens during that jump cut. As the raw video reveals, the poll worker says, "You must be a junior? ... Michael G. Bolton, Jr.?" to which O'Keefe's operative responds: "That would be correct."
Yes, as multiple obituaries for Bolton note, he was survived by, among others, his son Michael Gordon Bolton, Jr. Public records searches using the Nexis database confirm that Bolton Jr. was registered to vote at the same address given to the poll worker by the O'Keefe operative.
This isn't the only error of this sort O'Keefe made. As ThinkProgress noted, the "non-citizen" voter supposedly exposed by the video is actually a naturalized citizen.
And, as we've noted time and time again, the O'Keefe operative being offered a ballot does not show actual voter fraud being committed nor does it prove the existence of a widespread conspiracy to steal an election.
The Union Leader, New Hampshire's most-read newspaper, published an editorial yesterday urging the state House of Representatives and the Governor to approve SB 289, a bill passed by the state senate that would require voters to show photo identification in order to cast a ballot. SB 289, the Union Leader editors argued, is necessary to protect the integrity of New Hampshire's electoral results from the corrupting danger of rampant voter fraud. Their evidence? The work of discredited liar and undercover videographer James O'Keefe, whose attempted investigation of "voter fraud" in New Hampshire last January drew rebukes from election law experts who believed his scheme may have broken the law.
The Union Leader wrote:
Last year, Gov. John Lynch vetoed a voter ID bill, proclaiming, "There is no voter fraud problem in New Hampshire." This year he cannot make that claim with a straight face. The Project Veritas sting on Primary Day in January showed how easy it is to obtain a ballot fraudulently in New Hampshire.
Project Veritas, which is run by O'Keefe, is a surprising source for a mainstream publication to cite, given his history of lies, deception and hyper-partisanship. More importantly, O'Keefe's "sting" in New Hampshire didn't come close to establishing that voter fraud has been committed in New Hampshire at all, much less on any scale that would affect the outcome of an election.
In fact, the specter of a voter fraud epidemic is largely a figment of right-wing imagination. In a 2007 report, NYU's Brennan Center for Justice found that allegations of widespread voter fraud are often exaggerated and that many claims of voter fraud "simply do not pan out." According to the Justice Department, prosecutions for voter fraud are generally few and far between. Even conservative commentator and voter ID proponent Hans von Spakovsky has admitted that there is no "massive fraud in American elections."
Voter ID laws do, however, have the potential to strip fundamental constitutional rights away from many otherwise eligible citizens, especially students, the elderly, and racial minorities. The Brennan Center estimates voter ID laws could exclude millions of eligible voters:
Ahead of the 2012 elections, a wave of legislation tightening restrictions on voting has suddenly swept across the country. More than 5 million Americans could be affected by the new rules already put in place this year -- a number larger than the margin of victory in two of the last three presidential elections.
Unfortunately, the Union Leader -- and legislators in New Hampshire -- are arguing over how strict the law should be, not whether requiring photo identification is a bad idea for the people of New Hampshire.
Voter ID laws are the only remedy for fraud that the host Eric Shawn presents in the special, Fox News Reporting: Stealing Your Vote, which postulates that "voter fraud is still rampant" and ran on April 21 and 22. Shawn is Fox's point person for election fraud coverage, regularly appearing in segments over the last 18 months that conclude with the correspondent urging viewers to send tips to the network's voter fraud email hotline, firstname.lastname@example.org.
In promoting on the voter ID laws that Fox News has regularly hyped, Shawn finds only one supposed claim of in-person voter fraud that could have been prevented by such statutes: the allegation that nearly 1,000 "dead" people voted in South Carolina. Shawn reports:
SOUTH CAROLINA GOV. NIKKI HALEY (R): Let's be clear, I don't want dead people voting in the state of South Carolina.
SHAWN: And authorities say there is evidence that dead people voting is a real problem, according to a statewide investigation by South Carolina's Department of Motor Vehicles. In January, it found that 953 ballots were cast by voters who are deceased. But the state Election Commission director disputes those findings.
The state's Election Commission director didn't just "dispute those findings"; the commission investigated and debunked them. Reviewing the 207 contested votes from the 2010 election, the commission found that 106 were clerical errors by poll workers, 56 were errors by the DMV, 32 were cases of people being credited as voting when they hadn't, and three were absentee ballots cast by voters who died before Election Day. The commission said they had "insufficient information" regarding the final ten contested votes, but found no evidence of fraud.
Dozens of voter ID laws have been introduced in state legislatures over the past two years, including particularly strict measures passed in seven states in 2011 -- Alabama, Kansas, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, Tennessee and Wisconsin. There is widespread evidence that this surge of voter ID laws stems from model legislation crafted in 2009 by a conservative group called the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). But a Media Matters analysis has found that the largest newspapers in the seven states that enacted voter ID laws in 2011 have largely ignored ALEC's influence. Indeed, of the newspapers examined, only Rhode Island's Providence Journal mentioned any connection between the state's voter ID bill and ALEC.
Within the last 7 days, the Denver Post has published two opinion pieces on voter ID laws, specifically arguing for why Colorado needs one. Both pieces rehash common myths about voter ID laws, including the popular conservative argument that the number of citizens without an ID card is too small to be significant and the false equivalency that because you need identification to do a multitude of other things, such as "travel by air" or "operate a motor vehicle," then it's reasonable that you should need one to vote. From this morning's Denver Post editorial:
The case has been made that voter ID laws could disenfranchise a significant number of eligible voters, disproportionately harming minorities, seniors and low-income voters.
Those were among the arguments made by 16 Democratic U.S. senators, including Colorado's Michael Bennet, who last summer asked U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to examine voter ID laws in various states. [...]
A 2008 U.S. Supreme Court case involving a voter ID law in Indiana, a state that also does not fall into the higher-scrutiny category, made it clear there wasn't anything inherently discriminatory about requiring voters to present a photo ID before casting a ballot. [...]
So long as it is paired with administrative adjustments to help those voters who want to get an ID, we think it would be a positive step toward ensuring those who show up at the polls are who they say they are. There's nothing wrong with that.
Despite the Supreme Court decision in Crawford v. Marion County Election Board that is cited by the editorial board, these laws are restrictive to voters. A study of new voter ID laws passed last year alone show that another 5 million citizens will be impacted in the upcoming election -- especially the elderly and communities of color.
The Denver Post's editorial board claims there is nothing wrong with voter ID laws, "so long as it is paired with administrative adjustments" to help voters acquire ID cards; the board is essentially agreeing to impose a burden on people who wouldn't have been previously burdened -- all to stop a non-existent problem. As the Brennan Center for Justice found in its 2007 study of voter fraud, the allegations of widespread voter fraud "do not pan out." Even prominent voices in favor of voter ID laws, such as Hans Van Spakovsky of the Heritage Foundation, have previously admitted that there is not "massive fraud" in elections.
Mike Rosen, an opinion writer for the Post, also weighed in on voter ID laws in a column from last Thursday. From the Denver Post:
Across the nation, Americans are routinely required to show a photo ID when they travel by air; operate a motor vehicle; buy alcohol at a liquor store, restaurant, bar or sporting event; write a check at a grocery store; get a job; rent a car; apply for a passport; make a credit card purchase; apply for a loan; get a marriage license; adopt a pet; open an account or cash a check at a bank; get medical care; fill a drug prescription; pick up tickets at the will-call window of a baseball park or theater; rent an apartment; close on a house; or get a hotel room, to mention just a few. [...]
How tough is it, really, to get a photo ID? There are 200 million licensed drivers in the U.S. with photo IDs. Non-drivers can secure general-purpose photo IDs at government offices. Obtaining one is much easier than a driver's license; there's no written exam or road test.
And why would anyone want to suffer the inconveniences of going without a photo ID? Only a racist or political spinmeister could claim that blacks lack the common sense to accomplish this simple task. And you can be sure that anywhere photo ID laws are passed, Democratic community organizers would be out in force getting their core voters qualified. Yes, illegal immigrants and other lawbreakers might have trouble getting a valid photo ID, but why should that bother you, unless you're a Democrat who assumes most of those people would vote for your party?
Despite Rosen's assertion that it can't be that "tough" to get a photo ID, a 2006 study by the Brennan Center for Justice found that as many as 13 million people don't have ready access to citizenship documents. Without citizenship documents, getting an ID becomes problematic and potentially expensive.
Rosen also seems to disregard the fact that identification requirements for travel, purchasing alcohol, filling a prescription, etc. are fundamentally different from voting, since the former are not constitutionally protected rights. As ACLU South Carolina executive director Victoria Middleton explained in a William & Mary Election Law Society post:
Photo IDs are required for many activities these days, from boarding a plane to purchasing a six-pack of beer. When asked if it was unreasonable to ask an individual to present an ID to vote, Middleton said, "It's not a constitutional right to buy Sudafed or become a frequent flier." She continued, "People fought and died to win the right to vote."
Fox News and Fox Business have leaped to the defense of Texas' voter ID law after the Justice Department moved to prevent its implementation, saying that the legislation violated the Voting Rights Act. Fox's coverage has been filled with false and misleading claims.
Apparently, this is now a point that must be made: You have a constitutional right not to be denied from voting on the basis of race. You do not have a constitutional right to go to R-rated movies, buy alcohol, or purchase Sudafed.
Some of the slower members of the right-wing media have been having trouble with this distinction as it pertains to laws requiring Americans to provide photo identification at the polling place in order to vote. The Justice Department recently struck down such statutes in South Carolina and Texas, saying that the jurisdictions had failed to demonstrate that the laws would not discriminate against and disenfranchise minority voters.
This morning on Fox & Friends, while disparaging DOJ's decision to block Texas' voter I.D. law, co-host Gretchen Carlson said:
[L]et's just take a look at a simple list of what we're required to show I.D. for in general society. To buy cigarettes and alcohol. To purchase an R-rated movie ticket. To even buy Sudafed now. To rent a car, to get a hotel room, and I could go on and on, Mr. Adams, even to get a beach pass in my community, you have to show several forms of I.D.
During the segment, Fox aired this graphic:
Likewise, the James O'Keefe clown show apparently went to Vermont recently, where they attempted to demonstrate why the state should have a voter I.D. law by haranguing bartenders and hotel employees over their "racist" demands that the conservative activists present identification before obtaining drinks or hotel rooms.
But don't take my word that this is a "silly," "flimsy," and "constitutionally incorrect" comparison. Just ask noted GOP hack and New Black Panther fabulist J. Christian Adams.
The Wall Street Journal's editorial board attacked the Justice Department's decision to block South Carolina's voter ID law, claiming it was the first such denial since 1994 and that the action "contradict[s] both the Supreme Court and the Department's own precedent." In fact, DOJ regularly blocks such "'pre-clearance' voting rights request[s]" and the "precedent[s]" cited by the Journal are inapt.
In a January 3 segment on Fox News' Fox & Friends, correspondent Jim Angle promoted a number of falsehoods and misleading claims about voter ID laws and the Justice Department's action preventing one such law from being implemented in South Carolina.
Famed astrophysicist and skeptic Carl Sagan is well known for popularizing the maxim that "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence." This is apparently not a standard of proof that has reached the Fox News "brain room."
On Sunday, Fox News anchor Shannon Bream cited a "stunning claim in a new fundraising letter sent from the Democratic National Committee. It's asking for support by implying that alleged Republican efforts to suppress voters are worse than Jim Crow-era laws." The network's caption writers helpfully removed Bream's "implying," running throughout the segment the chyron, "DNC Fundraising Letter: GOP Efforts Are Worse Than Jim Crow":
The recently passed statutes are no small thing; according to one estimate, they could make it "significantly harder" for more than 5 million voters to cast a ballot. But of course, it would be absurd for Democrats to claim the restrictions are "worse than Jim Crow," under which racial minorities were effectively banned from voting altogether, with those restrictions enforced by paramilitary campaigns of violence.
One would expect, in claiming that Democrats had made such an absurd claim, that Fox would have read to its audience the portion of the email in which that comparison was made. But that never happened; Bream instead introduced Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus, who attacked Democrats for their position on voter ID requirements.
The punch line, of course, is that the DNC fundraising email did not claim that the new voting rights restrictions are "worse than Jim Crow." Instead, the email cites the example of an African-American woman who "grew up in a Jim Crow-divided South, and saw the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965," but has "never had a problem voting -- until this year."
In other words, the appeal cites Jim Crow laws as an historic example of restrictions on the franchise and notes that Republicans are acting to enact restrictive voting laws today. There is no claim that the latter is worse. Fox simply made it up.
Extraordinary claim. No evidence. That's the Fox Standard.
Below the fold, video of the segment and the complete fundraising letter.
Right-wing media outlets are falsely claiming that Attorney General Eric Holder stated an "unwillingness to enforce laws to prevent voter fraud" during a December 13 speech on voting rights. In fact, Holder said in his speech that voter fraud "will not be tolerated by this Justice Department," but new state restrictions on voting will receive a "thorough -- and fair" review by the department.
J. Christian Adams must feel like his star is fading. The former DOJ attorney hired under President Bush's politicized regime was once a favorite fear-monger of the right. Sixteen months ago, Adams was bursting onto the national scene with appearances on Fox News to hype the phony New Black Panther Party controversy, and now he's muttering George Soros conspiracies in the obscure back pages of PJMedia.com. In what must be a desperate last gasp for attention, Adams is now resorting to the worst of the forbidden rhetorical devices: Nazi comparisons.
For Adams, a speaker's use of the phrase "God is on our side" at a civil rights rally in Florida apparently evokes Nazi imagery. From his November 10 post at PJ Media, describing a small rally of African American community members protesting the arrest of some elected community officials on suspicions of election fraud:
The rally begins by singing revered hymns such as "We Shall Overcome." The speakers claim the accused were arrested because of "racism." Like the German Army belt buckle, the speaker says the accused will be victorious "because God is on our side." The bloody shirt is waved - "they thought they forever would be in charge." The criminal accusations are "nothing but mud thrown on the wall," followed by a disturbing call and response evidencing genuine lawlessness beyond just the speakers.
The "German Army belt buckle" Adams links to bears the Nazi iron eagle with swastika and the German phrase, "Gott mit uns" - God with us.
So to clarify for the record, J. Christian Adams sees a small gathering of African American civil rights activists citing their commonly-held belief that God is present and supportive in their lives during a protest, and Adams immediately thinks they resemble Nazis. It's tempting to delve into a Freudian analysis of Adams' psychological associations, but instead it's probably sufficient to note that his flawed simile doesn't even begin to scratch at the realm of rational thought.
Yes, it's true that the Nazis engraved "God with us" on their belt buckles; but the sentiment that "God is on our side" is no more symbolic of Nazism than eating sauerkraut or driving a Volkswagen. The belief that a particular culture, activity or way of life is favored by divine interests is prevalent everywhere from the pre-game prayers by local high school football teams to the governing philosophies of American presidents like George W. Bush. The notion that it's some unique and recognizable Nazi chant being invoked by black community members on the steps of their local church is absurd.
What's more appalling is the failed judgment by Adams' editors at PJ Media. Either they didn't read the post before applying their stamp of approval, or they agree with the assertion that these civil rights activists are comparable in any respect to Adolf Hitler's Third Reich.
J. Christian Adams is truly struggling for attention and relevance now that his book is receiving little fanfare and his voice is drowned out within the ranks of the other faceless ideologues at PJ Media. Otherwise, why go through with such a despicable race-baiting Nazi comparison in just his second column?