The Heritage Foundation's Hans von Spakovsky has been on the media circuit this week in a desperate effort to convince the American people that expensive and unnecessary voter ID laws are necessary to prevent widespread voter fraud from corrupting our democracy. After appearing on CNN Saturday morning, von Spakovsky was hosted on C-SPAN Tuesday morning to debate the matter with Jon Greenbaum of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law. His misrepresentations about the prevalence of voter fraud in America began almost immediately.
When pressed about the claim that there is very little evidence of voter fraud in America, von Spakovsky cited as the perfect example of why Mississippi and other states need to pass voter ID laws the case of U.S. v. Brown, a lawsuit prosecuted by the Justice Department against Ike Brown, the Democratic leader in Noxubee County, MS. But it's hard to see how the voter ID laws could have prevented Brown's crimes.
VON SPAKOVSKY: Well, let's talk about Mississippi where they're voting today in a referendum about voter ID. Anyone who has any doubts about this can pull up a case called U.S. v. Brown, it's a lawsuit that was won under the Voting Rights Act in 2007 by the Justice Department, and the defendant in that case was convicted of all kinds of violations of the Voting Rights Act, discrimination, also he was engaging in voter fraud. And there was testimony in that case, cited in the court decision, by a former deputy sheriff, an African American, about how he witnessed the defendant in that case outside a polling place, telling a young black woman that she should go into the polling place and vote, that she could use any name, no one would question her about it. And how could she do that? Because Mississippi doesn't have a voter ID law.
One woman trying to vote under another name (and there's no evidence in the judgment against Brown that she either attempted this or was successful at it) is the least of their problems in Noxubee County. The complaint against Brown and the Noxubee County Democratic Executive Committee accused the parties of, among other things, recruiting unqualified African American candidates from outside the district to run against white candidates, excluding white people from participation in Democratic Executive Committee activities/decisions, manipulating voter rolls, prohibiting white people from voting, and rejecting valid absentee ballots.
The Mississippi law being supported by von Spakovsky would require voters at the polls to present a government issued photo ID before being permitted to vote. The former DOJ attorney suggests that a voter ID requirement would prevent Brown's crimes. But how? Brown was running the polling operations in the voting district - he seemed to have no trouble picking and choosing which laws to follow, so why would von Spakovsky expect him to honor the voter ID restrictions? In fact, it stretches the boundaries of reason to believe that any laws on the books would have prevented Brown from committing the crimes of which he was found guilty.
Based on the attention paid to the over-hyped threat of voter fraud in the 2012 election cycle, observers of Fox News, the right-wing blogosphere, and Republican state legislatures might believe that double-voting, fraudulent absentee ballots and undocumented aliens casting votes on Election Day is such a frequent phenomenon that the very foundation of our democracy is being pulled out from underneath us. As many states look to pass controversial voter ID laws that make it more difficult to vote, right-wing commentators like the Heritage Foundation's Hans von Spakovsky and The American Spectator's John Fund are pushing the voter fraud agenda to the public. When questioned about the vote-suppressing effects of these laws and the absence of any evidence of widespread voter fraud in America, however, voter ID proponents slip on their dancing shoes.
Von Spakovsky, in a November 5 segment on CNN Saturday Morning, was pushed by host T.J. Holmes to explain the justification for these laws, given the lack of evidence that any widespread voter fraud exists. Spakovsky, who last month admitted that there is no massive voter fraud problem in America, dodges answering twice and argues that whether voter fraud is widespread or not isn't important.
HOLMES: What evidence do you have that that's happening on a widespread level?
VON SPAKOVSKY: Well, you don't need it on a widespread level. As the U.S. Supreme Court said when it upheld Indiana's voter ID law, that kind of fraud can make the difference in close elections. And you know, in Missouri, where Ms. Lieberman is from, we had an election just two years ago that was decided by one vote. And if I may say, what's said is Ms. Lieberman has been misled by her attorneys. She is exempt from the voter ID law that Missouri is going to have go in place if it is approved in a referendum. That law, which was passed a couple of years ago, specifically says anyone born before 1941, and that includes her, is exempt, as are people with physical and mental disabilities.
HOLMES: Well sir, a lot of people don't feel that way. And they feel like a lot of people just throw up their hands and say, 'ok, I can't deal with this and can't do this.' And you talked about the Supreme Court case with Indiana - yes, they ruled for Indiana, but also Indiana couldn't come up with a single case of voter fraud there, so I guess where do you see the voter fraud taking place that justifies states changing laws like this?
VON SPAKOVSKY: Well look, I can't give you an inventory here today. I've written about a lot of case studies on various kinds of voter fraud.
John Fund, editor of The American Spectator, was questioned by Media Matters at the Americans for Prosperity's "Defending the American Dream Summit" in Washington, DC where he defended von Spakovsky and struggled to rationalize the voter suppression laws he supports.
MEDIA MATTERS: Hans von Spakovsky was quoted in The New York Times saying that there isn't massive fraud in American elections. Do you agree with him?
FUND: Well, depends on how you define "massive." In some places, it's enormous. In some places, it's not a problem. In some places, it's minor. So it depends. Is there massive fraud throughout all 50 states? No. Is there massive fraud in many states where the elections are close and can decide the presidency? The answer is yes.
MMFA: So you sort of agree with him, sort of don't?
FUND: Well, you know, I think - remember, I talked to him. He was quoted out of context. Now, he did say that, and I would agree with that, but I think the context is important.
While Fund claims that "enormous" fraud is taking place in some states, the record suggests. The Justice Department, for example, prosecuted only 17 individuals for casting fraudulent ballots from October 2002 through September 2005. During that period, DOJ charged a total of 95 individuals with "election fraud," convicting 55. Even Fox News, who has consistently over-hyped the menace of voter fraud, suffered a blow on the issue when America Live host Megyn Kelly was forced to admit that the problem of voter fraud is "not overwhelming."
Right-wing media, and Fox News in particular, love embellishing the terrifying specter of voter fraud as a way to support and justify restrictive voter identification and registration laws. It's hardly surprising -- the more restrictive the law, the fewer people vote; and when fewer people vote, more Republicans win elections. Unfortunately for the fear-mongers, study after study shows that cases of voter fraud are few and far between and fears of a massive-scale voter fraud effort are unfounded.
Surprisingly, Fox News' Megyn Kelly now agrees. In a segment on voter fraud on the November 4 edition of America Live, Kelly admitted that the problem is "not overwhelming."
KELLY: Well that's the classic debate. Because Democrats always say it's about disenfranchising, the Republicans always say it's about voter fraud. And you guys are never going to see eye to eye.
ALAN COLMES: We don't have enough cases of fraud to make this a real issue. It's an invented issue.
KELLY: Well, but there have been some instances, but you're right it's not overwhelming.
Kelly's reality-based opinion about the state of voter fraud in the country is entirely inconsistent with her network's feverish, obsessive coverage of the issue. Before practically every election, Fox breathlessly warns of potential fraud; every vote is constantly in peril of being stolen. The network has even gone so far as to establish a voter fraud hotline:
Why would Fox News devote such resources to a problem that is "not overwhelming"? Because Fox is a GOP mouthpiece and the party benefits from driving their voters into a frenzy about supposed fraud and passing laws to suppress the vote.
J. Christian Adams, the former Justice Department Civil Rights Division attorney and New Black Panthers fabulist who has accused the Obama DOJ of setting policies based on race, has finally received his conservative wings. After months of sporadic contributions and a recent tediously-stubborn non-story about DOJ hiring practices, Pajamas Media (now PJMedia) has officially made Adams a regular columnist in the conservative blogosphere.
Adams completed his transformation from wannabe whistleblower to right-wing pontificator by using his first official PJM column to cry "Soros," utilizing the well-worn right-wing shtick of connecting every liberal group or activity they despise back to the alleged manipulations of billionaire philanthropist/super-villain George Soros, as if Soros' involvement was, ipso facto, evidence of the groups' sinister intentions.
In addition to invoking Soros, Adams used his first column to attack a number of voting rights groups, inflate the threat of voter fraud, and promote his new book. Adams writes:
Last month, a collection of groups funded by George Soros held a conference on election law and the upcoming 2012 election. PJ Media has obtained details of the event from an attendee. Our eyes and ears are extensive. [...]
These types of groups exist primarily to attack any effort to combat voter fraud or ensure the integrity of elections. As I write in my book Injustice, there is "an enormous and well-funded industry of voter fraud deniers that provides an intellectual smokescreen for this lawlessness."
Deven Andersen [conference speaker], obviously a top-shelf racialist, casts all Tea Partiers and election integrity proponents as racists: "The Tea Party is a reincarnation of the White Southern Democrats. They want to turn the clock back to 1866 and make blacks second rate citizens again," he told the crowd. "Conservatives don't like people of color. They are stuck in 1866." Specifically, the nut Andersen named the King Street Patriots, a voter integrity effort in Houston, Texas. [...]
While this meeting of nuts might sound fanciful to most Americans, it is indicative of the lengths the voter fraud deniers go to stoke up their base, and scare law enforcement officials from enforcing laws to ensure electoral integrity next year. But now, people are paying attention to their efforts to incite lawlessness.
While "efforts to incite lawlessness" seems a little over-the-top as far as rhetoric goes, what's more important are the factual inaccuracies of Adams' contentions. Adams describes the conference attendees' concerns about new voting laws as nutty, but the serious truth is that a wave of new state voting laws amending identification, proof of citizenship, and registration requirements could disenfranchise millions of legal voters, according to a study by the Brennan Center for Justice.
And while Adams bandies about the term "voter fraud deniers," the fact of the matter is that voter fraud is one of isolated anecdote, not widespread conspiracy-laden epidemic. A mere 17 people between 2002 and 2005 were convicted by the Justice Department of casting fraudulent ballots, according to a report by the Public Integrity Section of the Justice Department. And the Brennan Center study notes that allegations of voter fraud "simply do not pan out." Even Adams compatriot Hans von Spakovsky has acknowledged that there is no "massive fraud in American elections."
Adams will be PJ Media's go-to voice on election law going into the 2012 presidential election year. If these kind of fear-mongering inaccuracies are going to be the bread and butter of Adams' work, then - as with the rest of the posts at PJ Media - let the reader beware.
In a 1980 speech to evangelical leaders, conservative movement icon Paul Weyrich explained that Christians' "goo-goo" efforts to get every American to vote were flawed because "our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down." He brazenly declared, "I don't want everybody to vote."
Of course, this sort of blatant subjugation of democratic principles below the idol of bare-knuckled partisanship doesn't really play well in public. Over the past few decades, Weyrich's heirs have cloaked their partisan push for voter suppression -- seeking to ensure that "voting populace goes down" so that conservative "leverage in the elections... goes up" -- in the rhetoric of protecting voter rights.
In one recent example, Heritage Foundation senior legal fellow Hans von Spakovsky, a former Bush appointee to the Federal Elections Commission, took to National Review Online to claim that new restrictions on voter registration drives recently established in Florida are "intended to guarantee the enfranchisement of voters."
Von Spakovsky lauded the state's new restrictions requiring organizations to register with the state and turn in voter registration forms within 48 hours of completion. He added of the second law: "I fail to understand how that requirement will keep people from registering to vote."
The answer, of course, is becoming quite clear: The requirements will keep people from registering because they are so onerous that they discourage organizations from doing registration drives in the first place. The Daytona Beach News-Journal reports:
The teacher who heads up New Smyrna Beach High School's student government association could face thousands of dollars in fines. Her transgression? Helping students register to vote.
Prepping 17-year-olds for the privileges and responsibilities of voting in a democracy is nothing new for civics teachers, but when Jill Cicciarelli organized a drive at the start of the school year to get students pre-registered, she ran afoul of Florida's new and controversial election law.
Cicciarelli, you see, didn't register with the state before beginning her registration drive, and failed to turn in the forms within 48 hours. And so, for the crime of improperly trying to get her students involved in the democratic process, she faces fines.
She told the paper that she had wanted to pass the "big thrill" she had felt after first registering to vote on to her students, saying, "I just want them to be participating in our democracy...The more participation we have, the stronger our democracy will be."
Unfortunately, following in Weyrich's footsteps, conservatives like von Spakovsky disagree.
When media outlets report on potential criminal activity, it is usually useful for them to be aware of what the elements of those alleged crimes entail. For example, most reporters are generally pretty good at differentiating between, say, murder and armed robbery. But for some in the media -- especially the usual suspects at Fox News -- just about everything looks like it fits under the umbrella of voter fraud.
New York University's Brennan Center for Justice defines voter fraud as follows:
"Voter fraud" is fraud by voters.
More precisely, "voter fraud" occurs when individuals cast ballots despite knowing that they are ineligible to vote, in an attempt to defraud the election system.
Seems pretty simple, right? And yet, here's how Fox News anchor Martha MacCallum began a report this morning: "There may have been some serious voter fraud in the Democratic primary back in 2008." The caption throughout the ensuing segment claimed: "Indiana district accused of 2008 Dem Primary Voter Fraud."
And yet, this segment mentioned absolutely no cases of actual voter fraud whatsoever. There are no allegations of fraudulently cast ballots. In fact, the alleged crimes mentioned in the report occurred long before any votes were ever cast.