Wash. Times Doesn't Know What They're Reporting About

Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ & BRIAN POWELL

The Washington Times is 0-2 in their assessment of the Justice Department's handling of military absentee ballots. As we pointed out earlier, the Times inexplicably and repeatedly swaps the names of their story's primary source (a GOP activist) from Eric Eversole to "Eric Loveland" in their article criticizing the DOJ. While this mistake may seem superficial, the substantive distortions within the piece are anything but. The Times uses partisan sources and cherry-picks quotes and statistics from a Military Voter Protection Project report to construct the façade of a Justice Department scandal.

First, the Times identifies Eversole (or "Loveland," if you prefer) only as "MVP [Military Voter Protection Project] founder and author of the report" and as "a veteran and former Justice Department official." Left out is how he was hired to work in the DOJ's Civil Rights Division during the period when the Bush administration was illegally considering political affiliation in the hiring of career attorneys. The Times also fails to mention that Eversole went on to advise Sen. John McCain's presidential campaign, join the Republican National Lawyers Association and write articles for right-wing websites.

The Times' second source is Hans von Spakovsky, another discredited Bush-era DOJ hire who writes for the conservative media outlets National Review and Pajamas Media and is a fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation (the Times at least acknowledges his position at Heritage). With sourcing like this, any pretense of a reasonable news report about a department overseen by a Democratic president is thrown out the window.

The statements the Times attempts to pass of as facts are similarly untrustworthy. Toward the end of the article, the Times claims that DOJ suggested that the state of Maryland should "prevent troops from voting," an allegation so absurd only a Times subscriber could believe it:

In some cases, the [DOJ] recommended that a state prevent troops from voting. In Maryland, the Justice Department told the state to send ballots for federal elections only because ballots for local elections would have violated the 45-day deadline, the report says.

"They were basically telling Maryland that they could disenfranchise these voters' rights to vote in local elections," Mr. von Spakovsky said.

Not even close.

DOJ did not tell "the state to send ballots for federal elections only," as the Times claimed. What actually happened was that Maryland originally sought a waiver (provided under the MOVE Act of 2009) from the federal requirement that absentee ballots be sent to military and overseas voters at least 45 days before the election; elections officials believed that they would not have been able to certify the results of the state primary elections in time to finalize the ballot by the deadline.

Maryland later withdrew its waiver request, instead proposing to send ballots containing only federal races to military and overseas voters before the Act's 45-day deadline, and a complete ballot including federal and state races after that ballot had been finalized. As federal law places requirements only on the distribution of ballots for federal elections, both DOJ and the Department of Defense indicated that this proposal would comply with the law.

As this letter from Maryland's election administrator makes clear, DOJ did not tell the state to do this; Maryland "worked to identify a solution" and submitted the proposal to DOJ and DOD personnel for approval. And yes, contrary to what the Times would have you believe, local elections boards began sending full ballots to military and overseas voters on October 8, 2010.

The Times article also states:

Less than 5 percent of 2 million military personnel in states that are home to 80 percent of U.S. troops voted last year, the report by the Military Voter Protection Project (MVP) said. The low numbers were in part the result of complicated and mishandled federal enforcement, said Eric Loveland, MVP founder and author of the report.

There are several problems with this paragraph. First of all, the MVP report doesn't claim that less than 5 percent of the military voters included in the study voted; it claims that 4.6 percent of the surveyed military voters cast an absentee ballot that counted in that election.

Second, while the Times article attempts to attribute this low number to a failure of DOJ officials to effectively enforce the MOVE Act, the correlation seems thin. The report itself cites a survey that found counted absentee ballot rates to be a similarly dismal 5.5 percent during the 2006 election cycle.

There are any number of reasons that could account for the decrease, including the fact that the studies being compared don't seem to measure the same demographics. The 2010 survey appears to take into account only military voters, while the 2006 study measured "military and overseas voters."

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