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."
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.
The Wall Street Journal ignored evidence that newly passed restrictions on voting rights could make it more difficult for millions of eligible voters to vote in 2012, while letting former Bush DOJ official Hans von Spakovsky claim there is "no evidence" those restrictions could suppress voting. The Brennan Center for Justice estimated that changes to voting laws could suppress up to five million votes during the 2012 elections.
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.
Among his other specialties, right-wing commentator Hans von Spakovsky is a strong proponent of laws requiring citizens to present photo identification in order to vote. Conservatives often justify their call for photo ID laws by raising the specter of voter fraud even though instances of voter impersonation are rare and voter identification laws can disenfranchise poor people and racial minorities.
Now, even Spakovsky has acknowledged that nobody is claiming that there is "massive fraud in American elections."
A New York Times article reports that a new study by NYU's Brennan Center for Justice found that voter identification and other laws "could make it significantly harder for more than five million eligible voters to cast ballots in 2012." The article quotes Spakovsky saying that he "[doesn't] think anybody ... says" there's "massive fraud," but that he is concerned about fraud in "close elections":
"The left always says that people who are in favor of this claim there is massive fraud," said Mr. von Spakovsky, of the Heritage Foundation. "No, I don't say that. I don't think anybody else says that there is massive fraud in American elections. But there are enough proven cases in the past, throughout our history and recently, that show that you've got to take basic steps to prevent people from taking advantage of an election if they want to. Particularly close elections."
In advance of a special election in New York's Ninth Congressional District, Fox News and National Review Online are raising the specter of voter fraud in case a Democrat wins the seat. In fact, the evidence they are citing has been debunked, and right-wing media regularly cry voter fraud when elections are close.
Thus far, the Freedom Of Information Act lawsuit that PajamasMedia.com filed against the U.S. Department of Justice has resulted in the disclosure of dozens of DOJ employee resumes and nine largely ignored columns by Hans von Spakovsky, J. Christian Adams and Richard Pollock.
"Every Single One" is their ongoing series of posts that tediously tick off the prior work experiences of DOJ lawyers followed by commentary declaring them unabashed left-wing radicals. Ostensibly, the point of the exercise is to establish a case that the administration of President Obama is engaging in the same kind of politicized hiring at DOJ that President Bush was found to have done. Their work has been an utter failure.
Von Spakovsky et al have provided no evidence of politicized hiring practices and have been content to make the lazy claim that, given "every single one" of the latest DOJ hires is liberal, improper procedures must have been used. Unfortunately, they've failed even at this. In order to make their case that every DOJ hire is liberal, they've concocted a definition of liberal so broad that even Pollack himself likely would have to be labeled as a radical leftist.
Are you a right-winger with an axe to grind and a book to sell? Having trouble getting anyone to pay attention to your expensive non-story about liberal evildoers? Then call Caroline May, intrepid reporter for Tucker Carlson's The Daily Caller! The Caller has substantial experience repeating verbatim the politically-tinged accusations made by right-wing figures, and May knows just how to conceal your conservative credentials in an effort to make your story seem credible.
In the latest example of ethical subterfuge, May has written a news story that repeats the claims by conservative bloggers J. Christian Adams and Hans von Spakovsky that the hiring practices at the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) "have become politicized under Attorney General Eric Holder and the Obama Administration."
Importantly, May doesn't turn a critical eye to the research methods used by Adams and Spakovsky to come to their conclusion that "every single new hire" at DOJ's Civil Rights Division "boasted far-left resumes," she simply pushes their complaints forward. More importantly, May -- for the second time -- completely omits any mention that Adams and Spakovsky played a central role in the saga of politicization at DOJ under President Bush.
May's story is only newsworthy if the "former Department of Justice officials" (Adams and von Spakovsky) she cites are trustworthy sources whose call for investigation is objectively warranted and not based on an ulterior political motive. It's ethically imperative, then, that their significant right-wing backgrounds are disclosed so that readers can fairly assess the credibility of their work and their claims. May does not even attempt this.
For the past couple of weeks, Pajamas Media (PJM) has been pushing what they believe to be is a profound disclosure of personal information about new employees at the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division. PJM contributors Hans von Spakovsky and J. Christian Adams have been struggling to make the case that the Obama administration is politicizing the DOJ the way the Bush administration was found to have done, and now that they've gone through the trouble of filing a lawsuit to obtain the resumes of everyone hired at DOJ's Civil Rights Division since 2009, they are desperate to make their investment worthwhile. As a result, PJM has decided to run with the theme that "every single one" of the new hires is a "far-left" liberal.
Their arguments have so far provided no evidence whatsoever that qualified, similarly-situated conservative applicants to the Civil Rights Division were turned away for a lack of liberal credentials. Instead, they rely on the assertion that because all of the new hires are liberal, it defies probability that conservatives weren't rejected for political reasons. Despite the logical inadequacy of this argument, it relies on a definition of "liberal" that is completely constructed by von Spakovsky and Adams. Their frantic attempts to make a case of politicization against Attorney General Eric Holder and the Obama administration results in a broad, and at times ridiculous, characterization of what activities and affiliations constitute sufficient evidence of one's liberal worldview.
Here are just a few of the previous employers and affiliations that PJM believes are liberal (which by contrast reveals a lot about what von Spakovsky and Adams must believe conservative values do or do not encompass):
Hans von Spakovsky is continuing the feeble Pajamas Media (PJM) campaign against Attorney General Eric Holder and the U.S. Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division with a fourth column in a series highlighting the allegedly "liberal" resumes of individuals hired by DOJ. PJM's oft-repeated (and just as often unsupported) claim is that Holder and the DOJ are engaged in "politicized hiring" that is "nearly unprecedented in scope and significantly eclipses anything the Bush administration was even accused of doing."
Today, Spakovsky spends five pages tirelessly reciting what he believes are the liberal affiliations of new career attorneys at the Civil Rights Division's Special Litigation Section. He then concludes:
No one is suggesting any of these individuals' activist backgrounds disqualifies them from working as attorneys in the Civil Rights Division. The point is that such liberal bona fides appear to be a prerequisite for employment in the Division -- there is no other explanation for this. These resumes are an example of a legal doctrine that law students learn in their first year: res ipsa loquitur -- "the thing speaks for itself."
Res ipsa? Perhaps Spakovsky has forgotten what he learned in his first year, but res ipsa loquitur is a common law negligence doctrine which presumes that a harmful act could only have occurred as a result of a defendant's carelessness, even if the plaintiff has no direct proof of the defendant's carelessness (one of the prototypical cases is a scalpel left in someone's body while the patient was under general anesthesia).
But Spakovsky isn't accusing the DOJ of negligently filling their rosters with liberals. He's alleging that they purposefully considered a candidate's liberal credentials as a precondition for hiring them into the Civil Rights Division. In his words, "None of this is an accident."
As part of its extended campaign against the Obama administration Justice Department's hires, Pajamas Media has turned to noted experts on the subject of politicization: Hans von Spakovsky and J. Christian Adams.
Yes, the conservative media outlet is again attacking the Obama administration for hiring civil rights attorneys for the Civil Rights Division. And they've decided that the best people to push their months-long investigation are a beneficiary of the Bush DOJ's policy of politicized hiring and a Bush DOJ staffer known for injecting his own politics into the department's work.
It's the sort of takes-one-to-know-one decision reminiscent of Fox News' decisions to hire Judith Miller as a media critic and book Michael Brown to discuss disaster relief.
Who's next? Will PJM drag out fellow Bush DOJ alums Bradley Schlozman and Monica Goodling to write the next installments in this breathtakingly mundane series?
Pajamas Media has been scandal-mongering for months with hollow allegations of politicization in the hiring process at the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). Today, Hans von Spakovsky published the first piece "in a series of articles by Pajamas Media about the Civil Rights Division's hiring practices since President Obama took office." He claims the supposed tainting of the hiring process by the DOJ's Civil Rights Division under Obama is "nearly unprecedented in scope and significantly eclipses anything the Bush administration was even accused of doing."
Spakovsky and PJM are responding defensively to allegations that under President Bush, political appointees at DOJ's Civil Rights Division illegally considered applicants' political leanings when making hiring decisions. These claims have been backed up in a report completed by the DOJ's Inspector General and Office of Professional Responsibility, who declared the hiring activity a "viola[tion] of federal law."
For months, PJM has been waging a campaign alleging the Obama administration is committing the same sins. The crusade continues today, with Spakovsky's piece outing the so-called "new radicals" in the Civil Rights Division's Voting Section. Instead of bolstering his argument, however, he's instead just highlighted the many exemplary qualifications and relevant civil rights law experiences the new employees have brought to the table. Indeed, von Spakovsky's complaint often appears to be that the Civil Rights Division has hired attorneys with backgrounds in civil rights.
Specifically, Spakovsky has published the employment histories of the 16 new hires in the Voting Rights department of the Civil Rights division. He rails at length about the alleged liberal affiliations of the DOJ hires, detailing their past civil rights work with groups like the ACLU and NAACP, but his complaining notably lacks any accusation or evidence that DOJ was hiring unqualified lawyers or excluding applicants based on their political predilections - something the Bush administration was found to have done.
The question, after all, is not whether DOJ hired too many conservatives in the Bush administration or too many liberals in the Obama administration; the question is whether either of those administrations improperly used an individual's political leanings as a pro or con in their hiring deliberations. Spakovsky offers no evidence that the DOJ is doing this other than the circumstantial claim that it's more likely than not that politicization took place because so many liberals have been hired.
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.
Back in February, Hans von Spakovsky trumpeted news of a supposed plan by the Justice Department to use their power under the Voting Rights Act to review redistricting plans and reject those they deem discriminatory in order to benefit the Democratic Party. The former Bush Justice Department official warned that if Republican-controlled legislatures drew up redistricting plans that "Democrats don't like," "the Left's effort to exploit the Voting Rights Act for crass political purposes may reach a degree of success once thought unimaginable" as the Voting Section would strike those plans down for purely partisan reasons.
According to von Spakovsky, those Republican-led legislatures could only save their plans by choosing to bypass DOJ and taking their redistricting plans directly to federal court. Former Bush DOJ attorney J. Christian Adams quickly picked up von Spakovsky's call, warning of the "Eric Holder buzzsaw" and urging Republican-dominated states to take his words to heart.
But a funny thing has happened over the past few months. Republican-controlled legislatures in states like Louisiana and Virginia have submitted redistricting plans to DOJ. But the fears of Adams and von Spakovsky notwithstanding, those plans were precleared by the Voting Section.
If you're wondering whether this factual record has led Adams to reconsider his belief in the supposed partisanship of the Justice Department, the answer is no. Indeed, wedded to his conviction that DOJ simply must be filled with politicized ideologues, Adams doubled down, insisting that the only reason DOJ approved those plans was that the states submitted their plans to the U.S. District Court in Washington at the same time they submitted them to DOJ.
By this line of reasoning, the Voting Section's actions don't prove them to be nonpartisan - in fact, the actions even more strongly prove their political commitments. DOJ could have stopped Republican-backed redistricting, if it weren't for those meddling states, but once the plans were submitted to court, DOJ had no choice but to hide their true goals and approve the plans. The cunning of the Voting Section's lawyers is apparently unparalleled.
Of course, one could logically propose another reason for why DOJ's Voting Section didn't reject the Virginia or Louisiana plan: they engaged in legal, not political, analysis, and did not find the plans to be illegal. But by engaging in this way, Adams has made it very easy to again trumpet DOJ's partisanship if they ever do find a submitted plan to be discriminatory.
Note that Adams doesn't seem at all worried with whether or not those redistricting plans are actually discriminatory, but he does seem extremely worried about whether the Republican plans will be approved. It's almost as if his concerns are entirely partisan! And indeed, Adams is a longtime GOP supporter who was hired during the period when DOJ was illegally hiring people on the basis of partisanship. Likewise, von Spakovsky was a Bush recess nominee who was criticized by career DOJ lawyers for improperly "inject[ing] partisan political factors into decision-making."
But of course, none of this matters, because as Adams and von Spakovsky will be the first to tell you, it's the current DOJ attorneys who are the real partisans.
In a USA Today op-ed, Pajamas Media blogger and former DOJ Civil Rights Division official Hans von Spakovsky employed numerous falsehoods to defend statutes requiring all voters to show identification before casting ballots. In fact, contrary to von Spakovsky's argument, legal voters have been turned away from the voting booth because they lacked proper identification, the effects of voter ID laws may fall disproportionately on the poor and members of racial minorities, and instances of fraudulent voting are very rare.