Blog ››› ››› ROB TORNOE
Texas conservatives failed to submit enough valid signatures to put Houston's city-wide non-discrimination ordinance up for a public vote in November. Now those conservatives, led by Fox News, are pressuring the city to accept signatures determined to be improperly collected or otherwise irregular in order to "let the people vote" to repeal the measure.
In August, opponents of Houston's recently enacted Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) reportedly submitted more than the seventeen thousand signatures needed to qualify put the measure on the November ballot. However, upon review of the petition under the City Charter, City Attorney David Feldman determined that thousands of the signatures failed to meet the legal requirements set by local and state law for a voter referendum. As explained by the Mayor's office:
"The Charter requirements are in place to ensure a fair and legal process, absent of fraud," said City Attorney David Feldman. "In this instance, there are too many documents with irregularities and problems to overlook. The petition is simply invalid. There is no other conclusion."
"I fully expect the petitioners will want to fight this decision at the courthouse," said Mayor Annise Parker. "I am confident the courts will agree that the rules set out in our Charter and state law to protect the integrity of the process should be followed and that the results of our review will be upheld. The judicial review will provide additional assurance to the voters that the process has been fair."
On November 2, thousands of conservatives met in Houston at the "I Stand Sunday" rally to demand that the city government allow for a public vote on the ordinance, despite the failure of the repeal petition. The event, which was hosted by the anti-gay hate group Family Research Council (FRC), was widely promoted by Fox News and featured speeches from Fox's Todd Starnes and Mike Huckabee.
At the rally, speakers demanded that the city of Houston "let the people vote" on the ordinance, accusing openly gay Mayor Annise Parker of violating the religious liberty of HERO's opponents by refusing to count their improperly collected signatures:
Fox News adoringly highlighted the story of a 92-year-old Texas woman after she started "raising a stink" about her struggle to vote under the state's new draconian voter ID law, treating her story as an isolated case and ignoring thousands of Americans disenfranchised by similar laws.
A stringent new voter ID law enacted June of 2013 in Texas obstructed the ability of 92-year-old resident Ruby Barber to cast a ballot. From the New York Daily News:
Ruby Barber, a senior citizen in the small town of Bellmead, Texas, had been unable to vote because she could not find her nearly century-old birth certificate that she'd need to obtain a voter ID under a new state law.
"I'm sure (my birth) was never reported because I was born in a farmhouse with a coal oil lamp," Barber, 92, told the Waco (Texas) Tribune. "Didn't have a doctor, just a neighbor woman come in and (delivered) me."
The host of Fox News' America's Newsroom, Martha MacCallum and reporter Casey Stegall offered glowing support for Barber and her struggle to vote, praising her plucky persistence to get back her right to vote. But Fox treated Barber's case as an isolated one -- a hiccup in an otherwise necessary policy to combat voter fraud.
The reality is that Barber represents a much larger group of Americans disenfranchised by Texas' new voter ID law where - up to 800,000 Texas voters, according to the League of Women Voters of Texas.
Seventeen months after Fox News became briefly fixated on Republican claims that hundreds of dead voters had cast ballots in South Carolina, those allegations have been completely debunked by an investigation by law enforcement that found no evidence of voter fraud.
The South Carolina "dead voter" claim sprang from testimony from Kevin Schwedo, the director of the state's Department of Motor Vehicles, who said on January 11, 2012, that more than 950 residents were recorded as having cast a vote after their reported death date. Schwedo made clear that this could have been the result of data errors or voters dying after casting an absentee ballot, but the state's Republicans, led by Attorney General Alan Wilson, seized on the report as evidence of widespread voter fraud.
Wilson took his campaign to Fox News, where he received a platform for softball interviews from several anchors. The network used the "dead voter" story to promote South Carolina's voter ID law, which had been blocked by the Justice Department.
Again, these claims were always dubious - deceased voter fraud claims are often revealed as unfounded, the result of data errors or other explanations.
Indeed, on July 3 the public release of an investigation by the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED) provided the answer we anticipated: No voter fraud was found, no charges filed. As of noon E.T. on July 8, Fox had not reported on those findings.
Before and after every major election, John Fund can be found on Fox News and elsewhere in the conservative media hyping allegations of voter fraud that he insists are tainting our democracy and require legislative remedy, usually in the form of strict voter ID laws. And, sure enough, he's taken to National Review Online to wave around a Hamilton County, Ohio, investigation into 19 cases of possible voter fraud in the 2012 election. Unfortunately for Fund, those 19 cases represent a minuscule percentage of the hundreds of thousands of votes cast, and just two of the cases involve voters casting more than one in-person ballot, a type of fraud that strict voter ID laws are supposed to prevent.
Critics of voter ID and other laws cracking down on voter fraud claim they're unnecessary because fraud is nonexistent. For instance, Brennan Center attorneys Michael Waldman and Justin Levitt claimed last year: "A person casting two votes risks jail time and a fine for minimal gain. Proven voter fraud, statistically, happens about as often as death by lightning strike."
Well, lightning is suddenly all over Cincinnati, Ohio. The Hamilton County Board of Elections is investigating 19 possible cases of alleged voter fraud that occurred when Ohio was a focal point of the 2012 presidential election. A total of 19 voters and nine witnesses are part of the probe.
Note that Fund's example of someone arguing that voter fraud is "nonexistent" is Waldman and Levitt arguing that it's exceedingly rare, which is obviously not the same as "nonexistent." So already he's refuting an argument no one is making.
But what about the Hamilton County investigation that has Fund so excited? A whole 19 cases of possible voter fraud! Fund doesn't bother to mention that there were 421,997 ballots cast in Hamilton County in 2012*. So even if every single one of those 19 cases involved the fraudulent casting of a ballot, they would represent just 0.0045 percent of the total. That's pretty rare -- which is exactly the point Waldman and Levitt made.
As Republican lawmakers in Virginia moved to further tighten the state's voter ID requirements, the state's two largest newspapers abandoned the larger factual context of the debate by failing to report the scarcity of voter fraud and the state's history of voter disenfranchisement.
The Richmond Times-Dispatch and Norfolk's Virginian-Pilot reported that both a Virginia House of Delegates subcommittee and the Senate Privileges and Election Committee approved separate bills that would further tighten Virginia's voter ID requirements. The newspapers each employed a he-said/she-said presentation of the debate and failed to inform readers of the fact that in-person voter fraud -- the kind of fraud ID laws are supposedly meant to mitigate -- is extremely rare.
From the Times-Dispatch, which characterized the arguments for and against the proposed photo identification election bill in shallow back-and-forth fashion:
Sen. Mark D. Obenshain, R-Harrisonburg, the sponsor of Senate Bill 1256, has said it would help ensure integrity in elections and deter voter fraud, while critics said it would further disenfranchise poor, elderly and minority voters.
Democrats, voting groups and civil rights organizations accuse Republicans of attempting to suppress the vote.
Meanwhile, the Virginian-Pilot balanced a pro-voter ID anecdote from a House panel witness who found "that someone else had voted under her name in 2008" against "a variety of other speakers -- representing groups from the League of Women Voters to the NAACP," who opposed the ID requirement "as costly and unnecessary, saying it would disenfranchise minority, elderly and low-income Virginians."
The Times-Dispatch and the Virginian-Pilot ignored objective realities about the kind of "voter fraud" Sen. Obenshain claimed to be fighting. According to NYU's Brennan Center for Justice, in-person voter fraud is "more rare than getting struck by lightning." Investigations by The New York Times, News21 and Demos have all found little or no evidence of in-person voter fraud, and there are no credible claims that voter fraud swayed the outcomes of any major election in 2012.
The editorial board of the Times-Dispatch acknowledged the scarcity of voter fraud in an editorial on January 17, describing voter impersonation as "virtually nonexistent" and noting that "the evidence of need for [tightened voter-ID requirements] is almost as scant as the evidence of Bigfoot." Yet this fact remained absent from the newspaper's January 30 news coverage of the voter ID debate.
Furthermore, both newspapers missed an opportunity to inform readers about Virginia's history of race-based voter disenfranchisement -- a history that remains procedurally relevant thanks to the Voting Rights Act, which (via Section 5 of the Act) requires states like Virginia to receive approval from the U.S. Department of Justice or a federal court before they may finalize changes to their electoral system.
Virginia media followed in the footsteps of the Associated Press, which failed to note the importance of the VRA in a similar story about a Republican voter ID push in North Carolina earlier this month. While the Virginian-Pilot acknowledged the existence of the VRA in the lawmaking process, it failed to explain the state's history of voter disenfranchisement, which is why the VRA Section 5 applies to Virginia. The Times-Dispatch failed to mention the Act at all.
As conservative legislators in nine states renew the push for restrictive voter ID laws, their efforts have been aided by state media outlets that continue to ignore or misinform readers on the issue.
Republican lawmakers in several states -- Alaska, Arkansas, Missouri, Montana, New York, North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia and Wisconsin -- have stated that new or more restrictive voter ID rules will top their agendas in 2013. (Republicans control both houses of the legislature in all those states but New York and West Virginia. In Virginia, the GOP controls the House and maintains a 50/50 split with Democrats in the state Senate.) These proposals come just weeks after the 2012 election, in which there was no evidence of massive voter fraud.
A Media Matters analysis of the largest newspapers in each state found that coverage of these new voter ID initiatives has been largely devoid of context about the overstated dangers of voter fraud or of the significant influence of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a shadowy organization dedicated to pushing a homogeneous conservative agenda state-by-state. Only four of the nine newspapers covered the 2013 initiatives at all, and only one mentioned ALEC.
A lengthy South Florida Sun-Sentinel article on Florida's Election Day fiascos whitewashed Republican Gov. Rick Scott's role in creating horrific voting scenarios that have made the state a national laughingstock and disenfranchised parts of the Florida electorate.
The article, published in the November 8 edition of the Sun-Sentinel, buried Scott's refusal to follow a Florida tradition of extending early-voting hours after reports over the weekend that voters stood in long lines waiting for hours to cast a ballot and noted his refusal only in the context of partisan criticism from former governor and "Obama supporter" Charlie Crist. Worse, the article seemed to imply that Scott joined President Obama in expressing a strong desire to fix the system that he left broken. His comments, however, don't reflect the empathy attributed to him by the reporter. From the article (emphasis added):
Images of long, long lines of people in South Florida waiting to cast ballots during early voting dominated the airwaves. Many voters in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties reported waiting several hours. That continued on Election Day with some voters in Miami not getting done at the polls until about 1:30 a.m.
Even Obama seemed to have noticed, making an apparent jab at Florida in his acceptance speech early Wednesday morning.
"I want to thank every American who participated in this election whether you voted for the very first time or waited in line for a very long time," he said. "By the way, we have to fix that."
And the president is not the only one saying that.
Gov. Rick Scott, when questioned last week about the long voter lines, said that seeing so many people turn out to do their civic duty was "exciting."
On Wednesday, Scott stopped short of criticizing the state election's process, but said he would be reviewing it with Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner.
"What went right, what can we improve?" Scott said.
Discredited conservative filmmaker James O'Keefe released heavily edited videos Wednesday claiming to prove that members of President Obama's campaign team are helping voters engage in voter fraud. In fact, neither of the highly edited videos O'Keefe released shows a single vote being cast, completely undermining his campaign to demonstrate widespread voter fraud.
In the heavily doctored videos, so-called undercover reporters are shown approaching individuals identified as staffers for Organizing for America, Obama's grassroots campaign organization, and other Obama supporters handing out voter registration forms in Texas and New York. The reporters claim they want registration forms because they intend to vote in two states.
No votes were cast, and no voter fraud occurred in either video, yet both doctored films are falsely blasted out under headlines promising a voter fraud expose.
In the first doctored video O'Keefe released in his latest campaign, a woman identified as Houston OFA Regional Field Director Stephanie Caballero is shown talking to a so-called undercover reporter who asks for help requesting an absentee ballot to vote in Florida, where the "reporter" claims to be registered to vote. The "reporter" is heard saying she intends to vote in both Florida and in Texas. The woman identified as Caballero at various times laughs, urges the "reporter" to only vote in Florida, and at one point says, "Come up with like, if anyone checks, say, 'I don't know.' "
Without the full, unedited video, it is impossible to know what any of this is actually in response to. As of publication, O'Keefe has not released the unedited video.
The woman identified as Caballero offers to print off an absentee ballot request form and explains the absentee ballot process, at one point acknowledging that she is not an expert in whether canvassing boards cross check absentee ballots to make sure voters don't vote twice. During what O'Keefe said is a second visit, the so-called reporter allegedly received an absentee ballot request form.
That a person claiming to be eligible to vote in Florida obtained an absentee ballot request form is not shocking. In fact, absentee ballot request forms are available online courtesy of Florida election officials. And printing one off is several steps away from actually voting.
What's important is that O'Keefe has not shown a single vote being cast, let alone a second "double" vote. O'Keefe hasn't even shown a potential voter actually requesting an absentee ballot. At best he's demonstrated printer abuse.
On Monday, North Carolina election officials became the latest to announce they were taking a closer look at the unfolding voter registration scandal surrounding a notorious Republican consulting firm hired to sign up new voters in five key election states; Florida, Colorado, Virginia, Nevada and North Carolina.
The firm made headlines last week when potentially fraudulent registration forms were flagged in "at least 11" Florida counties, all submitted by the state Republican Party and collected by Strategic Allied Consulting. The firm is run by GOP operative Nathan Sproul, a former head of the Arizona Christian Coalition and the Arizona Republican Party.
At the center of the controversy are recently submitted registration forms deemed to be "questionable" by states elections officials. The suspicion surrounds "similar-looking signatures, missing information and wrong addresses on the forms," according to the Palm Beach Post. (In the wake of allegations, the Republican Party of Florida, North Carolina, and Colorado pulled the plug on Sproul's voter registration project. The Republican National Committee has also reportedly cut ties with the firm.)
Do the allegations sound familiar? Four years ago, Fox News helped lead the right-wing charge against ACORN, claiming the community activist group's allegedly crooked voter registration work represented a criminal extension of the Obama campaign. In order to bolster its flimsy "voter fraud" attacks, the network repeatedly stressed reports that ACORN canvassers had submitted questionable voter registration forms. (That's actually an allegation of registration fraud, not voter fraud. Moreover, in many states organizations are required by law to turn in all forms they received even if they had reason to believe they were fraudulent.)
In 2008, Fox's evening programs aired more than 50 reports connecting ACORN to "voter fraud" between October 1 and Election Day, according to Nexis. During just one, three-day span (October 8-10) Fox's nighttime programs aired sixteen ACORN segments.
The Fox team was relentless in attacking the left-leaning group and accusing it of unleashing election crimes across the country. (By 2009, a majority of Republicans believed ACORN had stolen the election for Obama.)
Four Octobers ago, the level of "voter fraud" hysteria was quite high on Fox [emphasis added]:
GRETA VAN SUSTEREN: There are huge fears of voter fraud in the presidential election. We're 26 days from the election, one of the biggest horse races in American history. And already there is threat of big trouble. All eyes are on a handful of swing states where several voter fraud investigations are threatening a basic idea, whether or not free and fair elections will be held.
That was October 9, 2008. To date, Van Susteren hasn't found time to wring her hands about the fate of free and fair elections in America in the wake of the GOP's controversy.
Indeed, the response so far to the widening allegations of Republican registration misconduct from the same high profile Fox hosts (Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity and Van Susteren) who toiled endlessly in the ACORN conspiracy fields four years ago? It's been an eerie silence, suggesting, if not clearly confirming, that previous concerns about voter fraud were nothing more than partisan talking points. (Fox has addressed the Sproul story sporadically in recent days, but not in detail by any of its vocal ACORN critics.)
Four years ago Fox News helped turn ACORN into a dirty word among conservatives by leading an often-hysterical right-wing crusade against the community activist group, charging it time and again with "voter fraud" on behalf of candidate Obama. In order to bolster its flimsy "voter fraud" attacks, the network repeatedly harped on reports that ACORN canvassers had submitted questionable voter registration forms.
Yet this week Fox has shown little interest in covering the unfolding story out of Florida, where the state's Republican Party has cut ties with a consulting firm accused of handing in more than 100 dubious voter registration forms.
From Tuesday night's Palm Beach Post:
The Republican Party of Florida is dumping a firm it paid more than $1.3 million to register new voters, after Palm Beach County Elections Supervisor Susan Bucher flagged 106 "questionable" registration applications turned in by the contractor this month.
In an interview with blogger Brad Friedman, Bucher described the "similarities in the signatures and certain characteristics in the applications that were very disturbing" on registration applications collected by the firm. The "disturbing" defects on the forms included addresses of existing registered voters changed to commercial buildings or addresses and, "in some places, they were changing political parties."
Yesterday, Michael Isikoff reported that the registration troubles had spread:
NBC News has learned that four other Florida counties have also reported hundreds of possible fraudulent registration forms submitted by the firm, including apparent dead people being registered as new voters. Prosecutors in two counties are investigating possible voter fraud by the GOP consulting firm, officials said.
And Thursday afternoon, Republicans in Colorado also pulled the plug on the voter registration firm, Strategic Allied Consulting, run by veteran GOP consultant Nathan Sproul.
The allegations lodged against Sproul's company are similar to the ones ACORN faced in 2008; workers submitted voter registration forms that contained dubious information. In `08, that was enough to light a short fuse on Fox News and within the right-wing media, as players rushed in to condemn the independent ACORN group as a corrupt and a criminal extension of the Obama campaign. (In 2009, a majority of Republicans believed ACORN had stolen the election for Obama.)
Note that in the unfolding Florida story, the firm in question was paid directly by the Republican Party and is accused of ACORN-like activities. But on Fox News, it's crickets.
In fact this morning, Brian Kilmeade hosted a Fox & Friends panel discussion about voter fraud. In 2008, the allegation that ACORN submitted questionable registration forms was routinely referred to and condemned as "voter fraud" on Fox. (To this day, Fox treats misaddressed voter registration forms as "fraud.") But this morning, Kilmeade and his guests made no mention of the fact that the Republican Party was just forced to fire a consulting firm for submitting potentially bogus voter registration forms; forms being reviewed by local law enforcement.
At Fox News, the hotbed for "voter fraud" stories, the embarrassing news from Florida is of little concern.
The Charlotte Observer's reprint of an article on alleged dead registered voters in North Carolina omitted critical information about an activist group pushing voter fraud mythology that were included in the original story, including its ties to a national voter suppression organization.
The paper, which cut its full-time statehouse reporting staff earlier this year, relied on an article published a week earlier in Raleigh's News & Observer to inform its readers on the efforts of the Voter Integrity Project of NC (VIP-NC) to challenge the status of thousands of North Carolina voters. The Charlotte Observer did not print the Raleigh report in full, however, and omitted significant details about the group's faulty tactics and failed to provide broader context about the issue of voter fraud. On top of this, both papers have neglected to identify the connection between VIP-NC and True the Vote, a national Tea Party-affiliated organization formed to fear-monger about voter fraud.
Following are examples of News & Observer's reporting that The Charlotte Observer left out:
"The Voter Integrity Project has not brought forth any information to show that someone is voting in the name of another, and I think citizens of North Carolina need to be aware of that."
They began with last names, then a volunteer would look for potential matches - for example considering an "Elizabeth" and a "Liz" with the same age and address to be a match.
"It took intuition," DeLancy said. "We trained a lot of volunteers."
DeLancy said he's confident that at least 90 percent of the names he delivered should be removed from the rolls.
The nonprofit group used "fuzzy matching," Degraffenreid said. The death data from the Department of Health and Human Services includes age but not a date of birth, which is essential in making matches, she said.
"The Voter Integrity Project doesn't have really the necessary data to make a determination that a voter is deceased," Degraffenreid said.
Even a full match doesn't mean a registered voter has died. Degraffenreid recalled removing a man who matched on first, middle and last names, date of birth and county of residence who turned out to be a different voter. He showed up to the polls and voted a provisional ballot when he was told he had been removed, she said.
Meanwhile, cases of fraud remain rare. In 2009, the board referred 29 cases of double voting to county district attorneys, according to a board report. Since 2000, the board has referred one case of voter impersonation, the report states.
Allegations by a non-profit group that there are 30,000 dead people registered to vote in North Carolina have received play in local and national media (including Fox News) over the last week -- what isn't being reported, however, is the group's history of making false allegations of voter fraud or the larger pattern of finding no merit to "dead voter" accusations.
The group, led by recently retired Air Force officer and Tea Party darling Jay DeLancy, calls itself the Voter Integrity Project of North Carolina (VIP-NC). In yet another Fox News attempt to fear-monger about post-mortem voter fraud, DeLancy was invited to appear on the September 5th edition of Fox & Friends to hype his group's findings. During the interview, he admitted that so far, his group has only found a handful of allegedly deceased individuals actually voting, and that they're not ready to release an exact number on their findings. To put that tentative "handful" in context, over 2.5 million votes were cast in the 2010 general election in North Carolina.
Neither the hosts of Fox & Friends nor the myriad straight news sources reporting on the '30,000 dead voter' claims mentioned the history of these types of allegations collapsing or the fact that voter fraud is extremely rare. In fact, Fox News has tried to gin up fears about dead people voting before. An hour-long special that aired in April, Fox News Reporting: Stealing Your Vote, reported on an already-debunked claim that 953 ballots were cast by "dead" voters in South Carolina. However, an investigation by the state's Election Commission found no evidence of fraud.
Nor did Fox mention in this week's segment that DeLancy's project has failed previous attempts to expose voter fraud in the state. Earlier this year, the group submitted the names of over 500 registered voters they claimed were non-citizens, alleging that half of those may have actually voted illegally or committed some other related crime. A subsequent investigation flagged only 11 registrants for closer inspection.* From the Raleigh News & Observer:
Earlier this summer, the organization sued to have 528 Wake County residents it claimed were not U.S. citizens removed from the voter registration. The county elections board investigated the complaint and removed 11 names from its registry and referred the names to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said Cherie Poucher, director of the Wake County Board of Elections.
In their new book, Who's Counting? How Fraudsters and Bureaucrats Put Your Vote at Risk, Wall Street Journal columnist John Fund and Heritage Foundation senior legal fellow Hans von Spakovsky attempt to gin up fears about stolen elections and widespread voter fraud by making use of cherry-picked story-telling, falsehoods, and baseless allegations.
New Study Showing Almost No In-Person Voter Fraud Throws Cold Water On Hysteria
Defending Pennsylvania's newly-enacted voter ID law on Fox News, conservative columnist John Fund declared that "to deny that voter fraud isn't going on is to frankly deny reality." But a new study finds just ten verifiable instances of in-person voter fraud of the sort that voter ID laws are intended to prevent since 2000.
On Saturday, The Washington Post reported that a new study, undertaken by News21, found that the type of in-person voter fraud is exceedingly rare. News21 sent thousands of public records searches to elections officials across the country, seeking every case of election fraud since 2000. After examining the resultant 2,068 reports of election fraud, the investigative news group was only able to identify ten instances where an individual impersonated another person in order to cast a ballot. News21 also reviewed 375 election fraud cases cited by the Republican National Lawyers Association, which supports voter ID laws; their analysis found no cases of voter impersonation fraud.
This announcement did little to deter Fox News. The conservative news network, which has gone so far as to set up a voter fraud e-mail tip line, has played a central role in both fearmongering about the unlikely prospect of widespread voter fraud while also defending controversial voter ID laws.
Indeed, the day after the study's release, Fox News hosted Fund to defend Pennsylvania's voter ID law and hype voter fraud fears. Speaking in defense of Pennsylvania's newly enacted voter ID law, Fund spoke in direct contradiction to the study's findings when he said that "to deny that voter fraud isn't going on is to frankly deny reality."
News21's findings are consistent with the reality in Pennsylvania. The state has acknowledged during litigation that it is not aware of any instances of in-person voter fraud ever occurring in Pennsylvania. A May 4 Philadelphia Inquirer article examined past instances of voter fraud in Pennsylvania and found that none of the cases would have likely been prevented by Pennsylvania's voter ID law. Pennsylvania state officials have estimated that as many as nine percent of registered voters do not possess identification that will allow them to vote this fall.