Video ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF
Loading the player reg...
Loading the player reg...
And one fact-checker explains what she did to fight back.
Is it true that “nearly 200,000 Florida voters may not be citizens?” No, but that didn’t stop some prominent conservative social media accounts -- including that of the president’s son -- from spreading a since-debunked 2012 story making that claim.
To understand how this happened, it’s good to know a little background about Florida’s brush with “anti-fraud” initiatives in recent years.
In May 2012, Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner announced a partnership between the Florida Department of State and Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles to remove possible noncitizens from the state’s voter rolls ahead of that year’s election. The departments would cross-check data with each other for voter inconsistencies, flag them, and send them to the state’s Supervisors of Elections for review and, if needed, removal of registrations.
It was a massive debacle. What began as a review of roughly 2,600 possible inconsistencies at the time the partnership was announced had ballooned to nearly 182,000 names within days. That’s when NBC Miami ran with the somewhat sensational headline “Nearly 200,000 Florida Voters May Not Be Citizens.”
But the system was embarrassingly rife with false positives, leading to a lawsuit over the disenfranchisement of U.S. citizens who were removed but actually eligible to vote. In the end, out of those 182,000 names, just 85 were found to be ineligible -- an error rate of 99.95 percent. The following year, the state enrolled in Crosscheck, the interstate anti-fraud program championed by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach. Similar to the results of Florida’s 2012 in-state program, Kobach’s Crosscheck program also “gets it wrong over 99 percent of the time,” a Washington Post analysis concluded. In April 2014, Florida exited the Crosscheck program, only to later accidentally release the partial Social Security numbers of nearly 1,000 Kansas voters.
This week, as conservative media push the unfounded idea that the current election in Florida is being “stolen,” this old story that confirmed all their worst fears seemed too good to be true: And it was.
We know by now that most people simply don’t read past the headline of stories they see in their social media feeds. And headlines suggesting that there are an equivalent number of noncitizens voting illegally in Florida as there are people living in Tallahassee are eye-catching. That would be outrageous to people on any end of the political spectrum. But even based on the facts known at the time, the story wasn’t quite accurate.
Rounding “nearly 182,000” up to “nearly 200,000” is a needless inflation of even the most sensationalized true version of the story, and saying “voters might not be citizens” suggests that these people have actually voted -- when the numbers actually refer to voter registrations. Both points probably could have been more artfully and accurately addressed in the original headline. Also, the word “might” is doing a lot of work here.
The NBC headline, as some might say, aged poorly. And here’s how it spread:
— Instapundit.com (@instapundit) November 11, 2018
A bit later, David Wohl, attorney and occasional Fox News guest, shared it on Twitter to his more than 26,000 followers.
— David Wohl (@DavidWohl) November 11, 2018
By the next day, commentator and conspiracy theorist Pamela Geller had published a blog post, in which she put the entire text of the NBC report, swapping out the article’s actual publication date (May 11, 2012) with November 10, 2018.
Nearly 200,000 Florida Voters May Not Be Citizens: #VetEveryVote Now is the time to drill down on the Democrat's war on free and fair elections. #VoterFraud https://t.co/M5Thfu71kd pic.twitter.com/gNOfFWmG7r
— Pamela Geller (@PamelaGeller) November 11, 2018
Harlan Hill, a member of the Trump 2020 campaign advisory board, tweeted, “200,000 non citizens voting in Florida!?!? But I thought Democrats said voter fraud was a myth? We have got a SERIOUS problem on our hands. #StopTheSteal #MAGA”
200,000 non citizens voting in Florida!?!?
But I thought Democrats said voter fraud was a myth? 🤔
— Harlan Z. Hill (@Harlan) November 12, 2018
Then, in a since-deleted tweet, Turning Point USA’s Charlie Kirk wrote, “This is an absolute disgrace to our country. Foreign interference in our elections. Every single one of these people should be arrested, deported, and never allowed reentry. RT to spread this!”
And finally, Donald Trump Jr. tweeted the link out, adding, “Amazing, but not shocking at all anymore.”
— Donald Trump Jr. (@DonaldJTrumpJr) November 12, 2018
Townhall.com also published a story on the topic that, while updated, still maintains that “200,000 non-citizens might have voted in the state's elections” in 2012.
Brooke Binkowski is a former managing editor at Snopes, and she currently runs the fact-checking site TruthOrFiction.com. When she saw the post begin to spread, she took quick action. First, she tweeted at people who might have known the article was old and didn’t accurately represent how that story concluded but shared it anyway “for approval and to fit in,” hoping to convince them to delete their posts and stem the spread of misinformation.
“That headline hijacks intellect and goes straight to the amygdala if you’re fearful,” she tells me over a Twitter direct message. “‘Oh no! 200,000 non citizens trying to STEAL OUR ELECTION! they're gonna turn this country into a banana republic!’ and whatever else people think when they're too busy to click on the story.”
When that didn’t work, she called the NBC station that ran the original story in hopes of getting the staff to update the article to reflect that it isn’t a current story. She explained the situation as best as she could, asking the station to add “STORY FROM 2012:” in the headline so it would show up in shares across social media.
“Clickbait is one thing, but when you are actively interfering in what should be an open electoral process -- as I said in my email to them -- that’s quite another,” she adds. She continued:
People don't realize how much damage buffoons like Jacob Wohl and Gateway Pundit and Donald Trump Jr. and all the rest of those people can do. They push this completely idiotic stuff and then it gets laundered by bots and turned into a story that's used to influence policy. It's now crystal clear that's what they are doing and that it is semi-coordinated, that there's a network of people who are pushing all this information to make it seem respectable, and they are mixing a little tiny bit of truth in to make it seem plausible.
NBC Miami did end up updating the headline, adding “2012 Election:” at the very beginning. It also added an editor’s note at the top of the article:
Editor’s note on Nov. 12, 2018: This story was published in May 2012.
The initial list of 180,000 names was whittled to 2,625, according to the Florida Department of State. The state then checked a federal database and stated it found 207 noncitizens on the rolls (not necessarily voting but on the rolls). That list was sent to county election supervisors to check and it also turned out to contain errors. An Aug. 1, 2012, state elections document showed only 85 noncitizens were ultimately removed from the rolls out of a total of about 12 million voters at that time.
While the story continues to be shared on social media as fresh news, the updated headline and editor’s note do seem to have had the effect of cooling its spread among influencers. Plus, the added context, including the disparity between “nearly 200,000” figure and the actual total of 85, has given people a way to quickly understand the facts of a somewhat complicated local story.
Binkowski stresses that it’s important to understand that there are a lot of people who simply are not making statements or arguments in good faith. “If you are a news person, please be aware of this cycle and your massive responsibility. If you are a news executive, please pay your journalists a living wage,” she said, noting that “they are up against something new and nightmarish and trying to inoculate the world against it and could use all the support they can get.”
Loading the player reg...
Kansas gubernatorial candidate Kris Kobach retreated to Tucker Carlson's show to complain about CNN's Jeffrey Toobin criticizing Kobach's "phony voter suppression commission" and correctly stating that "Kris has devoted his career to stopping black people and poor people from voting."
Instead of asking Kobach about how voter ID laws are designed to unfairly target people of color, Carlson mocked Toobin's claim that Kobach, a man whose campaign website cites a white nationalist writer, is "a bigot". From the November 1 edition of Fox News' Tucker Carlson Tonight:
TUCKER CARLSON (HOST): Well, projection is of course the defining fact of the modern left. On virtually every issue they attack their opponents as what they are. They call them racist even as they denounce half the country for its skin color.
Kansas gubernatorial candidate Kris Kobach is the latest person to learn that lesson the hard way. Over at CNN, Jeffrey Toobin says that because he dislikes Kobach's views, Kobach is of course a bigot.
CARLSON: Is there an argument that -- and we've done this topic a couple times but I don't -- I don't fully understand it. So, the idea is what you just said, if you are trying to make certain that people vote legally and ask for I.D., that's an act of bigotry? What is the -- like, flesh out that argument if you would. I don't understand it.
KOBACH: The argument itself is a racist one. The argument is that somehow because of your skin color you are less likely to have in your wallet a photo I.D., or you are less likely to be able to go to a government office and get a free photo I.D. It's a ridiculous argument, it's been disproven empirically in state after state, but the hard left and now increasingly the entire left keeps making that argument.
And you know Tucker, I went into that debate, that program, thinking we were going to have a cordial debate about birthright citizenship -- but as soon as Jeffrey Toobin started losing the argument, he just out of the blue says, "Well, you've devoted your career to stopping people of color from voting." It's crazy.
Loading the player reg...
Fox News, ABC, and NBC have completely ignored the news that Georgia's secretary of state, a GOP gubernatorial candidate, is sitting on tens of thousands of voter applications, while CNN and CBS just began covering it today
Georgia’s secretary of state and Republican gubernatorial candidate, Brian Kemp, is blocking the voter registrations of tens of thousands of people in his state, potentially keeping them away from the polls on November 6 in his face-off against Democratic nominee Stacey Abrams. His voter suppression tactics, which disproportionately affect Black voters, aren't new, but they are a direct assault on voting rights, and most national TV news stations have completely ignored the story.
On October 9, The Associated Press reported that Kemp has “cancelled over 1.4 million voter registrations since 2012” through purges of voter rolls, including almost 670,000 registrations in 2017 alone. Additionally, the AP found that Kemp is currently holding up 53,000 new voter registration applications; nearly 70 percent of those applications come from Black citizens, in a state that is 32 percent Black. The applications are ostensibly being held because the information on them does not exactly match state or federal records, but these disparities could be as minor as a missing hyphen or a typo.
Many Georgians may be unaware that their applications have been put on hold or that they’ve been purged from the voter rolls, and now that the October 9 deadline to register to vote has passed, Kemp may have successfully suppressed their vote come November. Voters whose applications are being held up may still be able to vote if they present the right form of ID at their polling place, but this fact has been poorly publicized and could result in confusion for poll workers. This is just the latest episode in a well-established pattern of Republicans employing voter suppression tactics. Blocking people -- and especially minorities -- from voting is an obvious attack on democracy that deserves widespread media coverage. Unfortunately, most of TV news has turned a blind eye to Kemp’s suppressive tactics.
Fox News, NBC, and ABC all completely ignored the story this week, making no mention of Kemp’s voter suppression since the AP report dropped on October 9. CBS made one attempt to cover the story, a quick report on its morning news show on October 12. CNN also failed to cover the story this week until October 12, when its programs finally began including packaged reports and other segments.
MSNBC is the only network to adequately cover the story, with mentions of Kemp’s voter suppression starting on Tuesday and reports on details of the story beginning on Wednesday. On October 11 alone, MSNBC discussed the story on seven of its programs and dedicated over half an hour of coverage total, and the network has continued its reporting today. The coverage has been quick to condemn Kemp’s actions, offer details about the AP report, and effectively explain the craven and political motivations behind Republican voter suppression:
This isn’t Kemp’s first foray into widespread voter suppression, nor is it the media’s first time botching coverage on important stories about voting rights. Fox News has long served as an ally in Republican attempts to stop voters from making it to the polls, but by failing to report on these efforts, mainstream media are also complicit in the destruction of voting rights.
Media Matters searched the Snapstream video database’s transcript and closed-captioning archive for any instances of the words “Georgia,” “Kemp,” “Abrams,” “exact match, "exact matching,” any iterations of the words “purge” or “suppress,” or any use of the word “vote” within 10 words of “purge” or “roll” between October 9, when the story broke, and October 12 on Fox News, CNN, MSNBC, ABC, NBC, and CBS.
Recent reporting has revealed indisputable voter suppression efforts in North Dakota and Georgia that appear to specifically target Native and Black communities. While these racist disenfranchisement efforts are obviously notable in the lead-up to next month’s midterm elections, media fail the public when they simply focus on the impact in the short-term and turn the story into another horse-race conversation. The real story here is the long-term, conservative-led effort to systematically dismantle voting rights for people of color -- and it won’t go away after November.
On October 9, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to suspend a lower federal court ruling that requires North Dakota voters to show identification with a residential address in order to vote. This requirement effectively disenfranchises Native American tribal residents, as many do not have the acceptable identification or don’t list residential addresses on their IDs. As the plaintiffs in the original court case explained, the U.S. Postal Service doesn’t deliver to residences in rural tribal communities so residents instead list P.O. boxes on tribal IDs. In her dissent, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg noted that “the risk of disfranchisement is large” in clearing the way for the state to enforce this voter ID requirement after it had previously been blocked during primary voting.
On the same day, The Associated Press reported that Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp (who is also currently running for governor on the Republican ticket) has actively purged “over 1.4 million voter registrations since 2012,” and currently has “over 53,000 registrations sitting on hold.” AP’s analysis revealed that nearly 70 percent of the 53,000 “on hold” registrations were those of Black voters, an astonishing statistic when the state population is only 32 percent Black. The reasons for holding a registration vary, and can include simple errors in entry or “a dropped hyphen in a last name, for example.”
Both of these efforts began well before the current election cycle. Mother Jones reports that North Dakota Republicans began tightening state voter ID laws after Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp was first elected in 2012. Kemp was first elected secretary of state in 2010, but his office began its purge as early as 2012 as well. It’s not even the only move Kemp has made to suppress votes in Georgia in recent months. Both fit into the broader systemic dismantling of voting rights in America, signaled by the Supreme Court’s gutting of the Voting Rights Act in the 2013 Shelby County v. Holder case, and subsequent rulings granting states greater freedom to dictate their own election maps and voting requirements -- tools that some states have used to create stricter barriers to voting access for communities of color.
Right-wing media have been cheering on the conservative voter suppression campaign for as long as it has been underway, helpfully propping up bogus claims of widespread voter fraud to justify this clear and targeted racist disenfranchisement.
Media silence about the systemic dismantling of voting rights -- as was the case for coverage of the 2016 races -- should not be an option. Instead, media’s responsibility is to present the full context and actively counter the decades-long trend in voter suppression perpetrated by the right-wing political and media ecosystem.
Coverage ought to focus on conveying the message that instances of voter suppression are both far from isolated, and far from random in the communities they affect. And even summing up in-depth reports that do provide this context with narrow midterms-focused headlines, like these, is itself a disservice:
[New York, 10/10/18]
It’s just one step above a headline that tells readers nothing at all.
Framing the latest voter purges from Georgia and North Dakota as purely horse-race developments effectively erases the opportunity to address the racist erosion of voting rights. This is not simply about a red or blue wave, or about polling numbers, or campaign strategy. This is not a matter of being bad for Democrats or good for Republicans. And this will not go away after next month.
Black and Native people are being robbed of their voices at the polls in service of a conservative structure that will only work to systematically reinforce and further these voter suppression efforts in the future. Racism is a feature of this system, not a bug.
Every time we see a headline about one specific and seemingly isolated disenfranchisement effort, we are deprived of the chance to make larger connections; to understand the rot at the core of our electoral system; and to fight it.
Loading the player reg...
As the vote count for the special election in Ohio 12th Congressional District still rolls in, fake news sites have taken to Facebook to spread conspiracy theories about Democrats rigging the election results. Some of these sites are using this fake narrative to advocate for voter ID laws, a voter suppression tactic that disproportionately affects minorities. This push comes as the Supreme Court recently upheld Ohio’s voter-purge law which Justice Sonia Sotomayor noted particularly impacts neighborhoods with low-income and minority populations.
These voter fraud conspiracy theories are largely based on two narratives. The first is a recent report that 588 votes in Franklin County were misplaced but later found. Fake news sites and social media accounts pushed baseless allegations that the recovered votes are part of an attempt by Democrats to rig the election. I Love My Freedom’s Facebook page posted an article on the discovery with the status: “The Democrats are trying to pull a fast one on us!!!” The Political Insider posted a video from its regular contributor and radio personality Wayne Dupree in which he speculated over the timing of the votes’ recovery, wondering, “Why didn’t they find the box of ballots the same night? Why is it now?” Dupree also said that the person who “found the ballots need (sic) to go to jail.” Conservative Tribune claimed that Democrats have a “history of fixing elections and opposing accountability for election integrity” in a Facebook post that linked to an article titled “Officials Magically Find Hundreds of New Votes That Boost Dem in Toss-up Ohio Election.” And an article from BizPac Review floated the idea that voter fraud was at play with the “newly-discovered votes that are favoring the Democratic candidate.” Young Conservatives, which is part of a Republican clickbait farm, posted an article about the recovered votes that c also specifically mentioned the voting rights of felons and made baseless accusations of illegal voting by undocumented immigrants. (These two groups are frequently featured in voter suppression narratives.)
The second source for these voter fraud conspiracy theories came from an unverified claim, originating from the far-right Mercer-funded group the Government Accountability Institute, that 170 registered voters in Ohio’s 12th district are 116-years-old. When the fake news sites picked up the claim, they added allegations of voter fraud and election rigging by Democrats to the mix. Constitution.com wrote that Democrats “tend to benefit from voter fraud at a rate that far surpasses the assistance given to conservatives through the use of the same tactics.” Truthfeed claimed, “The Left hasn’t given up trying to create conditions favorable for voter fraud in Ohio.” And a Young Conservatives article which stated that “Democrats have been known to steal close elections” was shared by former Sarah Palin’s Facebook and Twitter accounts, and by conservative commentators CJ Pearson and Stacey Dash on Facebook.
The Western Journal and Conservative Tribune posted an article that claimed this news was part of an attempt from the Democratic Party to “get their ‘blue wave’ to happen.” The Western Journal and Conservative Tribune also advocated for voter ID laws, writing, “If voter ID laws are passed and implemented … those 170 impossibly old voters would no longer be able to cast ballots — and that is something the fraudulent Democrats of the state desperately want to avoid.” The article has earned over 81,000 interactions on Facebook, Reddit, and Twitter, and was shared by Fox News host Shannon Bream and frequent Fox News guest Larry Elder. Western Journal and Conservative Tribune’s Facebook network also pushed the claim with most of the pages posting the exact same status alleging that Democrats attempted to rig the election.
Loading the player reg...
Loading the player reg...
Loading the player reg...
Loading the player reg...
The federal court judge ruled that Kris Kobach's law wrongly prevented people from voting; Fox News barely mentioned the trial
Kansas secretary of state and Breitbart columnist Kris Kobach, who frequently pushes voter fraud misinformation on Fox News, spectacularly failed in his effort to mount a defense for his state’s voter registration law in a federal court trial in March. Federal judge Julie Robinson both struck down the Kansas law and ordered Kobach to take remedial classes after repeatedly violating the judge’s orders, including trying to introduce evidence after Robinson had specifically excluded it. Fox, which has pushed the debunked specter of widespread voter fraud for a decade, provided no coverage of the trial as it progressed between March 6 and March 19.
In 2013, Kansas began enforcing the Kobach-backed Secure and Fair Elections (SAFE) law, which required residents who did not have a driver’s license to show proof of citizenship with documents such as a birth certificate or U.S. passport when registering to vote. In May 2016, U.S. District Judge Julie Robinson temporarily blocked Kansas from enforcing the law after the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a lawsuit, arguing that the law violated the federal National Voter Registration Act, which requires state voter registration forms to merely “contain an attestation that the applicant meets” eligibility requirements, such as citizenship. According to the ACLU, the law blocked tens of thousands of voter registrations in Kansas.
Kobach, who writes columns for Breitbart.com, has appeared on Fox News numerous times; a search of Nexis transcripts, which cover less than half of Fox’s shows, revealed nearly 60 appearances by Kobach. During a number of these appearances, he pushed an anti-immigrant agenda. He has also discussed the Kansas voter registration law at least twice on Fox News.
Fox has spent years pushing bunk voter fraud claims and supporting Republican efforts to make voting harder in response to the fear they inspire.Considering that history, one might expect the network to closely cover Kobach’s chance to prove the necessity of stringent voter identification laws. But that hasn’t been the case; according to a search of closed-captioning transcripts on SnapStream and iQ media, Fox mentioned the trial only twice, in two short news updates on March 7, for a grand total of 50 seconds of coverage of a trial that stretched over six days.
Perhaps Fox’s lackluster coverage was due to Kobach’s repeated blunders during the trial. Slate legal writer Mark Joseph Stern, in an article headlined “Kris Kobach is a loser,” wrote that the trial was “an unmitigated disaster for Kobach—a merciless rebuke of his professional life’s work.” And HuffPost voting rights reporter Sam Levine noted that a witness Kobach called forward during the trial to supposedly show how easy it was to register without the required documents actually “testified there was a burdensome process” to prove her citizenship and register to vote. (This sloppiness may have been foreseeable, as Kobach has been caught plagiarizing a column for Breitbart; one of Kobach’s citations for that Breitbart column was a white nationalist writer with a reported history of Holocaust denialism.)
The following quotes from the daily coverage of the trial by Kansas City NPR member station KCUR show just how embarrassing Kobach’s performance was:
Day 1: The judge scolded Kobach and his team for improperly trying to introduce new evidence and not knowing courtroom rules.
Day 2: Kobach’s team again tried to improperly introduce evidence
Day 3: Kobach’s legal team again violated courtroom procedure.
Day 5: Kobach still had trouble properly introducing evidence, and one of his witnesses repeatedly interrupted the judge.
Day 6: Kobach team witness Jesse Richman admitted a racist method for flagging potential noncitizen voters and agreed Kobach’s and Trump’s claim of millions of illegal votes in the 2016 election is baseless.
Day 7: The judge said a Kobach lawyer was “being schizophrenic” over failure to properly present witness testimony from a pollster.
Though the trial ended on March 19, that wasn’t the end to Kobach’s problems regarding the ACLU’s lawsuit. On March 20, the same judge, Julie Robinson, presided over a contempt hearing stemming from Kobach’s apparent failure to enforce her May 2016 order to register the tens of thousands of voters blocked from his law. NPR reported that it didn’t go well for Kobach:
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach got a tongue lashing Tuesday from the judge who will decide whether he violated federal law by blocking tens of thousands of voter applications.
Federal Chief District Judge Julie Robinson, a George W. Bush appointee, accused Kobach of engaging in "gamesmanship" and skirting her orders.
In the nearly two years since Robinson ordered him to register those voters, she said, he has forced her and the American Civil Liberties Union to monitor his actions down to the tiniest details in an effort to get him to comply.
"I've had to police this over and over and over again," she said.
Kobach, who hopes to be Kansas' next governor, asked the judge not to find him in contempt. The Republican candidate argued he doesn't control the county officials who carry out logistics such as sending postcards to voters to let them know where their polling stations are.
Robinson, at times sounding livid with the secretary, gave him a dressing-down.
"These people are not second-class registered voters," she told him. "You assured me that they had or they would get the postcards."
On April 18, Judge Robinson ordered Kobach to be held in contempt of court for disobeying her orders to register voters, mandating that Kobach pay for the ACLU’s attorney fees for the case. Two months later, Judge Robinson struck down Kansas’ law requiring proof of citizenship for voter registration. HuffPost’s Sam Levine reported on June 18 that the judge “found that the law violated the National Voter Registration Act and the 14th Amendment of the United States Constitution.” The court specifically rejected Kobach and Fox’s argument about voter fraud, finding that the law “acted as a deterrent to registration and voting for substantially more eligible Kansans than it has prevented ineligible voters from registering to vote.”
Judge Robinson additionally “sanctioned Kobach with six hours of continuing legal education related to rules of civil procedure or evidence” due to his repeated violations of his rules throughout the trial.
On June 11, the Supreme Court handed down its decision on an Ohio voting rights case that will make it easier for the state to purge infrequent voters from its voter roll, a process that tends to disproportionately hurt young people, people with low incomes, and people of color. This is a victory for Republicans, who for years have waged a war on voting rights in an effort to suppress voting by populations that tend to pick Democrats. Media should be reporting on this case and on voter suppression measures more broadly, both as a policy issue and to inform people of what they need to do in order to vote.
The Supreme Court’s decision in the Ohio case, which allows the state to purge voters who haven’t voted in recent elections and who haven’t responded to a mailed notice to confirm their residency, “could be a major victory for Republicans ... and a stinging loss for Democrats,” because “minorities, young people and those with lower incomes are most likely to be disenfranchised by the state's policy,” according to USA Today. Mother Jones’ Ari Berman reported that “Ohio purged more than 2 million registered voters between 2011 and 2016, more than any other state. Black voters in the state’s largest counties were twice as likely as white voters to be removed from the rolls.” NBC News reported, “At least a dozen other politically conservative states said they would adopt a similar practice if Ohio prevailed.” An election law expert added, “‘You’ll see more red states making it easier to drop people from the voter registration rolls.’” And in her dissent, Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor noted that the decision ignores the history of voter suppression in the United States:
In dissent Justice Sotomayor says ruling upholding Ohio voter purging "entirely ignores history of voter suppression" & will "further disenfranchisement of minority and low-income voters" https://t.co/QvrwIcTsxZ pic.twitter.com/KDegTTB6q5
— Ari Berman (@AriBerman) June 11, 2018
In light of this decision and the years-long assault on voting rights Republicans have waged (including on Fox News), media need to report on voting rules, both in order to inform their audiences of what hurdles they might need to clear to carry out their constitutional right to vote and to give them policy information on which they might base their votes.
In the past, media have often failed in their voting rights reporting. Much of the coverage of voting issues appears in conservative media, which have a history of misinforming -- or outright lying -- about the prevalence of voter fraud. In the runup to the 2014 midterms, nightly newscasts largely ignored the issue of voting rights. In about half of its articles on voter fraud from September 2012 to September 2014, The New York Times failed to clearly state that in-person voter fraud is virtually nonexistent, even as it included claims from Republicans suggesting that such fraud exists. Later analyses found that voter suppression measures may have materially impacted the 2014 elections.
From July 2016 through June 2017, Media Matters analyzed broadcast network morning and evening shows and evening cable news shows and found:
And after 2017 elections in which Democrats overperformed and exceeded expectations, right-wing media once again turned to a series of voting myths and talking points parroted by Republicans, including misinformation about voter fraud, voter IDs, and felon voting.
There is particular need for good local media coverage. Voting is a local issue, and people tend to trust their local news coverage more than national news. But Sinclair Broadcast Group, a conservative local TV news giant that has been injecting local newscasts with right-wing spin for years, is moving to acquire more local news stations. Sinclair has already shown a willingness to subject its viewers to misinformation about voting and last year it produced a must-run segment that suggested voter fraud might be far more common than it actually is.
If media are not explaining to Americans what voters need to do in order to cast their ballots, the odds of people showing up to vote and being turned away undoubtedly grows. The fact of the matter is that Election Day is too late for this coverage. Retrospectives after the fact will not change long lines, refused ballots, or outright disenfranchisement. While political pundits are obsessed with making every problem a “both sides” story, only one political party is trying to limit the ability of its opponents to vote. That’s the real story, and there’s no way to sugar coat it.