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Voting Rights & Issues

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  • Video: Mainstream media ignored the Women's March. Here's what Women's March participants said about the media.

    Blog ››› ››› DAYANITA RAMESH & MILES LE


    Dayanita Ramesh / Media Matters

    On January 20 and 21, over a million protesters marched all over the United States and the world for the 2018 Women’s March. Some estimates include: 200,000 marchers in New York City, 300,000 in Chicago, and 600,000 in Los Angeles. But despite the high turnout especially one year after the first Women’s March -- which not only broke records for attendance, but has since grown into a movement -- news outlets largely ignored these historic protests let alone actually interview anyone who organized or participated in them.

    We went to a sister march in Washington D.C. on Saturday, January 20 and spoke to a few of the estimated 10,000 protesters and activists who were there.

    Here’s what they had to say:

  • Sunday shows barely mentioned the 2018 Women’s March

    The longest mention was a meager 20 seconds on NBC’s Meet The Press. Other shows were worse.

    Blog ››› ››› NINA MAST


    Mobilus in Mobili / Creative Commons License via Flickr

    The day after the start of the second annual series of Women’s Marches all over the world, the major Sunday political talk shows were nearly silent on the historic protests, only briefly mentioning the topic across all five shows.

    On January 20 and 21, one year after President Donald Trump’s inauguration, hundreds of thousands of protesters turned out in hundreds of marches and other events in the U.S. and worldwide to unite to support women’s rights. The protests emphasized encouraging women to engage in the political process and expressing shared disdain for the oppressive policies of the Trump administration. According to Politico, there were an estimated 600,000 attendees at the Los Angeles march alone. One of the March’s main events, called #PowerToThePolls, took place in Las Vegas, NV, on January 21 and aimed to register one million voters.The Women’s March described the effort as targeting “swing states to register new voters, engage impacted communities, harness our collective energy to advocate for policies and candidates that reflect our values, and collaborate with our partners to elect more women and progressives candidates to office.”

    Despite the worldwide impact of the marches, the major Sunday political talk shows  -- which include CNN’s State of the Union, ABC’s This Week, CBS’ Face the Nation, NBC’s Meet the Press, and Fox Broadcasting Co.’s Fox News Sunday -- were nearly silent on the topic. These shows often set the tone and priorities for media coverage for the rest of the week.

    On ABC’s This Week, host George Stephanopoulos briefly acknowledged the “Women’s Marches in hundreds of cities all across the country” in his opening monologue, and later in the show, panelist Karen Finney mentioned “all the people who were marching in the streets yesterday.” No one responded directly to her comments about the marches. On CBS’ Face The Nation, conservative outlet The Federalist’s publisher Ben Domenech noted the “pro-life March For Life that happens every year, followed by the Women’s March on the other side” while discussing Trump’s first year in office.

    The only significant discussion, defined as a back-and-forth exchange between two or more people, of the weekend’s marches was on NBC’s Meet the Press, where panelists remarked on the event in a meager 20-second exchange. Host Chuck Todd also mentioned the “hundreds of thousands of women march[ing] across the country protesting the president, many with an eye towards more women winning office this November” in his opening monologue.

    In 2017, CNN and MSNBC extensively covered the first annual Women’s March, while Fox News’ minimal coverage was criticized. That march was one of the largest protests in US. history.

  • How right-wing media are laying the groundwork for an assault on voting rights in 2018

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    For years, right-wing media have systematically attacked voting rights in America. In 2017 especially, right-wing media continued to push falsehoods and flawed talking points in an attempt to justify voter suppression, and with the support of the Trump administration are laying the groundwork for a renewed assault on the right to vote.

    Right-wing media have long excelled at pushing misleading talking points and myths, no matter how stale, about voting. And since the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision in Shelby County v. Holder dismantled part of the seminal Voting Rights Act, these falsehoods have been used by lawmakers in support of discriminatory policies to disenfranchise voters at a dangerous pace.

    This year was no exception. Following the results of special elections in which Democrats overperformed and exceeded expectations, right-wing media once again turned to a series of myths and talking points parroted by Republicans. Whether intentional or not, this misinformation will likely be used by GOP lawmakers and anti-voting activists to make it harder for everyone to cast a ballot in 2018.

    Voter fraud in Alabama

    Following the surprising victory of Sen.-elect Doug Jones, a Democrat, in Alabama, right-wing and far-right media cried voter fraud in an attempt to discredit the results.

    While voting took place and shortly thereafter, several fake news and so-called “satirical” websites attempted to claim that voter fraud had taken place. Perhaps the most successful myth promoted by fake news websites, pro-Trump Twitter trolls, and far-right conspiracy outlets was a video claiming to show that a man admitted people had committed voter fraud by coming in from out-of-state to vote for Jones.

    What the unidentified Jones supporter actually said was not as much an unlikely admission of illegality but clearly a likely reference to the coordinated attempt to canvass and assist voter registration and voting. He told FOX10 News in Alabama:

    We came here all the way from different parts of the country as part of our fellowship, and all of us pitched in to vote and canvas together, and we got our boy elected.

    As Splinter News pointed out, the man’s comment was “casual and seemingly innocuous,” and not an admission of voter fraud. Nevertheless, Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill, a Republican, announced on December 18 that he planned to launch an investigation into potential voter fraud in the election based on that video, even though he reportedly admitted that the state doesn’t have any evidence of voter fraud and the young supporter could have been “play[ing] a canvassing roll (sic)” or “was part of a process that went out and tried to register voters.”

    For years, politicians have used the specter of “voter fraud” as grounds not only to implement discriminatory voter ID laws, but also to launch chilling investigations designed to depress future voting efforts. Alabama voter fraud claims from the far-right and conspiracy theorists may be just helping these efforts come to fruition even faster.

    Voter ID laws in Alabama

    One of the most recycled hot takes to come out of the Alabama special election came from Wall Street Journal columnist Jason Riley, who cited high Democratic turnout numbers to dismiss criticism over voter ID laws. Riley wrote in a December 19 op-ed:

    Democratic Party officials and media elites insist that asking people to prove their identities before voting effectively disenfranchises minorities, but most Americans understand the importance of ballot integrity. And if such laws make it too difficult for blacks to cast a ballot, what explains the Obamalike minority turnout for Mr. Jones, given that Alabama implemented one of the country’s toughest voter ID requirements in 2014?

    Scaremongers liken voter ID laws to the literacy tests and violence used to intimidate black voters under Jim Crow. But what happened last week in Alabama is not uncommon. Strict voter ID laws were passed in Georgia and Indiana more than a decade ago, and in 2008 the Supreme Court concluded that they are reasonable and constitutional. Subsequently, minority turnout increased not only within both states but also compared with other states that lack voter ID laws. Similarly, black voter registration and turnout remained level in Texas and went up in North Carolina after those states implemented voter ID mandates.

    Riley is wrong for several reasons.

    The first is that many people did have trouble voting in the election due to the onerous voter ID requirements in Alabama. Voters in Mobile told AL.com that they were “referred to a clerk rather than being allowed to immediately vote” if their addresses on their driver licenses didn’t match the ones of their voter registration. According to Courthouse News, poll watchers with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund “found voters running into trouble casting their ballots” due to the state’s voter ID law. Additionally, ThinkProgress reported that black Alabamians were forced to cast provisional ballots due to inconsistencies between IDs and voter rolls.

    The second is that Riley’s argument about high turnout proving a lack of voter suppression has been used in other states before -- and when it has, it’s been found to be ridiculous. Sundeep Iyer, formerly of the Brennan Center for Justice at the NYU School of Law, pointed out years ago that those who claim that higher-than-expected turnout rates excuse voter ID need "a simple statistics lesson.” As election law expert Justin Levitt told TalkingPointsMemo, “It’s called the correlation-causation fallacy, and anybody who’s had statistics for a week can talk to you about it.”

    (It’s also not inconceivable that the racist rhetoric and fondness for slavery expressed by Jones’ opponent, Republican Roy Moore, may have spurred turnout among African-Americans in Alabama to a degree that even voter suppression couldn’t depress.)

    Study after study has found stringent voter ID laws negatively affect minority voters when implemented. But Riley’s argument is simplistic and convenient enough for anti-voting advocates and lawmakers to apparently never cease repeating it in order to support these laws.

    Felon voting in Virginia

    Meanwhile, after a surprise win for Democrats in Virginia, Fox News host Tucker Carlson used the results to attack a policy implemented by Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat, to restore voting rights to convicted felons. After Democrat Shelly Simonds defeated a Republican incumbent by a one-vote margin for a seat in Virginia’s House of Delegates (thereby creating a 50-50 split between Democrats and Republicans in the legislative body) in a race that was later deemed a tie, Carlson blamed McAuliffe’s move to re-enfranchise convicted felons for Simonds’ victory and the ensuing power shift in the House of Delegates:

    But winning an election by one vote means that everything from felon re-enfranchisement to an on-time bus could change the course of a race.

    Carlson’s comments cannot be taken in good faith. Carlson is joining a chorus in conservative media decrying and fearmongering over felon re-enfranchisement in an attempt to deter lawmakers from following McAuliffe’s lead and allowing American citizens to vote

    While all of these recent attacks have been made for years, they must be taken even more seriously now. With a cooperative administration in place -- not to mention a continuous loop between conservative media and the White House -- these attacks over the right to vote have a real chance of taking hold and informing law and policy. As the 2018 midterms get closer and closer, these attacks could be devastatingly effective, and potentially leave a real-life stain on our democracy.

  • Breitbart follows Fox & Friends fearmongering about felon voting in Alabama’s special election

    The state passed a law earlier this year allowing some former felons to register to vote

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN

    A week before the special election in Alabama to fill a vacancy in the Senate, Fox & Friends and Breitbart fearmongered about felon voting -- even attempting to portray it as a Democratic conspiracy -- despite the fact that the state’s Republican legislature passed and Republican governor signed the law allowing felons to register.

    In a December 3 piece, Breitbart wrote that “An organization partnered with a George Soros-financed group and led by a radical leftist who is the half-brother of the infamous controversial Rev. Al Sharpton has been diligently working over the past few weeks to register convicted felons across Alabama.” It isn’t until 12 paragraphs into the piece that Breitbart noted that earlier this year Alabama's Republican governor signed the law that restored voting rights to thousands of felons.

    Similarly, Fox & Friends was criticized after it ran multiple segments and teases on the November 30 edition of the program saying that Democrats are trying to get "felons registered to come out and vote" in the election. Only once did Fox host Jillian Mele acknowledge that “for decades, felons in Alabama were not allowed to vote,” but “the law was changed last year.” As the Washington Post noted, "Never mind that the felons' voting rights were restored by Republican lawmakers or that one of history's best-known conservative Supreme Court justices determined 32 years ago that bigotry had motivated Alabama's sweeping disenfranchisement. On “Fox & Friends,” the right of certain citizens to vote was presented as a nefarious “secret weapon” of Democrats."

    Right-wing media have a history of cheering for discriminatory laws that curtail voting rights and pushing myths about illegal voting.

  • News outlets shouldn’t sugarcoat Trump’s calls for violence and hate

    Blog ››› ››› DAYANITA RAMESH, JOHN KERR & MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    The president of the United States regularly incites violence. No news outlet should ever pretend that’s normal.

    Not only did he fail twice to clearly denounce white supremacy and violence incited by neo-Nazis, but he also claimed that “many sides” -- including the counterprotestors -- were to blame for the violence (which is a false equivalence) and that some of those who marched in the so-called “Unite The Right” rally were “fine people.” (White supremacists even praised Trump for his response.)

    We shouldn’t be surprised that he can’t condemn violence when he regularly encourages and incites it:

    Like that time he endorsed police brutality.

    Or when he tweeted this video someone made of him beating up CNN.

    Or the the time he implied that “Second Amendment people” could shoot Hillary Clinton.

    Or how about when he complained that people were “too politically correct” to hurt one another.

    Or when he told a white supporter who punched a black protester at his campaign rally that’d he look into paying his legal fees.

    Or at another rally when he told his supporters to “knock the crap out of” any protesters they saw.

    News commentators tend to suggest these comments shouldn’t be taken seriously or that he was just joking or that he was just trying to appeal to his base -- or they interview his shills, who downplay the seriousness of endorsing violence.

    This type of coverage misses the point. Using threats of violence to gain supporters is just wrong, and not something that news outlets should ever treat as a normal part of politics. We should be debating ideas -- not talking about how we’re going to clobber people we don’t like.

    Trump is telling his followers to hurt people -- those who are different from them, those who have different beliefs, and those who are just deemed to deserve it. When Trump incites violence, it makes America a more dangerous and more toxic place for all of us.

    News outlets shouldn’t sugarcoat what’s going on here.

  • Gerrymandering is ruining our democracy. Will television news ever care?

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Broadcast and cable news’ reluctance to talk about gerrymandering, let alone address the outsized impact it has in state and federal elections, has allowed American democracy to quietly become less representative. As movements build behind redistricting reform, the question remains: Will TV news ever care about gerrymandering?

    A yearlong Media Matters study found that cable news shows brought up gerrymandering in only five segments between July 1, 2016, and June 30, 2017. During that same time period, broadcast morning news programs and nightly newscasts didn’t discuss gerrymandering at all. And this isn’t a new trend; for years, media have shown a reluctance to discuss gerrymandering and redistricting. Given the outsized influence partisan and racial gerrymandering has on American democracy, these issues deserve more coverage.

    Partisan gerrymandering is not exactly new, but since 2010, Republicans have taken it to a new level. The Associated Press (AP) found that in the 2016 election, gerrymandering helped create the conditions that led to “four times as many states with Republican-skewed state House or Assembly districts than Democratic ones.” Additionally, “among the two dozen most populated states that determine the vast majority of Congress, there were nearly three times as many with Republican-tilted U.S. House districts.” As University of Chicago law professor Geoffrey Stone wrote for HuffPost, “Although partisan gerrymandering has been with us from the beginning, it is now worse than ever, because computer modeling enables legislators to design districts that almost precisely maximize their political advantage.”

    Racial gerrymandering -- which involves "spreading minorities across voting districts, leaving them too few in number in any given district to elect their preferred candidates," or "concentrating the minority vote in certain districts" -- has also helped Republicans hold on to their majority. As The Washington Post's Wonkblog explained, "Since the minority electorate leans liberal, packing minorities has the same effect as packing Democrats, causing the district map to favor Republicans in the same way it favors whites." The New York Times’ editorial board described the radical racial gerrymandering that resulted in unconstitutional districts in North Carolina as the GOP’s “unscrupulous efforts to fence off black communities.”

    While Republicans have been attacking the heart of American democracy, media coverage has been lacking, to say the least. At the same time, activists and politicians from both sides of the aisle have been calling for independent, nonpartisan groups to take the charge on redistricting in the near future. With momentum rising, the question remains: Will media, specifically broadcast and cable news, ever care about gerrymandering? So far, the answer appears to be no.

  • Administration officials proved their loyalty by pushing lies and propaganda about voting

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Officials in President Donald Trump’s administration and those who worked for his presidential campaign took to broadcast and cable news over the past year to spread lies and propaganda about voting, often defending Trump’s debunked claims about massive noncitizen voting and widespread voter fraud.

    Before and after the election, Trump repeatedly hyped debunked theories that widespread voter fraud and massive noncitizen voting “rigged” the election against him and cost him the popular vote. Given the president’s affection for his staunchest cable news defenders, his “TV addiction,” and his desire for loyalty, it makes sense that those seeking to curry favor with Trump took to TV to hype lies about voting. According to a Media Matters analysis of broadcast morning and nightly news as well as prime-time cable news, at least 11 different Trump loyalists made television appearances, often on Fox News, in which they misinformed viewers about voter fraud nearly 120 times:

    • Ben Carson, who now serves as Trump’s secretary for housing and urban development, appeared on prime-time cable news and broadcast news twice from July 1, 2016, to June 30, 2017, to discuss voting. Over those two appearances, Carson made two statements falsely claiming that there is widespread voter fraud. He also made one statement falsely alleging that voter ID laws do not suppress minority turnout in elections.

    • Boris Epshteyn, who previously served as one of Trump’s press officers, appeared on prime-time cable news and broadcast news three times from July 1, 2016, to June 30, 2017, to discuss voting. Over those three appearances, Epshteyn made four statements falsely claiming that there is widespread voter fraud. He also made two statements falsely alleging that there is massive noncitizen voting. Additionally, Epshteyn made two statements falsely claiming that voter ID laws prevent voter fraud and one statement falsely claiming that voter ID laws do not suppress minority turnout in elections.

    • Corey Lewandowski, who previously served as Trump’s campaign manager, appeared on prime-time cable news and broadcast news four times from July 1, 2016, to June 30, 2017, to discuss voting. Over those four appearances, Lewandowski made 10 statements falsely claiming that there is widespread voter fraud. He also made four statements baselessly conflating voter registration inaccuracies with voter fraud.

    • J. Christian Adams, who now serves on Trump’s election integrity commission, appeared on prime-time cable news and broadcast news twice from July 1, 2016, to June 30, 2017, to discuss voting. Over those two appearances, Adams made six statements falsely alleging that there is massive noncitizen voting. He also made two statements baselessly conflating voter registration inaccuracies with voter fraud.

    • Jason Miller, who previously served as a senior communications adviser on Trump’s campaign, appeared on prime-time cable news and broadcast news three times from July 1, 2016, to June 30, 2017, to discuss voting. Over those three appearances, Miller made seven statements falsely claiming that there is widespread voter fraud. He also made one statement falsely alleging that there is massive noncitizen voting and two statements baselessly conflating voter registration inaccuracies with voter fraud.

    • Jeff Sessions, who now serves as Trump’s attorney general, appeared on prime-time cable news and broadcast news twice from July 1, 2016, to June 30, 2017, to discuss voting. Over those two appearances, Sessions made three statements falsely claiming that there is widespread voter fraud. He also made two statements falsely alleging that there is massive noncitizen voting and one statement falsely claiming that voter ID laws prevent voter fraud.

    • Kellyanne Conway, who now serves as Trump’s senior counselor, appeared on prime-time cable news and broadcast news 11 times from July 1, 2016, to June 30, 2017, to discuss voting. Over those 11 appearances, Conway made 13 statements falsely claiming that there is widespread voter fraud. She also made four statements falsely alleging that there is massive noncitizen voting and two statements baselessly conflating voter registration inaccuracies with voter fraud.

    • Kris Kobach, who now serves as vice chair of Trump’s election integrity commission, appeared on prime-time cable news and broadcast news four times from July 1, 2016, to June 30, 2017, to discuss voting. Over those four appearances, Kobach made 12 statements falsely claiming that there is widespread voter fraud. He also made seven statements falsely alleging that there is massive noncitizen voting and one statement baselessly conflating voter registration inaccuracies with voter fraud. Additionally, Kobach made one statement falsely claiming that voter ID laws prevent voter fraud and four statements falsely claiming that voter ID laws do not suppress minority turnout in elections.

    • Michael Cohen, who served as a surrogate during the presidential campaign, appeared on prime-time cable news and broadcast news once from July 1, 2016, to June 30, 2017, to discuss voting. During his appearance, Cohen made six statements falsely claiming that there is widespread voter fraud. He also made three statements baselessly conflating voter registration inaccuracies with voter fraud.

    • Mike Pence, who now serves as Trump’s vice president, appeared on prime-time cable news and broadcast news four times from July 1, 2016, to June 30, 2017, to discuss voting. Over those four appearances, Pence made 12 statements falsely claiming that there is widespread voter fraud (but also one statement correctly stating that widespread voter fraud does not exist). He also made two statements baselessly conflating voter registration inaccuracies with voter fraud.

    • Mike Pompeo, who now serves as Trump’s CIA director, appeared on prime-time cable news and broadcast news once from July 1, 2016, to June 30, 2017, to discuss voting. During his appearance, Pompeo made one statement falsely claiming that there is widespread voter fraud. He also made one statement falsely claiming that voter ID laws prevent voter fraud.

    Methodology

    Media Matters conducted a Nexis search of transcripts for evening cable news programs and broadcast morning news and evening newscasts from July 1, 2016, through June 30, 2017. We included the following programs in the data: ABC’s Good Morning America and World News Tonight, CBS’ CBS This Morning and CBS Evening News, NBC’s Today and NBC Nightly News, CNN’s The Situation Room, Erin Burnett OutFront, Anderson Cooper 360, and CNN Tonight, Fox News’ The Five, Special Report with Bret Baier, On the Record with Greta Van Susteren*, On the Record with Brit Hume*, Tucker Carlson Tonight*, First 100 Days*, The Story*, The O’Reilly Factor*, The Kelly File*, and Hannity, and MSNBC’s Meet the Press Daily, For the Record with Greta*, Hardball with Chris Matthews, All In with Chris Hayes, The Rachel Maddow Show, and The Last Word With Lawrence O’Donnell. Due to the substantial reorganization of Fox News’ programming during the study period, programs that were either added or removed from the network during the study period are marked with an asterisk. During the study period, Greta Van Susteren moved to MSNBC and began hosting a program there; unlike with the network’s previous 6 p.m. programming, the transcripts for this program were included in the Nexis database, and thus were included.

    For this study, Media Matters included only those segments where the stated topic of conversation was voting rights or issues related to voting, or where “substantial discussion” of these topics occurred. We defined “substantial discussion” as that where two or more speakers had at least one direct exchange on the topic. Host monologues were also included only when the speaker made two independent mentions of voting or voting rights within the same segment. We did not include statements made in news or video clips in edited news packages except those made by a network correspondent. If news packages aired more than once, Media Matters coded only the first unique appearance. Similarly, if a live event -- such as a town hall or public forum -- was held during regularly scheduled programming, these segments were also excluded because the participants were not network or media guests.

    The resulting 561 segments were then coded for the mention of one or more of four general topics of conversation: logistical barriers to voting on the state level, the election, legal issues, and gerrymandering. Segments were also coded for the number of accurate or inaccurate statements each speaker made about six topics: widespread voter fraud, massive noncitizen voting, voter ID laws, voter registration inaccuracies, early voting, and gerrymandering. The statements coded for were:

    • There is widespread voter fraud (inaccurate).

    • Widespread voter fraud does not exist (accurate).

    • There is massive noncitizen voting (inaccurate).

    • Massive noncitizen voting does not exist (accurate).

    • Voter ID laws are useful to fight voter fraud (inaccurate).

    • Voter ID laws would do little combat voter fraud (accurate).

    • Voter ID laws do not affect voter turnout (inaccurate).

    • Voter ID laws disenfranchise voters, especially minority voters (accurate).

    • Voter registration inaccuracies lead to voter fraud (inaccurate).

    • Voter registration inaccuracies are different from voter fraud (accurate).

    • Early voting leaves elections more susceptible to voter fraud (inaccurate).

    • Early voting does not leave elections more susceptible to voter fraud (accurate).

    • Gerrymandering has not contributed to an outsized Republican majority on a federal and state level (inaccurate).

    • Gerrymandering has contributed to an outsized Republican majority on a federal and state level (accurate).