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Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity, and Laura Ingraham also failed to cover the election fraud story
On February 21, following allegations of Republican election fraud, the North Carolina State Board of Elections ordered a new congressional election in the state's 9th District. The decision is highly unusual: It will be the first congressional election to be redone in over 40 years. But Fox & Friends failed to mention the story even once after the news broke, as did Fox’s Hannity, Tucker Carlson Tonight, and The Ingraham Angle.
Fox’s decision to ignore the story on its major shows is particularly noteworthy given the network’s obsession with the idea of voter fraud.
Over the past week, North Carolina investigators have argued to the elections board that a Republican operative named Leslie McCrae Dowless, who worked for Republican candidate Mark Harris, directed an intricate scheme to tamper with absentee ballots. Harris appeared to win the November election by fewer than a thousand votes -- but even he was forced to call for a new election after listening to state investigators’ case.
The board’s decision to order a new election was a dramatic end to a congressional race that has remained uncalled for more than three months, but Media Matters found that Fox’s prime-time and morning shows didn’t even mention the story. In fact, Fox & Friends’ only mentions of North Carolina came in a short segment about someone vandalizing a statue and an update on Nike stock after a basketball player’s Nike shoe gave out in Wednesday’s University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill versus Duke game.
Fox’s decision not to discuss the story on its major programs is especially notable given the network’s obsession with baselessly fearmongering about voter fraud. For years, Fox guests and hosts have pushed dubious or baseless allegations of fraud, some of which are rooted in obvious racism, and many of which are used to argue for voter suppression tactics. The vast majority of Fox’s accusations fall flat, largely because in-person voter impersonation fraud -- the type that right-wing pundits most commonly wring their hands about -- is virtually nonexistent, and other types of election fraud are exceedingly rare. But the network tends to quietly move on once the claims fall apart.
Fox’s interest in election integrity seems to cover only instances of alleged voter fraud by Democrats and not cases of proven election fraud by partisan operatives working on behalf of Republicans. The network’s indifference is noteworthy, but it’s unsurprising given the close relationship between Fox News and the Republican Party.
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President Donald Trump tweeted false information about voter fraud after watching a misleading Fox & Friends segment about a Texas Department of State report that allegedly showed non-U.S. citizens registered to vote. However, as The Texas Tribune explained, the report does not actually shed much light on how much illegal voting may or may not have occurred.
On January 27, Fox & Friends Weekend ran a segment about the Texas report, which co-host Katie Pavlich misleadingly described as evidence of “95,000 non-U.S. citizens who are registered to vote in Texas.” Pavlich suggested that the report was proof against the arguments that “noncitizens aren’t voting in our elections, [and] people who say that there’s voter fraud are conspiracy theorists.” Her guest, discredited fabulist J. Christian Adams, claimed the Texas report shows “the real foreign influence in our elections” and said that other states, including Pennsylvania, are “hiding the same information” about “aliens getting on the rolls.”
58,000 non-citizens voted in Texas, with 95,000 non-citizens registered to vote. These numbers are just the tip of the iceberg. All over the country, especially in California, voter fraud is rampant. Must be stopped. Strong voter ID! @foxandfriends
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 27, 2019
Prior to the Fox & Friends segment that prompted the president’s tweet, The Texas Tribune examined the Texas secretary of state’s report and found that it contains 95,000 names “who the state says counties should consider checking to see whether they are … legally eligible to vote,” and that of the 95,000, “about 58,000 individuals cast a ballot in one or more elections from 1996 to 2018.” The office advised counties that the names on the list “should be considered ‘WEAK’ matches, using all capital letters for emphasis.”
However, as Chris Davis, the head of the Texas Association of Elections Administrators, said, “People get naturalized. It’s entirely too early to say that” this report is proof of voter fraud. As the Tribune noted, “It’s possible that individuals flagged by the state … could have become naturalized citizens since they obtained their driver's license or ID card,” and “It’s unclear exactly how many of those individuals are not actually U.S. citizens and whether that number will be available in the future.” From the January 25 article:
The Texas secretary of state's office announced Friday it would send local election officials a list of 95,000 registered voters who the state says counties should consider checking to see whether they are U.S. citizens and, therefore, legally eligible to vote.
In an advisory released Friday afternoon, the office said it was flagging individuals who had provided the Texas Department of Public Safety with some form of documentation — including a work visa or a green card — that showed they were not a citizen when they were obtaining a driver’s license or an ID card. Among the individuals flagged, about 58,000 individuals cast a ballot in one or more elections from 1996 to 2018, the secretary of state's office said.
It’s unclear exactly how many of those individuals are not actually U.S. citizens and whether that number will be available in the future. In its notice to counties, the secretary of state's office said the names should be considered "WEAK" matches, using all capital letters for emphasis.
It's possible that individuals flagged by the state — who provided DPS with documentation that indicated they were authorized to be in the country — could have become naturalized citizens since they obtained their driver's license or ID card. A spokesman for the secretary of state said officials are "very confident" that the data received from DPS is "current."
But without additional verification, you can't say these individuals all engaged in illegal voting, said Chris Davis, the head of the Texas Association of Elections Administrators.
"People get naturalized," Davis said. "It's entirely too early to say that."
But Beth Stevens, voting rights legal director for the Texas Civil Rights Project, said the announcement echoed efforts around the country to remove eligible voters from the rolls.
"The secretary’s actions threaten to result in tens of thousands of eligible voters being removed from the rolls, including those with the least resources to comply with the demand to show papers," Stevens said.
Rampant voter fraud has been a right-wing media meme for many years, and there has never been any evidence. Fox News particularly obsesses over the voter fraud conspiracy theory, yet the network has virtually ignored actual fraud in the electoral process.
There are credible reports that a partisan actor in North Carolina was collecting and destroying voters' ballots
Fox News' Shannon Bream attempted on Tuesday night to compare a Republican operative’s apparent plot to steal a North Carolina congressional seat with the legitimate collection of ballots in California elections. From the December 4 edition of Fox News at Night with Shannon Bream:
See transcript below
In California, it is legal for voters unable to return their mail ballots to designate someone to collect their ballots and deliver them to polling places. It is not legal anywhere, however, to collect and then potentially destroy, or finish filling out and cast, another person's ballot. This is what is being alleged in North Carolina, where reports show that a partisan operative potentially on the payroll of multiple Republican campaigns directed people to collect and possibly destroy or fill out voters’ ballots. Republican Mark Harris won the election by less than 1,000 votes, and it's well within reason that election fraud may have changed the result.
Fox has been notably close-lipped about election fraud in North Carolina, despite its usual interest in fearmongering about (virtually nonexistent) "voter fraud." When it has covered this possible crime, the network’s approach is apparently to mislead its audience and downplay the seriousness of the allegations.
SHANNON BREAM (HOST): OK, check this out. North Carolina state law prohibits anyone other than a voter, close family member, or their legal guardian from taking in and dropping off absentee ballots. But, a California law allows anyone, including political operatives, to collect and return ballots in the Golden State. The practice is called ballot harvesting. Now, it's causing tremors in a North Carolina district where Democrats are accusing Republicans of illegal ballot harvesting. Because it's different there in North Carolina, they're calling it voter fraud. So it's also sparking questions about how Democrats swept areas like Orange County, California. Lot to unpack there. Fox News politics editor Chris Stirewalt joins us now to help separate some fact from fiction.
CHRIS STIREWALT (FOX NEWS POLITICS EDITOR): And we should put out the allegations in North Carolina aren't just illegal because of state law -- it's different. We have voters -- so, what California allows is, in this ballot harvesting --
BREAM: You want to give your ballot to somebody you trust.
STIREWALT: Or also if I go to, let's say, a community center or a senior center or someplace and I say, OK, I am here. I'm a Democrat. You want to vote this way? I can help you, and then I can take them, and take them in. It's not -- it doesn't feel squeaky clean and super democratic, but that's what that is. What happens here are people say, I didn't request an absentee ballot. Somebody requested one in my name. It came to my address, and either they said fill this out or they just took it. They just took it and filled it out themselves and sent it in. This is real fraud.
BREAM: Yeah and so the race is so close, within 900 votes. You know, House Democrats are saying we're not going to seat this person, the Republican who is claiming victory, until we iron this out.
STIREWALT: It is not just House Democrats. It is a bipartisan state election commission in North Carolina.
BREAM: We need answers.
STIREWALT: There is some seriously rotten business that's going on here. And what compounds it, this was a hot primary. A longtime Republican incumbent, [Rep. Robert] Pittenger.
STIREWALT: This is the 9th District, north of Charlotte, that stretches out to the west. So Pittenger gets knocked off in a primary, narrowly. Now, did the same firm that Mark Harris, the guy who knocked off Pittenger, that he employed in that election, did they do the same thing in that county? And then we start looking back at elections and the same consultant doing the same stuff and we say, what the heck is going on here? They may have to re-vote.
BREAM: And if they do, people are saying this is going to turn into a totally different race. It's going to be nationalized, all kinds of outside money is going to pour in. And the people who show up for re-votes on something like this, they're not your average midterm voters, I mean, it's going to be a different kind of election.
STIREWALT: If they find fraud, I would also point out, it'll be a different kind of election because the Republican nominee will have been associated.
BREAM: He'd have problems, if he knew about it.
STIREWALT: Even if he didn't know about it, if his campaign did it, it will stink.
Charlotte’s WSOC has offered comprehensive coverage throughout the saga
In North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District, allegations of election fraud have been deemed serious enough that a bipartisan election board has refused to certify the unofficial Republican win, with state officials investigating reports that hundreds of absentee ballots from voters in Bladen and Robeson counties “were illegally cast or destroyed.” Despite the seriousness of the accusations, Fox News -- which usually trips over itself to focus on “voter fraud” -- has virtually ignored the story. Meanwhile, Charlotte television station WSOC, led by political reporter Joe Bruno, has skillfully taken the lead on covering the evolving story.
WSOC began reporting on the story as soon as the bipartisan State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement first refused to certify the election results on November 27, reporting that the board was investigating “possible fraud or corruption.”
The following day, Bruno, who has also been dutifully chronicling the story on Twitter, tweeted that the crux of the board’s investigation had to do with “irregularities involving absentee ballots.” In a segment later that night, WSOC’s Liz Foster reported on both this development and a response to the board’s decision from Republican Mark Harris, whom the unofficial count showed defeating Democrat Dan McCready by less than 1,000 votes.
On November 29, Bruno was the first to report on the the content of six sworn affidavits regarding the investigation that were submitted to the election board. On WSOC, Bruno explained that the documents suggest a man named Leslie McCrae Dowless Jr. may have hired up to 80 people to illegally collect and even fill out voters’ absentee ballots, potentially while working for the Harris campaign.
On November 30, Bruno conducted several on-the-ground interviews with the people who gave the affidavits. WSOC aired highlights of the interviews, which included a man saying a woman in a Mark Harris T-shirt came to his house to collect mail-in ballots.
Bruno reported that Dowless, the man at the center of the scandal, has done get-out-the-vote work for other candidates and has previously served jail time for perjury and fraud. Bruno also noted that in the primary election, Republican candidate Harris received a surprising 96 percent of Bladen County absentee mail-in votes, and in 2016, Republican candidate Todd Johnson, who finished third in the primary race, received 98 percent of Bladen County absentee mail-in votes while Dowless was doing get-out-the-vote work for him.
On December 3, Bruno was the first to speak to an absentee ballot witness who said Dowless hired her to collect ballots and deliver them to him. The woman told Bruno that she doesn’t know with certainty whether the votes were counted. She claimed that Dowless was working for Harris and the Republican candidate for sheriff, Jim McVicker.
WSOC’s reporting suggests that a partisan operative potentially on the payroll of multiple Republican campaigns directed people to collect and possibly destroy or fill out voters’ ballots, which is deeply concerning. And in a race as close as this, it’s possible that election fraud could have changed the result. As multiple national sources have relied on Bruno and WSOC in their own reporting, the station’s comprehensive coverage is another reminder of the importance of investing in local news and on-the-ground reporters.
In North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District -- where Republican Mark Harris seemingly defeated Democrat Dan McCready by less than 1,000 votes -- allegations of election fraud have been deemed serious enough that a bipartisan election board has refused to certify the results. Instead, the bipartisan State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement voted to hear evidence about “claims of irregularities and fraudulent activities” in the election. Fox News has almost completely ignored the allegations, despite the network’s usual interest in baseless fearmongering about “voter fraud.”
In the aftermath of the November election, state officials are investigating reports that hundreds of absentee ballots from 9th District voters in Bladen and Robeson counties “were illegally cast or destroyed.” One Bladen County voter, Datesha Montgomery, recounted that a woman came to her door and said she was collecting ballots in the area. When Montgomery explained that she had completed votes for only two of the races, the woman remarked that the other races weren’t important and said that she would finish the ballot for Montgomery. It is illegal in North Carolina to take someone else’s ballot and turn it in.
Additionally, a significant percentage of absentee ballots were requested but not cast in Bladen and Robeson counties -- more so than in any other county in the 9th District -- and Raleigh's The News & Observer found that “the unreturned ballots are disproportionately associated with minority voters.” In light of such accusations, election experts in North Carolina have noted that the Republican candidate received an unexpected proportion of absentee ballot votes in Bladen County: Harris received 61 percent of mail-in votes, but, as The New Yorker points out, only 19 percent of voters in Bladen County are registered Republicans. While the state’s election board hasn’t officially accused anyone of wrongdoing at this point, its refusal to certify the election results suggests that the board takes seriously the possibility that partisan actors collected and trashed absentee ballots of 9th District voters, possibly even filling out and casting ballots for them.
Despite the extremely serious nature of these allegations, and the wealth of evidence backing them up, Fox News has almost entirely ignored the story.
Fox has mentioned the allegations only once on air since the state election board announced it was investigating the results on November 27. Host Bret Baier spent less than 30 seconds discussing the story on Fox’s Special Report, but he did note that the state election board voted “to hear evidence on alleged absentee ballot irregularities.” Fox also posted one article about the story and one associated video on FoxNews.com.
Fox’s close-lipped stance is particularly noteworthy given the network’s major focus on right-wing allegations of voter fraud. Fox is more than happy to push dubious or baseless allegations of fraud and then quietly move on once they fall apart. For years, Fox guests and hosts have spewed voter fraud conspiracy theories, some of which are rooted in obvious racism, and many of which are used to argue for voter suppression tactics. The vast majority of Fox’s accusations fall flat, largely because in-person voter impersonation fraud -- the type that right-wing pundits most commonly fearmonger about -- is virtually nonexistent, and other types of fraud are exceedingly rare.
Fox’s interest in election integrity seems to cover only instances of alleged voter fraud by Democrats and not cases of apparent election fraud by partisan operatives who may have stolen, trashed, or illegally cast voters’ ballots. The network’s indifference is noteworthy, but it’s unsurprising given the close relationship between Fox News and the Republican Party.
Methodology: Media Matters searched Snapstream for mentions of McCready, North Carolina, Bladen, Robeson, ninth district, 9th district, and Harris (controlling for mentions of Fox’s Harris Faulkner) on Fox News from November 27 through the time of publication.
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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.”
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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.
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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.
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