Sean Hannity claims the Beto O'Rourke campaign asked for volunteers to transport undocumented immigrants to polling booths. It didn't happen.
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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.
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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.
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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:
The longest mention was a meager 20 seconds on NBC’s Meet The Press. Other shows were worse.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
Giving the vote to felons almost certainly flipped Virginia's House of Delegates. To paraphrase a Florida senator, the Democrats knew exactly what they were doing. https://t.co/Ykmpm9u3FO
— Tucker Carlson (@TuckerCarlson) December 20, 2017
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.