Voting Rights & Issues

Issues ››› Voting Rights & Issues
  • “Guns Down” Project To Fight Back Against Firearm-Related Voter Intimidation On Election Day

    Voters Can Text “GUNSDOWN” To 91990 To Report “Poll Watchers” Who Use Firearms And Other Means To Intimidate

    Blog ››› ››› TIMOTHY JOHNSON

    Amid heightened concerns about voter intimidation involving the open carrying of firearms at polling locations on Election Day, a project called Guns Down is providing a resource for voters to report intimidation to voter protection advocates and to share their experiences on social media.

    According to The Washington Post, “many election officials across the country are, for the very first time, bracing for intimidation or even violence on Election Day,” and these fears are compounded given that “most states have no laws regarding guns in polling places.”

    Under federal law it is illegal to intimidate people trying to vote with guns or by other means.

    Yet the Post reports that  “state laws about guns and voter intimidation are a patchwork of wildly varying regulations,” and determinations of violations of voter intimidation laws can be difficult to ascertain because each one is “a fact-sensitive, context-based decision,” according to UCLA law professor Adam Winkler.(Further complicating determinations are discordant federal appeals courts rulings on what behavior constitutes voter intimidation).

    This state of affairs has created an opening for individuals who wish to intimidate voters with guns at the polls while retaining some semblance of plausible deniability concerning the legality of their actions.

    Voters who text “GUNSDOWN” to 91990 will receive information on a national voter protection hotline (866-OUR-VOTE) operated by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights. Appropriate reports will be passed on to law enforcement and election officials, and voters will have the opportunity, if they feel safe doing so, to share photos of voter intimidation on social media.

    The project’s launch comes as several disturbing news reports raise the prospect of people carrying guns at the polls and engaging in other instances of possible voter intimidation -- including calls from racist far-right  media outlets for an “army” of white nationalists to “watch” the polls:

    • Talking Points Memo reported that “some armed Trump supporters have shown an interest in making their presence known at voting sites,” and quoted NAACP Legal Defense Fund attorney Deuel Ross saying, “The idea that people would be standing outside the polls with guns, or even inside the polls with guns, clearly has the potential to turn people away. There’s a long history of this.”

    • The Trace spoke to gun activists who said that “some gun owners will bring their weapons with them to vote in places where they are allowed to do so” but claimed that these people would not bring weapons for the purpose of intimidation.

    • Stewart Rhodes, the leader of extremist group Oath Keepers, announced “Operation Sabot 2016,” instructing members to “go out into public on election day, dressed to blend in with the public … with video, still camera, and notepad in hand, to look for and document suspected criminal vote fraud or intimidation activities.” (A sabot is a device that helps keep a projectile centered as it passes through the barrel of a firearm or other delivery mechanism.) Rhodes told members not to bring guns, but the Oath Keepers are closely associated with open carry protests, including the open carrying of firearms during unrest in Ferguson, MO.

    • Virginia election officials are “worried about conflicts at the polls after Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump urged his supporters to ‘watch’ others at the voting booths,” according to The Washington Post. The Prince William County electoral board pushed for a one-day ban on guns at polling places but was rebuffed by a Republican lawmaker who said the board did not have the authority to enact a ban.

    • White nationalist media including The Daily Stormer and its neo-Nazi founder, Andrew Anglin, and anti-Semitic “alt-right” news website The Right Stuff are planning to send “an army of Alt-Right nationalists to watch the polls.” According to Politico, the plans include setting up “hidden cameras at polling places in Philadelphia” and distributing marijuana and alcohol in the “ghetto.” Politico also reported, “The National Socialist Movement, various factions of the Ku Klux Klan and the white nationalist American Freedom Party all are deploying members to watch polls.” According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the National Socialist Movement “specializes in theatrical and provocative protests.”

    • Neo-Nazi news website Infostormer sent “a little message for the Kikes who monitor this site on behalf of the SPLC, [Anti-Defamation League], and various other evil organizations” that “on November 8th, we will have a legitimate ARMY of supporters out in the streets to show solidarity with President (he’s going to win this) Donald J. Trump,” while claiming that neo-Nazi poll watchers will not engage in any illegal activity. The author of the November 2 article also wrote that his “pet idea is more on the lines of convincing (successfully so far) low IQ subhumans and White traitors that the actual Election Day is on November 9th, absentee voting will be allowed in all states until 11 PM on the 8th, and that thousands of KKK members are sealing off polling locations in cahoots with law enforcement.”

  • VIDEO: Strict Voter ID Laws Are The New Jim Crow Laws

    Right-Wing Media Falsely Cry “Voter Fraud” To Keep Citizens From Voting

    Blog ››› ››› DAYANITA RAMESH, COLEMAN LOWNDES & JOHN KERR

    Thirty-four states currently have voter ID laws, and 32 will be in effect on Election Day. These laws require voters to present some form of identification document when going to vote -- a step beyond the "non-documentary" identity verification requirements used across the country. Right-wing media have played an important role in making it hard for certain Americans to vote. They tout the necessity of the most restrictive voter ID requirements to supposedly thwart voter fraud, while dismissing the risk of voter disenfranchisement that accompanies these strict voter ID laws as a “myth.”

    Just as Jim Crow laws denied the right to vote through literacy tests, poll taxes, the grandfather clause and violence, strict voter ID laws unfairly target minorities, especially Latinos and African-Americans. Communities of color are more affected than other groups by these unnecessary and redundant voting restrictions because many Latinos and African-Americans disproportionately lack access to the required form of photo IDs or the personal documentation needed to obtain them, or they just don’t have the necessary information on how to get them. This is how strict voter ID laws harm voters:

    1. Strict voter ID laws target the poorest voters, according to the Brennan Center for Justice: “More than 1 million eligible voters [in states with the most restrictive laws] fall below the federal poverty line. … Birth certificates can cost between $8 and $25. Marriage licenses, required for married women whose birth certificates include a maiden name, can cost between $8 and $20,” compared with the poll tax during the Jim Crow era, which “cost $10.64 in current dollars.”

    2. Strict voter ID laws target minorities, the Brennan Center reports: “In the 10 states with restrictive voter laws, ... 1.2 million eligible black voters and 500,000 eligible Hispanic voters live more than 10 miles from their nearest ID-issuing office open more than two days a week.” Plus, many of these offices that issue IDs maintain limited business hours, making it harder for those “in rural regions with the highest concentrations of people of color and people in poverty” to get there during open hours.

    3. Strict voter ID laws can cause serious confusion. For example, in Texas, “half of the residents who said they didn’t vote in 2014 because they lacked a voter ID actually had an acceptable ID and didn’t know it.”

    Lawmakers in states with voter ID laws echo right-wing media by claiming they are preventing voter fraud, but many have openly admitted that these laws are just meant to prevent people from showing up, so as to sway an election. In addition, these photo requirements would prevent only voter impersonation -- a type of in-person voter fraud that is virtually nonexistent. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was enacted to protect voters from barriers to voting and was used to challenge these overly restrictive laws, but it’s been under attack, and those efforts have drawn support from Chief Justice John G Roberts and a conservative majority of the Supreme Court. Roberts questioned the necessity of the act, claiming that “nearly 50 years later, things have changed dramatically.”

    Expanding the right to vote to include all Americans has been a long process, requiring excluded communities to clear countless barriers and hurdles to ensure that all people can make their voice heard on Election Day.

    Video transcript:

    It's almost Election Day, so let's talk about the right to vote in the United States.

    Right-wing media have long claimed that the integrity of elections in the U.S. is at stake due to rampant voter fraud and have called for more requirements to vote, like voter ID laws, for example.

    Voting is a right, but it’s not always easy for some people to get to the voting booth.

    As you might know, the right to vote began in America as a legal privilege exclusively available to white, property-owning Protestant men.

    And all white men would gain the right to vote with the passage of the 14th Amendment in 1868.

    The 15th Amendment passed in 1870, giving freed male slaves the right to vote.

    However, many states enacted Jim Crow laws, which were a formal, codified system of racial apartheid that also systematically denied the right to vote through the use of literacy tests, poll taxes, the grandfather clause and other racially motivated criteria.

    People also threatened black voters with violence if they tried to enter a polling station.

    Or worse, acted on these threats.

    Women gained the right in 1920, and it wasn’t until 1965 that the Voting Rights Act was signed, which helped strike down Jim Crow laws and enforced the 14th and 15th amendments.

    But while states can no longer force people to take literacy tests, they can still pass voter ID laws.

    And just like Jim Crow laws, strict voter ID laws intentionally and unfairly target communities of color, because, more often than other groups, they lack the resources to get proper IDs.

    Today, 34 states have voter identification laws requirements on the books.

    Lawmakers in states with additional identification requirements claim they are preventing voter fraud, but many have openly admitted that these laws are just meant to prevent people from showing up -- as a way to sway an election.

    Former North Carolina GOP precinct chair Don Yelton: “The law is going to kick the Democrats in the butt. If it hurts a bunch of college kids that’s too lazy to get up off their bohunkus and go get a photo ID, so be it. If it hurts the whites, so be it. If it hurts a bunch of lazy blacks that wants the government to give them everything, so be it.”

    In-person voter fraud -- which strict photo voter ID laws are supposed to stop -- does not exist. A recent study found 31 incidents of in-person voter fraud out of more than 1 billion ballots cast.

    Another study from the Brennan Center for Justice found that the chance of someone impersonating someone else to vote is less likely than you getting struck by lightning.

    Attacks on the Voting Rights Act have drawn support from Chief Justice John G Roberts, who questioned the necessity of the act, claiming that, quote, “nearly 50 years later, things have changed dramatically.”

    Strict voter ID requirements are dangerous, misguided and a step backward. These laws present substantial barriers to voting and negatively affect voter participation.

    The history of the United States is characterized by a gradual expansion of voting rights.

    As democracy continues to evolve, the right to vote has been expanded to include more and more Americans.

    Don’t take your right to vote for granted.

  • Pundits Credited Trump With Not Creating His Own Controversy This Weekend. Here's What They Ignored.

    Joe Scarborough, Brian Kilmeade Congratulate Trump For Not Making A Mess

    ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN

    Some media figures praised Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump for not making “himself the story” this past weekend and thus allowing the press to focus on the news regarding the FBI’s investigation of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s private email server. But in doing so they ignored a series of outrageous claims Trump made, including his baseless comment that Clinton could “triple the size of our country in one week” by admitting “650 million” immigrants, his call to reinstate banned torture techniques, and his accusation that Twitter, Google, and Facebook are burying new developments in the FBI probe.

  • Election Experts: Trump Ally Roger Stone’s Exit Polling Plan Smacks Of “Intimidation”

    Expert: "There Is Little Doubt That Any Such ‘Exit Polling’ Would Be Extremely Biased"

    Blog ››› ››› JOE STRUPP

    Election experts and polling veterans tell Media Matters that the plan by longtime Donald Trump adviser and friend Roger Stone to unleash hundreds of untrained “exit poll” watchers in search of vote theft on Election Day risks intimidating voters in the targeted communities. They also explain that unprofessional exit polling is a nonsensical way to discover alleged voter fraud and vote rigging, which is "extremely rare" in the first place.

    Stone, an ardent conspiracy theorist and devoted Trump ally, has for months been warning that Democrats are planning to “rig” and “steal” the election for Hillary Clinton. (Trump has echoed this warning in numerous campaign rallies.)

    Stone heads the 527 group Stop the Steal, which has announced plans to conduct “targeted EXIT-POLLING in targeted states and targeted localities that we believe the Democrats could manipulate based on their local control, to determine if the results of the vote have been skewed by manipulation.” The Guardian, in a piece that quoted several experts raising concerns about Stone’s proposal, noted that Stone and his group plan to “conduct exit polling in Cleveland, Detroit, Philadelphia, Las Vegas, Milwaukee, Fort Lauderdale, Charlotte, Richmond and Fayetteville – all locations in pivotal swing states." Stone has been recruiting volunteers for the project from far-right sources like the audience of conspiracy theorist Alex Jones' radio program. 

    After the Huffington Post raised concerns about plans listed on Stop the Steal to have election-watchers wear official-looking ID badges and videotape inside polling places, Stone said he “ordered them taken down” from the site and stressed that he would “operate within the confines of election law.”

    But the underlying plan to conduct amateur exit polling is still extremely problematic, several election law experts and polling veterans told Media Matters.  

    “From what I’ve read about it, this doesn’t sound like exit polling of the traditional sense, it sounds to me as if there is a targeting of certain communities, primarily minority communities and we fear this is going to have an intimidating effect,” Ezra Rosenberg, co-director of the Voting Rights Project of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law said in an interview. “Voters are supposed to be free in their voting. This seems to be pointed in absolutely the wrong direction.”

    He later added, “We certainly do have a fear of intimidation when they focus on areas of disproportionately large minority populations. It is just wrong. It has an intimidating effect.”

    Alan Abramowitz, an Emory University political science professor and author of Voice of the People: Elections and Voting Behavior in the United States, said he was “very skeptical about the accuracy of any exit polling conducted by Mr. Stone and his allies. He is a well-known right-wing provocateur and there is little doubt that any such ‘exit polling’ would be extremely biased.”

    “The kind of vote fraud Trump and Stone have been warning about is, in fact, extremely rare. There are lots of real problems with the way elections are conducted in the U.S., but that is not one of them," Abramowitz said. 

    Rick Hasen, a professor and political campaign expert at the University of California, Irvine, School of Law, likened Stone’s plan to a “goon squad.”

    ”It does not sound like a sensible exit polling strategy,” he said. “Why target only these nine cities? Exit polling is best to get a snapshot of the electorate, not to ferret out supposed voter fraud. Impersonation fraud -- the kind of fraud Trump and his allies have been talking about -- is extremely rare and I can’t find evidence it has been used to try to sway an election at least since the 1980s.”

    Richard Benedetto, professor of journalism at American University School of Public Affairs, disputed that any of Stone’s methods could wind up helping a legal challenge of the election results.

    “It won’t be an admissible thing in court, you need to be able to prove real fraud, not hearsay stuff,” Benedetto said. “That the people who voted were not the actual people, you have to have evidence of that. There is a lot of exit polling that goes on and most of it is pretty bad, most of it is unscientific. You have to have a scientific sample.”

    Lorraine Minnite, a professor of public policy at Rutgers University, Camden, conducted exit polls in New York as a political science professor at Barnard College. She said Stone’s lack of credibility hurts any such effort by him to examine the voting.

    “It doesn’t sound like what they are doing is an exit poll,” she said in an interview. “He is not a credible person when it comes to elections and campaign tactics.”

    As for claims of voter fraud, she said, “That’s not factually accurate and there is no evidence to support a claim like that. It doesn’t make any sense. If what is happening is voter imposters, I don’t understand how somebody doing an exit poll is going to uncover that.” 

    Nate Persily is a Stanford Law School professor and elections expert who also served as the Senior Research Director for the Presidential Commission on Election Administration after the 2012 election. He called in person voter fraud “incredibly rare.”

    “In person voter fraud at polling places … is a terribly inefficient (and easily discoverable) way to rig an election,” Persily said via email. “It would require enlisting hordes of voters to go from polling place to polling place pretending to be someone they are not.”

  • VIDEO: Debunking The "Rigged Election" Horror Story

    Blog ››› ››› CARLOS MAZA & COLEMAN LOWNDES

    Donald Trump’s “rigged election” shtick is the product of years of conservative fearmongering about voter fraud and election stealing, and it poses a unique challenge to journalists who want to ensure voter confidence in the election process.

    Faced with dismal polling numbers in the final weeks of his presidential campaign, Trump has resorted to telling his supporters that the election will be “rigged” -- stolen from him because of widespread voter fraud. He’s repeated that warning frequently on the campaign trail, and nearly half of his supporters now believe him.

    The voter fraud talking point – the idea that Democrats will use voters who lie about their identities, dead voters, or undocumented immigrants to cast fraudulent ballots -- has been debunked ad nauseum in research, court decisions, and expert testimony. Politifact rated Trump’s “rigged election” claim a “pants on fire” lie, stating there’s simply no evidence that widespread voter fraud is a real problem, especially in presidential elections.

    But even before Trump’s campaign, a growing number of primarily Republican voters began to believe that voter fraud is a widespread problem.

    That’s thanks in part to conservative media’s near-constant, baseless fear mongering about voter fraud over the past few election cycles. Right-wing outlets, and especially Fox News, have bombarded audiences with exaggerated or misleading claims of voter fraud to create the impression that Democratic victories at the ballot box are largely the result of illegal election rigging. Stories about dead or non-eligible or non-existent voters appearing on voter rolls are regularly touted as proof of nefarious activity, even though those voter registrations never actually translate into votes.

    The most memorable example of this kind of fear mongering came during the 2008 controversy surrounding the non-profit group ACORN. A number of ACORN voter registration employees had been discovered submitting false or duplicate voter registration forms (the laws in many states require third parties who register voters to submit all forms they receive). Fox News devoted countless segments to the story in order to hype hysteria about widespread voter fraud, despite the fact that those forms never produced an actual fraudulent vote. ACORN was eventually cleared of charges of orchestrating voter fraud, but half of all Republican voters still believed ACORN helped steal the election for President Obama in 2012 -- two years after ACORN had closed down.

    Misinformation about voter fraud isn’t only the fault of conservative media. As GOP statehouses across the country have pushed for restrictive voter ID laws -- laws aimed at disenfranchising typically Democratic voters -- local news outlets have repeated Republican talking points about the threat of voter fraud without fact-checking them.

    That kind of round-the-clock saturation helps explain why so many voters have started to doubt the integrity of elections without evidence that it is a problem. And that doubt poses a real threat to a democracy, which relies on voters trusting and accepting the outcomes of elections.

    Trump’s “rigged election” shtick is just one element of a broader problem with media coverage of voter fraud. Regardless of who wins in November, journalists are going to have to be a lot more aggressive about fact-checking right-wing horror stories if they want to restore voter confidence in the election process.

  • Fox Pushes Lie That George Soros Is Using Voting Machines To Rig The Election

    ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN

    Fox & Friends hosts falsely speculated that billionaire and Democratic Party donor George Soros is manipulating voting machines that they claimed he owns in order to rig the 2016 elections and push his “agenda.” In fact, Soros does not have any ownership in the company he is alleged to control voting machines through, and the company’s voting machines are not even being used in the 2016 election.

  • Right-Wing Media Figures Conflate “Voter Fraud” With Voter Registration Inaccuracies

    Fox News Host: “That's Troubling. I Only Know Of One Person That Has Risen From The Dead, So 20, That's A Problem”

    ››› ››› NICK FERNANDEZ & CAT DUFFY

    Right-wing media have baselessly stoked fears of widespread voter fraud based on out-of-date or inaccurate voter registration rolls to defend Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s claims that “dead people” and “illegal aliens” are voting. But in doing so they’ve falsely conflated possible registration fraud with the practice of in-person voter fraud; both types are rare, and the latter is virtually nonexistent.