James O'Keefe And NRO Just Straight Up Confused About The New Voting Rights Bill

James O'Keefe, a right-wing performance artist known for his undercover videos that supposedly “expose” progressive “fraud,” has released a new video falsely accusing conservative Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) of “excluding whites” from protection under his new Voting Rights Amendment Act (VRAA), a distortion of this bipartisan bill that has already been repeated in the National Review Online.

O'Keefe's new video shows him mysteriously dressed in camouflage, dancing to New Order's “Round and Round,” and ultimately “confronting” Sensenbrenner at a town hall meeting about supposedly alarming anti-white language in the VRAA. Sensenbrenner, as he has in the past, began working on both sides of the aisle on this new VRA legislation last year, after the Supreme Court gutted crucial voter suppression protections in Shelby County v. Holder.

In the video, O'Keefe lectures Sensenbrenner on his own bill, claiming that "[i]n the legislation, it seems to contain language that explicitly removes white people from the protections of the Voting Rights Act." Sensenbrenner interrupts O'Keefe to correctly point out that the law “does not do that. There is nothing targeting people by race in the Voting Rights Act.” O'Keefe eventually accuses Sensenbrenner of “doing the work of [U.S. Attorney General] Eric Holder and the race-hustlers with this language in the bill.”

The idea that Sensenbrenner's proposed update to the Voting Rights Act in the wake of Shelby County might provide more voting protections to one racial group over another, in recognition of past and ongoing voter suppression, was apparently too much for current Fox News contributor J. Christian Adams to resist. In his National Review Online article posted March 5, Adams jumped at the opportunity to join the attack on Sensenbrenner, posting O'Keefe's bizarre video and repeating the claim that Sensenbrenner's amendment is “explicit that whites cannot be protected under the law.”

The problem here is that both O'Keefe and Adams are grossly misreading the bill.

The mention of “white” that O'Keefe's production team even helpfully displayed on-screen is from the “definitions” section of the amendment, specifically as a routine explanation for what the terms “minority” and “nonminority” mean. From the “other definitions” section of Sensenbrenner's VRA bill that O'Keefe and Adams cite:

(6) Other definitions. -- In this subsection, the following definitions apply:

(B) The term 'minority' means persons who identify themselves as being -- 

(i) of Hispanic or Latino origin;

(ii) of a race other than white; or

(iii) of 2 or more races.

(C) The term “nonminority” means persons who identify themselves as being --

(i) not of Hispanic or Latino origin;

(ii) white; and

(iii) not of any other race.

What O'Keefe fails to realize is that these definitions are not used for targeting anyone, but rather is used for measuring disparities in different demographic turnout rates, a task that is impossible without defining what the differing demographics are. Measuring and ameliorating potential civil rights violations is the entire point of a civil rights bill.

Contrary to O'Keefe's claim, whites are still fully covered by VRAA protections, which is precisely why Sensenbrenner denied the “reverse racism” charge. As reported by those actually familiar with the law, if certain demographics that have been historically discriminated against are turning out to vote at a disproportionately low rate, this will be included as one of many factors to determine if federal supervision for everyone is necessary. By itself, low minority turnout is not a trigger, and nonminority voters will not be deprived of voting rights.

From other sections of the bill ignored by O'Keefe:

(B) APPLICATION TO SPECIFIC POLITICAL SUBDIVISIONS. -- Subsection (a) applies with respect to a political subdivision during a calendar year if --

(i) 3 or more voting rights violations occurred in the subdivision during the previous 15 calendar years; or

(ii) 1 or more voting rights violations occurred in the subdivision during the previous 15 calendar years and the subdivision had persistent, extremely low minority turnout during the previous 15 calendar years.

Sensenbrenner, who used to be a favorite guest on Fox News, has apparently been permanently disinvited from appearing on the network to explain voting rights after he announced his support for updating the VRA to comply with the Court's ruling in Shelby County. Maybe if this de facto ban is lifted, O'Keefe and his supporters won't be so confused in the future.