Right-Wing Media Revive Discriminatory Effort To Discourage Early Voting

Right-Wing Media Revive Discriminatory Effort To Discourage Early Voting

››› ››› DINA RADTKE

Several Fox News hosts have recently been critical of early voting, a process that is especially important to voters of color who face systemic barriers to voting on Election Day. Fox hosts baselessly claimed that voters who already took advantage of early voting now want to change their votes and suggested voters “don’t know all of the information” prior to voting, which raises questions about “the wisdom of early voting.” Right-wing media figures’ contempt for early voting is not new.

Fox News Suggests Early Voting Might “Not Be Good For The Process”

Fox News’ Ainsley Earhardt Claims People Who Voted Early Are “Interested Now In Changing Their Votes.” Fox News host Ainsley Earhardt declared that many Americans “were voting for Hillary Clinton, and they're interested now in changing their votes,” citing Google search trends and providing no other evidence to substantiate the claim. From the November 2 edition of Fox News’ Fox & Friends:

STEVE DOOCY (CO-HOST): Usually Democrats lead in early voting. Republicans go to the polls the day of the voting.

[...]

AINSLEY EARHARDT (CO-HOST): We like to tell you news that you're interested in, obviously. If you go to Google and you see what you guys are searching for, so many of you are searching for “change early vote.” Look at the spike in that at the end of October a few days ago. That was after the FBI reopened the investigation on Clinton because many people out there in certain states were voting for Hillary Clinton, and they're interested now in changing their votes. [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 11/2/16]

Fox News’ Brit Hume: “Election Day Ought To Mean Something.” Fox News’ Brit Hume questioned “the wisdom of early voting,” asking, “Why would you have three debates if people will already have voted by the time the third one rolls around?” From the October 28 edition of Fox News’ On The Record:

BRIT HUME (HOST): It does raise an interesting question about the validity, the value, the wisdom of early voting. Wouldn't you say?

CHRIS WALLACE: Well, yes and no. I mean, look, they could have put this out the day of or something. I understand your point, which is that letting people vote weeks in advance, they don't know all the information. On the other hand, you do want to make it easier for people to vote who find it difficult to vote on a Tuesday, the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November.

HUME: We’re talking about -- but what we have in our country today is a situation in which people are voting, in some cases, before the first debate and certainly many people -- millions, perhaps -- voted long before all three debates have been concluded, which seems to me to be the kind of thing -- why would you have three debates if people will already have voted by the time the third one rolls around?

[...]

WALLACE: You know, let's say you said, “OK the day after [the last debate], you can start to vote.” To a certain degree you have got to allow the public, the voters to make up their minds with what's always going to be incomplete information. And are you going to say, “Well, but what if something comes out on the Friday 11 days before the election,” or I don't know where you would draw the line.

HUME: Obviously, it's possible that information can come out after the election that may make a lot of people consider. But I mean Election Day ought to mean something, it seems to me. [Fox News, On The Record, 10/28/16]

Fox Host Sandra Smith: Is Early Voting “Good For The Process?” On America’s Election Headquarters, Fox News host Sandra Smith explained that there is a “concerted effort to get people out to vote early” and asked South Carolina Republican Party Chairman Matt Moore whether it was “good for the process” because “a lot of minds can be changed in a couple weeks.” From the October 21 edition of Fox News’ America’s Election Headquarters:

SANDRA SMITH (HOST): This didn't just happen by mistake. This was a concerted effort to get people out to vote early.

MATT MOORE: Yeah, our party, particularly, has invested majorly in the past four years in data, digital, analytics, things that give candidates success. Giving them all the tools they need to be successful. Here in South Carolina, the Republican Party saw about a quarter million absentee applications. So far we’ve gotten back tens of thousands of those. We believe of the 48,000 or so votes cast already here in South Carolina for president that we lead by a significant margin, so we're very confident going to Election Day.

SMITH: So with just 18 days left to go until Election Day, you do wonder though, and there is a conversation going on because of these trends that we are seeing and record numbers of people voting early -- is that good for the process? Because a lot of minds can be changed in a couple weeks, and a lot still can happen. [Fox News, America’s Election Headquarters, 10/21/16]

Right-Wing Media Have A History Of Fearmongering About Early Voting

Hannity Guest: Democrats “Line Up” People And “March Them In And They Do Early Voting So They Can Control It.” Conservative commentator Dick Morris claimed that Hurricane Sandy in 2012 would hurt Obama’s chance at re-election because it would affect early voting, which according to Morris, Democrats seek to “control.” From the October 29, 2012, edition of Fox News’ Hannity:

DICK MORRIS: The other two things are that I think it's going to depress turnout in the Northeast, and that, of course, is Obama's base, and people who are suffering from hardship anyway might find it especially difficult to vote, and that could have an impact. The other is that throughout the country, Democrats try early voting. Now, Gallup says that at the moment Republicans are actually in the lead in early voting, but the point is Democrats worry that they'll get their base out. They line up the nursing home, or they line up the union members, and march them in, and they do early voting, so they can control it. The Republicans don't need to do that and probably can't do it anyway, and therefore, losing early voting will not be as significant for the Republicans. [Fox News, Hannity, 10/29/12]

Radio Host Rush Limbaugh: Early Voting Is "A Recipe For Cheating. It's One Of The Reasons It Exists." During the May 31 broadcast of his show, Rush Limbaugh said, "All of us know [Democrats] cheat. All of us know they engage in [unintelligible] -- they use fraud. They use early voting. It's a recipe for cheating. It's one of the reasons it exists." [Media Matters, 10/12/12; Premiere Radio Networks, The Rush Limbaugh Show, 5/31/12]

The Daily Caller's Matt Lewis: "Voters Are Casting Ballots Before They Have All The Information." Daily Caller senior contributor Matt Lewis generalized that because of early voting, “voters are casting ballots before they have all the information,” asking, “What if the world changes?” From a September 22, 2012, piece (bold original):

2. Voters are casting ballots before they have all the information.

In October, there will be three important presidential debates. But Americans who vote today can't take their votes back if they learn some disqualifying information between now and November 6. And even if the candidates don't introduce new information or commit some sort of gaffe, what if the world changes? (Four years ago today, for example, John McCain had not yet suspended his campaign to focus on the financial crisis.) [Media Matters, 10/12/12]; The Daily Caller, 9/22/12]

Fox's Lou Dobbs: I'm Concerned About "The Possibility Of Manipulation Of The Results That Comes With Early Voting." Discussing early voting with his guest, Fox Business host Lou Dobbs voiced unfounded concern “about the outcome and the capacity and exposure and the possibility of manipulation of the results that comes with early voting, in the minds of many." Dobbs piled on to his false claims about early voting, suggesting that it might “constrain” or “curtail” voting. From the September 24, 2012 edition of Fox Business Network’s Lou Dobbs Tonight:

LOU DOBBS (HOST): This early voting has reached a level of madness, has it not?

JAMES FREEMAN: Why?

DOBBS: It seems utterly ridiculous that you would have a group of people entitled to different privileges, for one right as a citizen, which is to vote and traditionally which has been on one day.

FREEMAN: Well, traditionally we left it up to the states to determine when and what the circumstances are. I think early voting -- there's a lot to recommend it. For example, if you could vote now and not have to listen to these guys for the next month and change, wouldn't you be happy?

[...]

DOBBS: I am a little more concerned about the outcome and the capacity and exposure and the possibility of manipulation of the results that comes with early voting in the minds of many.

FREEMAN: Well, that's a separate issue. I think --

DOBBS: Can we conflate it and just call it part of the deal?

[...]

FREEMAN: Do you feel you have not seen enough of the Obama presidency and of Mitt Romney to make a decision yet?

DOBBS: I really do not in any way think we should constrain or curtail this campaign whatsoever. I want to see. [Media Matters, 10/12/12; Fox Business, Lou Dobbs Tonight, 9/24/12]

Early Voting Is Of Particular Importance To Voters Of Color

Wash. Post: Early Voting “Addresses Systemic Barriers” Minority Voters Face. The Washington Post reported that after a Supreme Court order “halted the start of [Ohio’s] early voting,” civil rights advocates sued the state, arguing that the change would “harm minority and poor voters.” The Post explained that “minorities are among the largest beneficiaries of early voting” because it helps offset “costs associated with voting” such as “lost pay, in childcare, in transit fares,” that may serve as barriers for minority voters. From the September 30, 2014, Washington Post article:

Early voting is intimately bound up in race, not simply because minorities are more likely to take advantage of it, but because the policy itself addresses systemic barriers they face. When we decide to vote, we're not simply making a calculation about whether we like the candidates, or care about the issues at stake, or value the abstract idea of democracy. We also have to make calculations about how to get to the polls, whether we can spare the time to go there, and who will watch the kids while we're gone.

These costs associated with voting — in lost pay, in childcare, in transit fares — are higher for minorities and the poor. Which is why they are among the largest beneficiaries of early, flexible voting.

The reasons for this stem from deep-rooted inequalities that have seemingly little to do with voting. Minorities disproportionately work in non-salaried jobs where they're less likely to receive paid time off to travel to the polls on election day during business hours. An hourly cashier, for instance, has a lot less flexibility in when he or she shows up for work than a salaried businessman.

[...]

Early voting, in short, isn't merely a matter of convenience. It's a recognition of the fact that many forms of historic discrimination and economic inequality have also, as a downstream consequence, made it harder for minorities to vote. [The Washington Post, 9/30/14]

University Of Florida Research Found That Voters of Color In Florida Are “Heavy Users Of The Early Voting Option.” Research published in Scholars Strategy Network by Daniel A. Smith of the University of Florida found that when Republican Florida Gov. Rick Scott cut back the number of early voting days, the share of early voting by minorities dropped more drastically than that of white voters. From Smith’s March 2014 research:

Access to the ballot has expanded over the course of American history – but voting rights are also reversed from time to time. One of the most abrupt reversals occurred in Florida in 2011. Backed by Republican Governor Rick Scott, the state legislature reduced the number of early voting days from 14 to eight and eliminated in-person voting on the final Sunday before the Tuesday election. This change of course for ballot access was far from a nonpartisan move. As chair of the Florida GOP Jim Greer later explained, the “Republican Party, the strategists, the consultants… firmly believe that early voting is bad for Republican Party candidates.”

Did things turn out as the party honchos expected? Drawing on multiple slices of official statewide voter files, my colleague Michael Herron and I analyzed whether the retrenchment of early voting had differential effects for different groups of Florida voters. Our results indicate that shrinking the early voting period worked as its architects apparently intended. Early voting by minorities went down in 2012, and voters who had cast ballots on the final Sunday of early voting in 2008 ended up with especially low participation in the 2012 general election.

[...]

A comparison of early voting in 2008 and 2012 by black, Hispanic, and white Florida voters reveals some interesting patterns:

Black Floridians are heavy users of the early voting option. Blacks made up about 13 percent of Florida’s registered voter pool in 2008 and almost 14 percent in 2012, yet in both elections they made up about 22 percent of the early voters.

The percentage of all voters who used early voting dropped more sharply for minorities than for whites from 2008 to 2012. For blacks, the early voting share dropped from 35.7% to 31.6%; and for Hispanics, the early voting share dropped from 19.9% to 15.3%. But for whites, the early voting share went down only slightly from 18.5% to 17.6%. [Scholar Strategy Network, March 2014]

Latino Victory Project’s Cesar Blanco: In 2016 There Has Been High Early Voting Turnout Among Latinos. In an opinion piece for Univision.com, Latino electorate advocate Cesar Blanco wrote that, “133,000 Latinos submitted their vote, an increase of 99 percent compared to the data of 2012.” Translated from the November 1 piece:

We are going out to vote early, not only due to the fury that Trump has caused, but also because we want to send a clear message of strength and solidarity in opposition to racist politicians and to the politicians who have put their interests ahead of those of our community. Latinos are voting early to request accountability for the quality of our education, for the well-being of our environment, for the economic well-being of our families, and for the lack of immigration reform, among other issues.

In Florida, it was made known that on the first day of early elections, 133,000 Latinos submitted their vote, an increase of 99 percent compared to the data of 2012. In Colorado, there was an increase of 44 percent of votes submitted by mail in comparison to 2012. And in states like Arizona and California higher rates in the number of votes made during the early elections were also reported. [Univision.com, 11/1/16]

NY Times: “Cutbacks In Early Voting Periods … Disproportionately Affect Minorities.” The New York Times reported that “cutbacks in early voting periods” are among “a blizzard of more subtle changes” that Republicans have tried to use to suppress the minority vote. From the July 31 report:

But since the Supreme Court’s 5-to-4 ruling in the voting-rights case, Shelby County v. Holder, critics argue, the blatant efforts to keep minorities from voting have been supplanted by a blizzard of more subtle changes. Most conspicuous have been state efforts like voter ID laws or cutbacks in early voting periods, which critics say disproportionately affect minorities and the poor. Less apparent, but often just as contentious, have been numerous voting changes enacted in counties and towns across the South and elsewhere around the country.

They appear as Republican legislatures and election officials in the South and elsewhere have imposed statewide restrictions on voting that could depress turnout by minorities and other Democrat-leaning groups in a crucial presidential election year. Georgia and North Carolina, two states whose campaigns against so-called voter fraud have been cast by critics as aimed at black voters, could both be contested states in autumn’s presidential election. [The New York Times, 7/31/16]

ACLU: “Cutting Early Voting Is Voter Suppression.” According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), 32 percent of U.S. voters voted early in 2012, with the option benefiting “working people, senior citizens, people with disabilities, and all of us” because “cuts to early voting lead to longer lines and fewer voters,” noting that “229,947 people might have left in frustration over long lines if North Carolina’s early voting cuts had been in effect in 2012.” The ACLU laid out important statistics about early voting and minorities: “70 percent of black voters in North Carolina voted early in 2008 and 2012,” and “in 2012, black voters in Ohio voted early at more than 2 times the rate of white voters.” [American Civil Liberties Union, 2016]

MSNBC.com: Experts Say Early Voting Restrictions Have Disproportionate Impact On The Basis Of Race. An MSNBC article on early voting restrictions in North Carolina cited two top voting scholars, Ted Allen and Paul Gronke, who testified in a lawsuit against the laws because they suppressed legitimate votes. They argued that “the measure would make it harder to vote and that its impact would be felt disproportionately by non-whites.” Gronke’s study of early voting decline in 2012 in Florida showed that “after Florida cut back on early voting, its population of early voters became less black, and more white.” A Democratic National Committee study of the impact of a similar law in Ohio in 2004 found “wait times can dampen turnout.” From the April 2014 article:

If the cuts to early voting in North Carolina’s restrictive voting law had been in effect in 2012, Election Day wait times would have risen dramatically, a significant number of would-be voters would have given up in frustration—and African-American voters would have been hit hardest.

That’s according to two top voting scholars, whose testimony in the lawsuit seeking to overturn the measure was released Thursday by the ACLU, one of the groups leading the effort.

The law’s challengers, including the U.S. Justice Department, allege that it violates the Voting Rights Act, which bars racial discrimination in voting. The expert testimony of Ted Allen of Ohio State and Paul Gronke of Reed College is a key part of establishing both that the measure would make it harder to vote and that its impact would be felt disproportionately by non-whites.

[...]

The experience of Ohio in 2004 – when some voters in predominantly Democratic areas waited ten hours or more to vote – shows how wait times can dampen turnout. A DNC study estimated that 174,000 people left in frustration as a result of the lines.

In separate testimony, Gronke, a political scientist who is among the country’s leading experts on early voting, calculated that early voting turnout declined by 10.7% in Florida in 2012 after the state eliminated several days of early voting, hitting black voters hardest. “After Florida cut back on early voting, its population of early voters became less black, and more white,” Gronke writes. [Media Matters, 10/18/16; MSNBC.com, 4/17/14]

American Prospect: Voters Of Color Rely On Early Voting Significantly More Than Whites. The American Prospect’s Wendy Weiser wrote in 2014 that “the push to trim early voting provides another clear example of how new voting restrictions target minorities” given the benefits of early voting to all Americans but particularly minorities. From the October 1 article:

The push to trim early voting provides another clear example of how new voting restrictions target minorities. For more than two decades, states have been increasing early voting opportunities. In fact, most states now offer early voting, and in the last two presidential elections, a full one-third of Americans voted early. The reason for this expansion? Early voting works well—voters like it, election officials like it, and it improves the election system. It is so non-controversial that the bipartisan Presidential Commission on Election Administration recently recommended that all states adopt it to prevent long lines at the polls.

Despite this consensus, after the 2008 election, support for early voting eroded among Republican legislators in the South and Midwest. What changed? For the first time, African Americans had begun voting early at high rates. In Southern states, early voting by African Americans nearly tripled between 2004 and 2008, overtaking early voting by whites by a significant margin. In North Carolina, for example, seven in ten African Americans voted early in 2008, as compared to half of white voters. And while Republicans have traditionally been more likely to vote early, in 2008 Democratic early votes exceeded Republican ones.

Just as early voting has become successful among minorities and lower-income voters, it has become a target. Since 2011, eight states that saw recent increases in minority early voting usage have sharply cut back on early voting hours and days—Florida, Georgia, Nebraska, North Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee, West Virginia, and Wisconsin. Generally, the days and hours most likely to be slashed were those most popular with minorities and hourly workers, like Sundays and evenings. According to a 2008 Ohio study, 56 percent of weekend voters in Cuyahoga County, the state’s most populous, were black. [The American Prospect, 10/1/14]

Evidence Suggests There Are Prohibited Motivations Behind Early Voting Restrictions

Reuters: Republicans May Have Lobbied To Limit Early Voting In North Carolina To Obstruct Voters Of Color. A report from Reuters found emails between Republican officials in North Carolina who attacked fellow Republican Bill McAnulty, a county elections board chairman, for suggesting to “open a Sunday voting site where black church members could cast ballots after services.” Reuters wrote that the “blowback from Republicans” “was swift.” From the November 3 article:

When Bill McAnulty, an elections board chairman in a mostly white North Carolina county, agreed in July to open a Sunday voting site where black church members could cast ballots after services, the reaction was swift: he was labeled a traitor by his fellow Republicans.

"I became a villain, quite frankly," recalled McAnulty at a state board of elections meeting in September that had been called to resolve disputes over early voting plans. "I got accused of being a traitor and everything else by the Republican Party," McAnulty said.

Following the blowback from Republicans, McAnulty later withdrew his support for the Sunday site.

[...]

In emails, state and county Republican officials lobbied members of at least 17 county election boards to keep early-voting sites open for shorter hours on weekends and in evenings – times that usually see disproportionately high turnout by Democratic voters. Reuters obtained the emails through a public records request.

The officials also urged county election boards to open fewer sites for residents to cast ballots during early voting that began on Oct. 20 and ends on Saturday. [Reuters, 11/3/16]

Voting Expert Wendy Weiser: "It Just So Happened That This Was The First Time That Early Voting Had Been Used In Large Numbers To Mobilize African American And Latino Voters." In an August 18 Huffington Post article, Washington correspondent Dan Froomkin reported that early voting had been used in 2008 to mobilize African-American and Latino voters and quoted professor Paul Gronke, who runs the nonpartisan Early Voting Information Center at Reed College in Oregon, stating that there seem to be"partisan motivations" behind efforts to limit early voting:

Early voting started off a wildly popular, bipartisan element of voting reform. Indeed, of all the voting reforms this country has seen over the last decades, early voting is easily the most unassailable. It makes voting more convenient for the public and makes Election Day easier for election officials. Because it generally happens at board of elections offices, it takes notoriously unreliable volunteer poll workers out of the picture.

But Republican leaders cooled on the idea after 2008. "It just so happened that this was the first time that early voting had been used in large numbers to mobilize African American and Latino voters," said Wendy Weiser, who directs the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law.

After the GOP won control of many statehouses in 2010, rolling back early voting became a top legislative priority. That meant reducing the period for early in-person voting in Florida from 14 to 8 days, and in Ohio, from 35 to 11. And no voting on Sunday before the election.

"I try to be an objective observer," said professor Paul Gronke, who runs the nonpartisan Early Voting Information Center at Reed College in Oregon. "But the objective facts indicate there seem to be partisan motivations behind the ratcheting back of early in-person voting." [Media Matters, 10/12/12; The Huffington Post, 8/18/12]

Rolling Stone: "Republican Officials Have Launched An Unprecedented, Centrally Coordinated Campaign To Suppress The Elements Of The Democratic Vote." In 2011, Rolling Stone detailed how Republicans have coordinated to implement new voting restrictions for the 2012 election, noting that they supported greater early voting access until it helped President Obama win in 2008 in states where voters of color disproportionately utilized the option:

As the nation gears up for the 2012 presidential election, Republican officials have launched an unprecedented, centrally coordinated campaign to suppress the elements of the Democratic vote that elected Barack Obama in 2008.

[...]

After the recount debacle in Florida in 2000, allowing voters to cast their ballots early emerged as a popular bipartisan reform. Early voting not only meant shorter lines on Election Day, it has helped boost turnout in a number of states--the true measure of a successful democracy. "I think it's great," Jeb Bush said in 2004. "It's another reform we added that has helped provide access to the polls and provide a convenience. And we're going to have a high voter turnout here, and I think that's wonderful."

But Republican support for early voting vanished after Obama utilized it as a key part of his strategy in 2008. Nearly 30 percent of the electorate voted early that year, and they favored Obama over McCain by 10 points. The strategy proved especially effective in Florida, where blacks outnumbered whites by two to one among early voters, and in Ohio, where Obama received fewer votes than McCain on Election Day but ended up winning by 263,000 ballots, thanks to his advantage among early voters in urban areas like Cleveland and Columbus.

[...]

[T]here appears to be nothing to justify the changes other than pure politics. "There is no evidence that any form of convenience voting has led to higher levels of fraud," reports the Early Voting Information Center at Reed College. [Media Matters, 10/12/12; Rolling Stone, 8/30/11]

We've changed our commenting system to Disqus.
Instructions for signing up and claiming your comment history are located here.
Updated rules for commenting are here.