Stopping Voter Suppression: The Press Gets It Right In Virginia

Cross-posted at Project Vote's blog, Voting Matters

Weekly Voting Rights News Update

By Erin Ferns and Nathan Henderson-James

We spend a lot of time in these news updates showing how charges of voter fraud are used to discredit voter participation efforts and prime the pump for voter suppression efforts, such as the passage of voter ID bills, pushing for proof of citizenship, engaging in draconian voter purge efforts, and imposing sever restrictions on voter registration drives. We have also spent a lot of time carefully delineating the politics behind these efforts, starting with our March 2007 report The Politics Of Voter Fraud and continuing on in these diaries to name but two venues.

What is striking about how the process of disenfranchisement and voter suppression works is how much it relies upon the media to repeat and amplify the breathless and hyperbolic accusations of so-called voter fraud against voter registration drives. If journalists were to spend any time at all investigating the sensational claims - often made by people with a direct partisan interest in the outcome of an election - they would find that the accusations are mostly taken out of context, are limited to a few instances, and have never, ever, been proven to have resulted in any fraudulent vote being cast.

Sadly, the history of this issue shows that it has been bereft of this kind of basic journalism, even through the 2006 mid-term elections. This is important because haphazard reporting of partisan claims of voter fraud without checking the facts is how the media helps these voter suppression efforts. These stories not only deter potential voters from getting on the rolls, but, as noted above, inspire bad election reforms aimed at disenfranchising voters, particularly those that are currently underrepresented in the electorate.

A prime example of this kind of lazy journalism in recent weeks comes from Las Vegas where local reporters simply repeated accusations of fraud made by the Clark County clerk against ACORN without even bothering to contact ACORN to see how their drive was being managed.

The group's registration drive has reached one million voters nationwide [Full disclosure – it is run under a Joint Effort Agreement with Project Vote. –ed.] and, according to one article, election officials see “rampant fraud” in the 2,000 – 3,000 cards submitted by the group each week in Las Vegas. This week, the Associated Press reported that the state set up a “voter fraud task force” to look for “election irregularities and instances of questionable voter registration and intimidation,” directly citing issues with voter registration drives. Neither of these Nevada reports provided the facts of voter fraud, what it is and how it relates to the voter registration process. Most importantly, neither reports cite real examples of the intentional casting of an illegal ballot – the real definition of voter fraud – in the state.

However, it may be that the hard work Project Vote and others – including the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University, DEMOS, and the Advancement Project - have engaged in over the past few years debunking the voter fraud myth is beginning to change the way journalists approach these stories.

This week, several publications broke this trend by debunking recent Virginia GOP allegations of widespread voter fraud as a result of massive voter registration drives that primarily target youth, low income and minority communities – constituencies that have a long history of being underrepresented on the voting rolls and in the voting booth.

Since the beginning of the year, an unprecedented 147,000 people - “almost half under the age of 25” - registered to vote in Virginia, according to Monday's Washington Post lead editorial. Pointing to a recent incident where three members of the Community Voters Project were arrested for falsifying voter registration cards, Republican Party chairman, Del. Jeffrey Frederick of Prince William County claims widespread voter fraud is a hidden agenda in voter registration drives. [CORRECTION: The original Washington Post editorial identified the wrong organization. The Community Voting Project is a project of the Center for Community Change. It is not affiliated with the Community Voters Project and was not involved in this incident].

Remarkably, however, this time the press decided to investigate this inflammatory accusation. This charge is “utterly baseless” and is “unsupported by election officials, police or prosecutors,” the Post notes in the editorial. In fact, the Post described the accusation as an exercise in “fear mongering” by Frederick, amplified by his allegations that citizens who register with these drives are also vulnerable to identity theft, a claim that amounts to nothing more than “a classic attempt to suppress votes,” the Post editorialized.

Bob Bauer, at his Web site, www.MoreSoftMoneyHardLaw.com, takes the critique one step further, looking at both the accusations and the Post’s coverage. “And the Post omits mention of another feature of Fredericks' suppression gambit,” wrote the election law attorney. “He also called for an 'investigation,' well understanding that his words would creep into the press on his remarks and filter out into the electorate.”

In a prime example of the kind of journalism that should happen as a matter of course when these kinds of serious allegations are made, a Virginia reporter for the Danville Register & Bee reached out to local registrars to get a real idea of the voter registration process and how unlikely it is to lead to voter fraud.

“'It's not easy to falsely register somebody,' said Pittsylvania County Registrar Jenny Saunders, who explained that in addition to the registrar going over the application for obvious errors (like missed questions), there's a statewide database all applications are checked against.”

Partisans out for political gain perpetuate fear about the integrity of the election system, something that the media often picks up unfiltered. “In fact,” the Post wrote, “it is groundless accusations and cynical fear-mongering such as Mr. Frederick's that are injecting the real venom, and the true threat, into the elections.

Below are some important facts to consider when writing (or reading) reports on voter registration fraud:

Voter Registration Drives Rev up in Presidential Election Years

The fact that young people and minorities are expanding the voting rolls this year does not indicate that something is awry with voter registration drives. Indeed, most large-scale drives target those populations least represented in the electorate. Further, in high interest election years, especially presidential, more people are motivated to help register voters or get registered themselves. Stories about so-called voter fraud should be evaluated in terms of the number of cards thought to be fraudulent versus the total number of cards the registration drive is gathering.

Voter Registration Fraud Does Not Lead to Voter Fraud

“We have the checks and balances...to makes sure the wrong person doesn't get registered and the right person does,” said Va. election official, Saunders in the Register & Bee.

Further, professionally-run drives expect almost a third of all applications to be duplicates or incomplete, no matter how well-trained the canvasser or volunteers are. This does not mean they are all illegal. However, the registrar is required to ensure all applications contain accurate information “including whether the applicant is a citizen, their Social Security number, date of birth, full name, valid residence, whether they've been convicted of a felony, or whether they have been determined mentally incapable...If any of that is left off...the application is denied,” according to the Register & Bee. Note: Not all states require Social Security number information to be filled out on a voter registration card. For more information on your state's requirements on registering to vote, visit ProjectVote.org.

Allegations of Voter Fraud are Often Motivated By Partisan Gain

“If you're not winning at the ballot box, try your chances in the registrar's office, or in court,” the Virginia Pilot editorialized. “[That's] [h]ardly democratic.”

Following the success of voter registration drives that have increased registration among low income, minority and young people, almost all claims of rampant voter fraud have come from Republican leaders, despite lack of substantiation of a real problem. The most vicious and corrupt efforts made were part of what has become the US AttorneyGate scandal that subsequently exposed the widespread politicization of the Department of Justice and led to the resignation of Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez. All of that unraveled because former US Attorney David Iglesias refused to make false accusations of voter fraud against ACORN’s 2004 voter registration drive in New Mexico.

The fact is between 2002 and 2005 – when the Department of Justice carried out the most intensive investigation of voter fraud in US history – only 24 people were convicted of illegal voting nationwide. However, partisans still made public allegations and the press, in many instances, ran these claims with out real evidence. Armed with these published anecdotes and buoyed by manufactured public outcry about the possibility of their votes being canceled out by illegal voters, legislators fought to pass laws that disenfranchise certain classes of voters. As a result, states like Indiana and Georgia have implemented some of the most draconian voter ID laws despite the lack of any evidence of actual voter fraud.

Reporters practicing ethical and rigorous journalism should recognize that merely using the “rhetorical hand grenade” of voter fraud - without an explanation of how voter registration and elections are administered or an investigation into the evidence of voter fraud - is the real threat to democracy.

Quick Links:

Minnite, Lorraine. “The Politics of Voter Fraud. ”Project Vote. March 2007.

Voter Registration Guides and Surveys [By State]. Project Vote

In Other News:

A voting penalty after the penalty – Birmingham Press-RegisterAnnette McWashington Pruitt watched her 18-year-old son graduate from high school this May. She proudly tells people that he is going into the Navy, following in the footsteps of his older brother (who is serving in Iraq) and his grandfather (who was in the Air Force).

Voting Rules Create Land of Disenchantment: Advocacy groups are battling New Mexico's strict voter registration laws as election looms – Miller-McCune Jo Ann Gutierrez-Bejar remembers volunteering for the annual voter registration drive in Albuquerque, N.M. She remembers the camaraderie as the group of usually 30 to 40 volunteers headed out in the morning, clipboards in hand, to knock on doors and register new voters.

Denogean: 97-year-old voter can't prove she's a citizen: On deathbed, father told her to vote Democratic – The Tucson Press Shirley Freeda Preiss of Surprise is one ticked-off little old lady. And who can blame her? The 97-year-old retired schoolteacher and onetime traveling showgirl has voted in every presidential election since 1932 when she cast a ballot for Franklin Delano Roosevelt. But thanks to the state's voter identification requirements, it's looking unlikely that she'll be able to vote in the upcoming presidential election.

Watch your (official) language - Stateline.org Missouri, a key presidential swing state and home to one of the most hotly contested gubernatorial races, will test what some see as voters’ attitudes toward immigrants this November with a ballot measure to make English the only language of state government.

Tags: Alabama, Arizona, election integrity, felon voting rights, Media, Missouri, Nevada, New Mexico, Project Vote, proof of citizenship, Virginia, voter fraud, voter id, voter registration drives, voter suppression, Voting Rights, Voting Rights Act (all tags)

Comments

1 Comment

Re: Stopping Voter Suppression:

Hartman did a suppression thing on his show today...

(quicktime)

http://a1135.g.akamai.net/f/1135/18227/1 h/cchannel.download.akamai.com/18227/pod cast/PORTLAND-OR/KPOJ-AM/hartmann_podcas t_20080807-3.mp3

by nogo postal 2008-08-07 06:26PM | 0 recs

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