In 2012, the conservative information bubble finally popped. Here's what they should have learned
Karl Rove (Credit: AP/David Goldman)
One of the more stunning developments following President Obama’s re-election has been the number of ardent Republicans who have confessed that they believed the anti-Democratic propaganda from Fox News—and got so much wrong as a result.
The voting rights part of this fact-averse bubble had many dimensions: from who is and isn’t registered to vote, to when and where people wanted to vote, to what a voter must do at the polls to get a ballot, to how voter lists are updated—and who can be trusted to oversee the process.
What follows are 10 lies the Right pedaled during the 2012 campaign. Some GOP partisans, like this Nevada group, are already trying to resurrect some of these fake issues. You can be sure you’ll see more as states and Congress look at 2012’s biggest problems, such as people having to wait hours and hours to vote.
1. Non-Citizen Multitudes On Voter Rolls
Florida’s Tea Party Gov. Rick Scott was the worst offender, falsely claiming that there were 180,000 or more non-citizens listed on Florida’s voter rolls. It turned out that Scott and his hand-picked state election chief found 198 non-citizens among Florida’s 11 million voters before backpedaling from the claim. But other Republican top state election officials, in Colorado, Michigan and New Mexico, made the same claim in 2012 in an attempt to scare off legal non-white voters. This line was picked up by other GOP partisans who bought dozens of billboardsin communities of color in several swing states listing the penalty for illegal voting. The billboards came down after strong protests from civil rights groups.
2. Partisan Election Officials Are Trustworthy
Florida’s Rick Scott and Secretary of State Ken Detzner, Ohio Secretary of State John Husted, Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler, Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson and a handful of other Republicans overseeing their state’s elections are only the latest partisans who have abused their constitutional office by tilting voting rules to give an advantage to their party. We saw the same thing in Ohio in 2004, when Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell followed Florida’s Katherine Harris from 2000. Both Republicans made many decisions that hurt Democrats and elected—and then re-elected—George W. Bush.
This conflict of interest is one of the biggest problems with American elections. But there are more fair-minded ways to oversee voting, such as in Wisconsin where an independent board of retired judges runs and referees that state’s elections. And it should be noted that in Florida this year, many county-level election supervisors (who are elected) pushed back on Gov. Scott’s edicts. That’s because they see their job as serving the public rather than being partisan activists.
3. Dead People Are Voting (For Democrats)
This propaganda line came after the Pew Center on the States issued a reportshowing that 1.8 million dead people were on state voter roles. Some in GOP circles went nuts, saying dead people would be voting for Democrats. Some newspapers also ran with the “dead voters” angle, revealing that they have little knowledge of the fact that voter rolls are maintained in an ongoing manner and how local officials take many steps to update their rolls (as people register, move and die).
The reality is that local election officials are involved in a never-ending process of removing dead people (and others) from local rolls after being notified by health departments, as dead people don’t contact them. Moreover, there are many safeguards so that only ballots by eligible voters are counted—which is why some states have not yet finalized their 2012 results.
4. Tougher Voter ID Laws Are Needed
Voter ID laws have been on the books for years. You need to show ID to register to vote. New voters must show an ID to get a ballot. And established voters sign in at the polls (or sign their names on mail-in ballots) under penalty of perjury. But those precedents have not stopped GOP-controlled legislatures from enactingnew laws requiring voters to show a specific form of state photo ID to get a ballot. The GOP’s big rationale is that they’re fighting voter impersonation fraud—the claim someone else is voting under another’s name. Of course, their real agenda is preventing likely Democrats in key cohorts—young people, urban residents without driver’s licenses, poor people, etc—from voting.
What the 2012 election showed was that the biggest perpetuators of fraudulent voter registration schemes were Republicans, notably Nathan Sproul, a political consultant who was hired by several state Republican Parties to register voters. Sproul’s workers had a bad habit of throwing out forms from Democrats. State parties were forced to fire him after police opened investigations. This isn’t to say that there were no cases of Democrats tinkering with registrations. But almost all of the cases reported in 2012 involved the GOP’s consultants or lone actors. No one found registration fraud on a scale affecting thousands of votes, let alone hundreds.
The biggest point about 2012’s voter ID fights is that voter impersonation is not a problem demanding a “solution” affecting every voter in a state. But it is a remedy that can cause widespread confusion and be a barrier to eligible voters, such as in Pennsylvania where poll worker confusion over that state’s new voter ID law led to scores of complaints to voter hotlines. The GOP’s ballot security concerns are a ploy to block their presumed political opponents from voting. As the 2012 election showed, that’s exactly what they did.
5. Tougher Voter ID Laws Protect Minorities
This absurd line was pedaled by two of the Right’s biggest voting propagandists, former Bush Administration Department of Justice attorney Hans von Spakovsky (now with the Heritage Foundation) and National Review columnist John Fund. They made this claim in their new book, Who’s Counting: How Fraudsters and Bureaucrats Put Your Vote At Risk, in media commentaries, and at recruiting sessions for right-wing voter vigilante groups that obsess over the specter of illegal voters.
Von Spakovsky said that minority turnout in Georgia went up after it adopted a tougher voter ID law—a claim that handily overlooks how its Latino population has surged in recent years. But more to the point, tougher voter ID laws have given GOP groups a pathway to racially profile voters. These laws target non-white voters because many of the people who lack a new government-issued photo ID are young people or city dwellers who don’t drive. In Ohio, volunteers from True the Vote, a leading GOP voter vigilante group, were told to take photos of suspected illegal voters, write down their names and complain to poll workers—all to discourage voting by people who fit their profile. These GOP vigilantes were not deployed to whiter and wealthier suburbs.
At a True the Vote summit in Colorado this past summer where AlterNet was an undetected observer, Secretary of State Gessler told attendees that they would be accused of being racist as they “defended” democracy. He told them just to ignore the accusations—of course, from liberals and civil rights activists. But racially profiling voters is by definition racist, not defending anyone’s rights.
6. Federal Voting Rights Act Is Obsolete
This claim is really outrageous against the backdrop of all the race-based tactics the GOP used to try to defeat President Obama. In lawsuits still unfolding in federal court—and at the U.S. Supreme Court—Republican lawyers are arguing that the U.S. is now a post-racial society, which means that Civil Rights Era laws such as the federal Voting Rights Act are no longer needed.
This year, the two authorities under the Voting Rights Act—Justice Department and a federal appeals court in Washington—found that the new voter ID laws in Texas and South Carolina were racially discriminatory, preventing them from taking effect. The Washington court found that Texas’ congressional and state redistricting plan also was discriminatory—and rejected it. And the Justice Department was part of litigation in Florida over that state’s efforts to curb registration drives and limit early voting, all because the GOP-led measures disproportionately would impact those state’s minority voters.
Moreover, while some Republicans in the 16 states that are all or partly regulated by the Voting Rights Act—such as Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott—have led the attack on the Voting Rights Act and accused the Obama Justice Department of rampant partisan manipulation of the law, other Republicans in those same states have proposed changes in election law and procedures that have been approved by the Justice Department. So the GOP dislikes the law when it blocks their agenda but likes it when it doesn’t.
7. Early Voting Is Not Wanted or Needed
This was another absurd claim that was made by top Republican election officials in Florida and Ohio—and was the subject of litigation that, at least in Ohio’s case, lasted until just days before the presidential election. Both Florida and Ohio saw efforts by Republicans, in their legislatures and by their secretaries of state, to limit weekend voting options in the final weeks of the 2012 election. In Ohio, a federal judge was so incensed by Secretary of State John Husted’s intransigence that at one point he ordered Husted to appear in his courtroom to personally explain why he ignored court orders.
In Florida, the GOP-controlled legislature has purposely limited the number of early voting locations—which was also a problem in 2008—and then tried to cut back on the total number of hours of weekend voting in 2012. After litigation led by voting rights groups, the state slightly adjusted the early voting schedule. However, these political decisions were directly responsible for the hours-long lines in both swing states this year.
The fact that voters in both states waited for hours (in Florida it was up to nine hours) showed more than anything that people want to vote, and want options to do so on the final weekends before a presidential election. Their determination directly contradicted statements by Republicans in those states that there were sufficient early voting opportunities.
8. Obama Disenfranschised Overseas Military Voters
Another aspect of the Ohio litigation over early voting was the claim by Republicans and Fox News that the Obama campaign’s lawsuit to preserve early voting on the final weekend before Election Day disenfranschised overseas military voters. This lie was based on very twisted logic—if you could even call it that. Until 2011, all Ohioans could vote on the weekend before Election Day. But Ohio’s GOP-controlled Legislature passed a law that only allowed for overseas military members and their families to vote on that final weekend in November 2012. The Obama campaign sued, saying that did not treat all Ohio voters equally under the law.
Various Fox News on-air hosts said that Obama was seeking to prevent members of the military and their families from voting in the presidential election, a multi-dimensional untruth and smear. If anything, the Obama campaign lawsuit—which was victorious—would allow all Ohioans, at home and overseas, to have more voting options. (Ohio, like all states, gives troops overseas more time to return their ballots because of mail and delivery delays). Mitt Romney jumped on the Fox bandwagon, but even military.com said the attack was baseless. “The [Obama campaign] lawsuit is not a stab at military voting,” it concluded.
9. One Million GOP Poll Watchers Are Coming
The GOP’s voter vigilante squad, led by the new group, True the Vote, claimed that it would train and send 1 million polling place observers to swing states to be on the lookout for anything resembling (to them) voter fraud and to stop illegal voting. That didn’t happen. There was no invasion of Republican voting posses descending on thousands of local precincts in swing states.
That is not to say that this group, which recruited members from local Tea Party groups, did not cause some trouble at polling places in swing states, many of which were recorded in complaints to Election Day hotlines. Like Gov. Scott’s false claim that there were multitudes of non-citizens invading Florida voter rolls, True the Vote’s boast that it would deploy a million voter vigilantes was more propaganda than fact. But like Scott’s claim, its goal was to discourage voting among first-time voters and others who might support Obama.
True the Vote is not going away, but it needs to be seen for what it is—the front guard of the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party. Indeed, just as many Tea Partiers elected to the House in 2010 were unseated in 2012, this Republican cadre’s outsized claims should not be taken seriously.
10. Obama Will Steal The Election Electronically
The Republican National Committee made this claim in letters to a half-dozen top state election officials in swing states one week before Election Day. A top RNC lawyer cited isolated problems with paperless voting machines as a sign that Democrats were poised to electronically flip votes from Romney to Obama to steal the election. State election directors in Nevada and North Carolina responded with forceful letters, saying the RNC’s concerns and theory was unsupported by facts and vote-counting procedures.
Of course, what the RNC was doing was seeking to undermine the public’s confidence in a process that was headed toward re-electing Obama. Like all the reports on Fox News telling its viewers that America was headed to a Romney victory, that non-citizens were voting, that voter ID was needed, that nobody wanted early voting, that dead people were voting for Democrats, and on and on, it was a lie. It was Republican propaganda.
But unless voting rights advocates continue to say so, now and in the future, you can be sure the GOP will return to this sorry playbook. That’s what they have been doing for years.