The Great “Voter Fraud” Scam

This may have escaped your notice, but the U.S. is currently in the midst of a presidential campaign season. If you’ve hard anything about it at all, you’ve probably heard a great deal about voter fraud. And if you’ve heard anything about voter fraud, you’ve heard that it’s Democratic voters who do it, and that they do it in multitudes, and that it frequently produces stolen elections. And if you’ve heard all of this, you’ve heard the sound of a huge barge load of bullshit being dumped on your head.

How big a problem is voter fraud? Mother Jones notes that UFO sightings are more common. And that’s not just an expression; it’s literally true. In fact, there are far, far more UFO sightings than cases of voter fraud: Mother Jones’ numbers for the period from 2000 to 2010 are: 47,000 UFO sightings compared to 13 cases of  verified voter fraud. It would make more sense for the media to focus on preventing that kind of alien from voting.

News21 comes up with a slightly different but compatible total for the same period: 10 instances of “substantiated in-person” voter fraud confirmed out of 2068 alleged cases. Whatever the exact figure, everyone who examines the facts closely enough arrives at the same conclusion: voter fraud is extremely rare, hardly a drop in the ocean. Yet the hype about it is a tsunami.

Mother Jones also observes that:

A 2005 report by the American Center for Voting Rights claimed there were more than 100 cases of voter fraud involving 300,000 votes in 2004. A review of the charges turned up only 185 votes that were even potentially fraudulent.

Note that word potentially. And that:

Last December, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus declared that Wisconsin is “absolutely riddled with voter fraud.” In fact, the state’s voter fraud rate in 2004 was 0.0002 percent—just 7 votes.

The Brennan Center for Justice conducted an analysis of purported voter fraud and found that:

Many vivid anecdotes of purported voter fraud have been proven false or do not demonstrate fraud. Although there are a few scattered instances of real voter fraud, many of the vivid anecdotes cited in accounts of voter fraud have been proven false or vastly overstated. In Missouri in 2000, for example, the Secretary of State claimed that 79 voters were registered with addresses at vacant lots, but subsequent investigation revealed that the lots in question actually housed valid and legitimate residences. Similarly, a 1995 investigation into votes allegedly cast in Baltimore by deceased voters and those with disenfranchising felony convictions revealed that the voters in question were both alive and felony-free.

The thing is, those “vivid anecdotes” make the headlines, over and over and over again, while the inevitable debunking of them does not.  Consequently, the astronomically overinflated stories of voter fraud stay implanted on the impressionable public brain much more vibrantly and permanently than the facts. It’s the old thing about a lie being halfway around the world before the truth even gets its shoes on.

Pardon me while I dig up ACORN.

Take the intensive smear campaign against ACORN. One poll revealed that 26 percent of all Americans and 52 percent of Republicans believed the community activist organization “stole” the 2008 election for Obama. More astoundingly, a poll taken last year indicated that 25 percent of Republicans believed it also would steal the 2012 election — even though the organization already was defunct for more than one year!

Smashing ACORN had long been a goal of right-wing activists for a very good reason: it had a long history of registering the “wrong” kind of voters (i.e., those who vote Democratic), which apparently is the most egregious offense of all. A young would-be muckraker named James O’Keefe helped the cause tremendously with his fraudulently edited videos about ACORN.

Professor Peter Dreier of Occidental College studied the media coverage of ACORN and reported among other things that:

Although ACORN is involved in many community activities around the country, including efforts to improve housing, wages, access to credit, and public education, the dominant story frame about ACORN was “voter fraud.” The “voter fraud” frame appeared in 55% of the 647 news stories about the community organization in 15 mainstream news organizations during 2007 and 2008. The news media stories about ACORN were overwhelmingly negative, reporting allegations by Republicans and conservatives.

The media also failed to distinguish allegations of voter registration problems from allegations of actual voting irregularities. They also failed to distinguish between allegations of wrongdoing and actual wrongdoing. For example:

82.8% of the stories about ACORN’s alleged involvement in voter fraud failed to mention that actual voter fraud is very rare (only 17.2% did mention it)

80.3% of the stories about ACORN’s alleged involvement in voter fraud failed to mention that ACORN was reporting registration irregularities to authorities, as required to do by law.

85.1% of the stories about ACORN’s alleged involvement in voter fraud failed to note that ACORN was acting to stop incidents of registration problems by its (mostly temporary) employees when it became aware of these problems.

95.8% of the stories about ACORN’s alleged involvement in voter fraud failed to provide deeper context, especially efforts by Republican Party officials to use allegations of “voter fraud” to dampen voting by low‐income and minority Americans, including the firing of U.S. Attorneys who refused to cooperate with the politicization of voter fraud accusations – firings that ultimately led to the resignation of U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

So, to summarize the case against ACORN: the real fraud was not voter fraud, but registration fraud. It was not committed by ACORN,  but against ACORN by (a few of) its workers. They were not trying to stuff the ballot box, but to stuff their own pockets. ACORN did, as claimed by its critics, turn in many phony names — because it was required to do so by law. ACORN itself flagged these for scrutiny; and ironically, if not for its efforts to prevent voter fraud, it might not have been accused of voter fraud. Thorough investigation cleared the organization of any wrongdoing.  Yet few media reports noted these facts. Must be that old “liberal bias” in the media at work again, eh? Indeed, by the time the truth about the “scandal” surfaced, the damage already had been done by O’Keefe, Breitbart, and the other usual suspects.

Give him an inch…

O’Keefe, by the way, is still releasing fraudulently edited videos that purport to show Democratic voter fraud. In his most recent, he solemnly proclaims in the intro that he is about to reveal proof of voter fraud that many deny even exists. Ah, Jimmy boy, a brazen double lie is hardly an auspicious beginning for what is intended to be an earth-shaking expose. Your latest little heavily doctored cinematic jewel only proves that you still know how to be dishonest, manipulative and self-serving. And it appears that plague of “liberal” malfeasance you’ve devoted your life to exposing is in fact so rare that you have to manufacture it with entrapment and deceptive editing. Secretly film a Democrat dumb enough to humor (while also gently discouraging) what appears to be a persistent wacko intent on cheating,  then slice and dice the footage to perfection and, presto, you have a new masterpiece, certain to bring you more limelight, that “proves” one Democrat is dishonest and therefore they all must be.  And it isn’t that people are claiming fraud never happens. They’re just claiming that it’s a tiny gnat of a problem that does not in any way justify the parade of steamrollers being dispatched to squash it, in the form of intrusive legislation concocted by the champions of “limited government”.

Sure, voter fraud sometimes happens. As a former poll worker myself, I can assure you that it’s extremely difficult to pull off, but it still does occur occasionally. Sometimes the culprits are even high-profile individuals like this gang:

The evidence is overwhelming that each of these characters committed in-person voter fraud. Yet the media and the right-wing hacks don’t seem to be too interested in investigating. Wonder why? (Hint: check their party affiliation.) Clearly yet another case of “liberal bias” in the media. These are just a few of the apparent and confirmed cases of voter fraud committed by Republicans that somehow consistently slide under the radar of the librulmedia. By the way, none of these apparently fraudulent acts would have been prevented by the voter ID laws that Republicans are touting as the panacea.

Paltry affliction, potent medicine

Yet more than 30 states have passed tougher new voter ID laws. Why? Well, to answer that question, perhaps  you only have to look at who is behind them: namely, Republicans and other assorted right-wingers. Always. In every case. Al Franken, now a senator from Minnesota, once commented to the effect that Democrats try to win elections by getting people to vote, while Republicans try to win by preventing people from voting. Ah, come off it Al; surely all these voter ID laws aren’t just an effort to win at any cost, are they?

Hmmm…. Go back to 2000.  Months before the election, a purge of voters who were allegedly ex-felons falsely eliminated thousands of likely Gore voters who were perfectly qualified to cast ballots. (Some of these alleged felons were listed as having committed their alleged crimes on some date in the future!)  Bush’s official margin of “victory” in the state was 537. The purge was orchestrated by the state’s governor, who just happened to be Bush’s brother, and its secretary of state, who just happened to be the local chair of his campaign. All just coincidence, I’m sure. But that fraudulent purge coincidentally paid enormous dividends to the GOP, who professed to have executed it in order to  prevent fraud.

Ten states have passed voter ID laws that place a disproportionate burden — in terms of money, time, and access — upon minorities and low income citizens who — whaddaya know — vote overwhelmingly Democratic. In all ten of these states, both the legislatures and the governorships are in the hands of — whaddaya know — Republicans.  All just coincidence, no doubt.

Pennsylvania passed a new voter ID law that, before it was halted by a judge, would have disenfranchised more than 750,000 voters. The vast majority of them would have been Democratic voters. Just coincidence, to be sure.  In speaking of the law, the state’s House Majority Leader, Mike Turzai, commented that it “is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania”.  He was just joking, wasn’t he?

In Nevada, a registration worker was told that he wouldn’t be paid for signing up Democrats. This appears to be part of a growing national strategy by Republicans, often involving fake “surveys” to screen out Democrats.  In Virginia, a man who was caught tossing bags of completed voter registration forms into a dumpster turned out to be (surprise) working for the GOP. All just coincidence, absolutely.

In Arizona, voter registration cards in Spanish were mailed out with the wrong election date listed. In Ohio, mailers in one county listed both the wrong date and the wrong place. Republicans were behind both mailings. Just coincidence, naturally. In Arizona, it happened in Maricopa county, which has produced legislation aimed at discriminating against Hispanics under the pretext of fighting illegal immigration. Hispanics are much more likely to vote for Obama. Just one coincidence after another.

Additionally, there are widespread problems with electronic voting machines, which — except for the occasional very minor glitches that temporarily benefit Democrats before they are caught and corrected — have a consistent habit of counting more Republican votes than Democratic, sometimes very suspiciously so. The companies that supply these machines are all owned by individuals who are very active in supporting GOP candidates. Gotta be mere coincidence. Before the 2004 election, in which Diebold’s voting machines were quite instrumental, its Ohio-based chief executive, Wally O’Dell, declared, ”I am committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the president next year.” Coincidentally, he did deliver, and Ohio was the pivotal state. Coincidentally, it very well could be again this year. (A rumor that Mitt Romney’s son owns voting machines in Ohio is false, though there are coincidentally some interesting connections.)

In short, if the media wanted to cover highly suspicious election irregularities that could make the difference — and indeed already have made a difference in at least on presidential election — they would have plenty of stories to cover. Trouble is, these stories all suggest vote suppression, tampering and other underhanded shenanigans on the part of Republicans, which doesn’t quite fit the narrative of Democrats stealing elections by getting too many people to vote. So instead we have a media obsession with scattered instances of possible fraud that have never had an impact on an election’s outcome. As usual, the right-wing propagandists have done their job extremely well.

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The Biggest, Baddest, Brassiest Lies About Barack Obama (and a few Dishonorable Mentions)

Are we going to defend this Constitution that we celebrated tonight, or are we going to watch it be eroded by a Commander-in-Chief who disrespects this Constitution, doesn’t believe in free enterprise, doesn’t believe in life and families.”  — Rep. Steve King (R-IA)

Having declared that the current crop of Republicans is perhaps the most mendacious gaggle of politicians in U.S. history, we ought to back that up with more specifics. Fortunately, that isn’t hard to do. Most of the GOP’s lies and distortions are directed toward President Obama, who is surely the most disrespected and defamed president — if not the most disrespected and defamed person — in history.

You’ve no doubt heard many of the lies and wacky rumors already. They’re constantly batted about by the batty media, and you surely have friends and relatives who cut and paste them onto Facebook. Every day, all day long. But many of the gollliwhoppers also have been incorporated into their act by the Romney-Ryan Revue. Indeed at the first so-called debate, Mitt Romney attained the extraordinary feat of cramming 27 stretchers into 38 minutes. For which he was promptly and universally acclaimed the winner — at least among Americans. That spin didn’t necessarily echo across the pond.  (Current TV’s Jennifer Granholm has an interesting commentary comparing Romney’s lies to Obama’s lies and discussing the common “conservative” strategy of working the refs. On the other hand, you could conclude, as Time did, that Obama’s lies are worse because they’re more accurate.)

Virtually all politicians lie and spin, and virtually all politicians are the target of lies and spin. But the falsehoods about the current U.S. president qualify as a whole new life form. A good indicator is the Snopes tally. At last count, after less than 4 years he’s been in office, Snopes has listed 253 Obama rumors, the overwhelming majority of which are false. (The true ones often involve what other people have said and done in regard to Obama rather than what he’s said or done. Snopes verified, for example, the Internet story about a 95-year-old veteran writing Obama a disparaging letter. But that letter just regurgitated some of the misinformation and disinformation about the president, thus reinforcing the observation that he’s being severely and unjustly maligned.) And while I really get tired of having to defend him, it’s virtually impossible to survey contemporary propaganda without defending him.

The lies about Obama are of three basic types. First, there are the loony lies, such as you might hear at a rally of Tea Partiers vowing to “take back” their country from the other 98 percent. Or at a public appearance by Steve King. These include the following:

The Loony Lies

He’s a Muslim.

He’s a socialist.

He’s a Kenyan (and he admitted his birth certificate is a fake).

Death panels.

Socialized medicine.

Government takeover of medicine.

He wants to take away your guns.

He wants to outlaw fishing.

He can’t talk without a teleprompter.

He faked the death of bin Laden.

He’s had all his records sealed.

etc., etc., etc.

These already have been given far more attention than they ever deserved, so we’re not going to bother commenting on them here.

Then there are what we might call the General Myths. These are broader and more subjective, but just as false:

The General Myths

He’s arrogant and self-serving.

He assumes credit for things he didn’t do, and passes blame for things he did do.

He’s fiercely partisan and won’t work with the opposition party.

He’s unduly secretive.

He’s suppressing liberty and constitutional rights.

He’s a slacker who hasn’t accomplished anything.

etc., etc., etc.

It’s certainly possible to discredit claims like these, but to do so conclusively would require a great deal more space than we’d want to devote to it here — particularly since it would entail more an examination of politics than of propaganda. So we’ll give them a pass as well. (But in regard to the myth that his presidency has been a failure, here’s a list of 200 of the president’s accomplishments for starters.)

We’re also going to bypass the spin campaigns around certain events such as the attempts to make corruption-ridden scandals out of Fast and Furious and Solyndra,  — or even, for crying out loud, the terrorist attack in Libya. What we’re focusing on instead are the Brassy Lies: those that are (1) specific, (2) quickly disproved, (3) nonetheless realistic sounding enough that sane and reasonable people might fall for them if they didn’t know better, and (4) particularly audacious because of who is spreading them.  And they deal with matters of some consequence, as opposed to just daffy rumors about the president canceling the National Day of Prayer or giving the First Pooch his own plane. If you’re curious about rumors of that sort, see Snopes.

The Brassy Lies

Lie # 1: “You didn’t build that”.

This one is based on words the president actually uttered, but the GOPers have wrenched them out of context and totally distorted their meaning: from “We’re all in this together” to “You have no control over your own achievements”.  (Compare “Redistribution of Wealth”.) The funny thing is, whenever they trot out an entrepreneurial success story that’s intended to contradict the president’s words, it always does exactly the opposite.

Lie # 2: The “apology” tour.

President Obama is, beyond a doubt, far more diplomatic and humble, and far less jingoistic than his predecessor. But contrary to persistent right-wing claims, he’s never once apologized for America.

Lie # 3: He’s a promise breaker.

It’s becoming standard procedure among the GOP in this Age of Rove to forgo troubling the public so much with actual issues and just frame their Democratic opponents with a one-word or two-word epithet. With Al Gore it was liar (even though they couldn’t produce a single lie he’d actually told). With John Kerry, it was flip-flopper (based on a single instance in which he really didn’t flip-flop, but his words — discussing a stance he’d taken based on fraudulent intel provided by the guy he was running against — were brilliantly edited by Team Rove). Now, they’ve at least graduated to two words — unless you also hyphenate promise-breaker. But they’re still just as disingenuous.

One could make a strong case that in fact this president has had a better than average track record as promise keeper, particularly given the amount of time he’s been in office. But there’s even more to the story.

On the night of his inauguration, when most of the nation was celebrating this momentous milestone, a group of Republicans held a secret meeting to lay out a strategy for thwarting his every move. Bear in mind that this was before he’d done a single thing as chief executive that anyone might object to. Among this group was a certain Wisconsin congressman named Paul Ryan. Another attendee summed up the focus of the meeting this way:

If you act like you’re the minority, you’re going to stay in the minority. We’ve gotta challenge them on every single bill and challenge them on every single campaign.

At a time when the country was sunk in the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, and bin Laden was still at large, they admitted that their number one priority was making Obama a “one-term president” — even if it meant stalling the economic recovery to make him look bad, keeping workers unemployed so they could pin a high unemployment figure on him.  Their vendetta has reached such South Park playground proportions that they voted down a veterans’ jobs bill the president supported — with the four of them who helped write it actually voting against their own bill!

Obama probably was guilty of being naive when he doled out campaign promises on the assumption that he would obtain at least minimal cooperation from the elephant herd. But given the level of intense and persistent sabotage he encountered instead, his level of achievement has been nothing short of miraculous.

When Tea Partiers parrot the line that he is a promise breaker, they probably just don’t know any better. When Republican politicians do it, they definitely do know better. Because they know damn well that they’re the ones who engineered the logjam. And they did it entirely for political power, using the American public as pawns. (Note: Republicans counter this with a claim that the GOP-controlled House has introduced several jobs bills that have not passed the Democratic-controlled Senate. Which just goes to show they know how to be creative in their terminology. Number one on the list of “jobs bills” is one that would reduce regulation of pesticides.)

Lie # 4. He “gutted” Medicare.

Or robbed it. Or slashed it. Or raided its trust fund. Whatever the verbiage used, the claim is essentially the same: that the president reduced the funding for Medicare benefits by $716 billion. He didn’t. But the Affordable Care Act is estimated to reduce Medicare costs  by that amount — which, far from gutting it, should make it healthier.

This lie deserves a special Brass Balls Award for three reasons: (1) Republicans themselves always claim to represent waste-cutting and fiscal responsibility; (2) Republicans themselves have never been — how shall we put this — particularly supportive of Medicare; and (3) Paul Ryan’s budget called for the same cuts, and it was heavily supported by congressional Republicans.

Lie # 5: He sued to prevent early voting in Ohio by the military.

Quite the opposite. He sued to allow early voting by all Ohio voters, including military personnel. Republicans wanted to restrict this privilege to military only. So to bolster their cause, they concocted this widely believed lie.

Lie # 6:  He’s outspent any president in the past 60 years.

Nope. Thus far, federal spending under Obama has shown the lowest increase of any president since Eisenhower (excluding Ford) in actual dollars. Adjusted for inflation, it’s shown the second lowest, and in fact actually constitutes a decrease.

Lie # 7. He’s amassed an unprecedented national debt.

There are several incarnations of this theme: he’s built up more debt than any other president; he doubled the debt in his first year; and (gotta love this one) he increased the debt more than all previous presidents combined. None of which is in the same galaxy as the truth. When Obama was inaugurated, the total debt stood at 10.6 trillion.  At the end of his first year, it had increased to 12.3 trillion, and it currently stands at about 16 trillion. When all else fails, try grade school arithmetic, folks.

We should also note that there’s a big difference between saying that these increases have occurred on Obama’s watch and saying that he actually caused them. Much of the debt is attributable to the horrendous economy and the two wars he inherited. Furthermore, we should note that the rate of increase has actually slowed.

Lie # 8. He bailed out the banks.

Despite the fact that nearly half of Americans believe otherwise, President Obama did not initiate the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP). That would be George W. Bush.

Lie # 9: He’s eliminating welfare work requirements.

The president’s plan overhauls welfare guidelines, largely for the purpose of cutting through red tape, but it certainly does not  eliminate work requirements, nor does it, to use another popular Romney soundbite, “gut welfare reform”. Furthermore, at the time he took office, only 29 percent of welfare recipients were required to work.

Lie # 10:  He’s demonstrated his tyranny with over 900 executive orders, an unprecedented number.

Wrong on two counts. First, 900 is hardly unprecedented.  Theodore Roosevelt issued 1081, Franklin Roosevelt 3522, Harry Truman 907, Calvin Coolidge 1203 and Herbert Hoover 968. Second, President Obama thus far has issued only 138 — which actually gives him the LOWEST total since Chester Arthur!  (At the present rate, there’s a slight chance that after two terms he’ll end up with the second-lowest total.) Moreover, most of the executive orders being attributed to President Obama in those Facebook posts were actually issued by other presidents, often long ago.

Lie # 11:  He’s failed to support Israel.

That’s what Romney and company say. But it ain’t exactly what Israel says.

This is by no means an exhaustive list; it barely scratches the surface. It’s just meant to be a representative sampling. Nobody possibly could keep up with all of the lies. In addition to the falsehoods about Obama himself, there is a substantial body of mythology about nearly everything he’s ever done, including being born. A particularly ripe field for folklore is the Affordable Care Act, better known as “Obamacare”. Didja hear that it’s gonna call for 16,500 armed IRS agents to enforce it?

The smears against the president, however, are part of a broader and more disturbing trend; showing disrespect for the man — and by extension for the office he holds and the nation he represents — has become something of a national pastime.  Until he came along, it would have been unthinkable for fellow elected officials to publicly make the kind of statements Steve King made, or to accuse the president of collaborating with the enemy, or destroying America, or to interrupt his speech to call him a liar. Now, such occurrences are routine.

It’s tempting to dismiss it as racism, and no doubt that’s a factor in some cases. But it’s not the whole story. I just wish I could say that there is something, anything about Barack H. Obama in particular that would prompt such irrational and all-consuming hatred; and that once they get rid of this commie/fascist/Muslim/atheist/terrorist/Kenyan who wants to (shudder) make medicine and marriage available to everyone, things will go back to “normal”.

But the truth, I fear, is worse: this is the new normal for right-wing fanatics. This is how they will behave toward any Democrat, from now until Doomsday. Why shouldn’t they? It works. Sure, the president almost certainly will be reelected in spite of the propaganda. But the race apparently will be much closer than it should have been.  Obama Derangement Syndrome has not been contained among the loony fringe; it’s spread to a lot of other people as well. After all, Ron Paul is the one who contributed the colorful touch that those 16,500 phantom IRS agents would be “armed”. And he ain’t exactly a crackpot, is he? Oh. But still.

There are plenty of intelligent and sensible people, including some who voted for Obama in 2008, who swallow the bullshit. According to one Harris poll, 40 % of Americans (and 67% of Republicans) believe that President Obama is a socialist; 38% (61% of Republicans) believe he wants to “take away our guns”; 32% (57 % of Republicans) believe he is a Muslim; 20% (38% of Republicans) believe he is “doing many of the things that Hitler did”; 25% (45% of Republicans) believe he is foreign-born. Those are all a lot more than the Tea Party’s 2%.

With that kind of success, it would be naive to expect that there’ll ever be any turning back.

(Go here for a good debunking of 5 more Obama falsehoods, including those about golf, vacations, taxes and Arlington National Cemetery.)