America's bad boy of reactionary video journalism, that faux pimp of the right-wing press, James O'Keefe, is back. If the name does not strike a chord from a black and white horror movie soundtrack, you may remember him for destroying Acorn with selectively edited videos that falsely portrayed Acorn intake workers as willing to help a young pimp and prostitute buy a house, file their taxes, and engage in child sex slavery and human trafficking, Report Of The Attorney General On The Activities Of Acorn In California click here.
Although the initial release of O'Keefe's videos led to Congress de-funding Acorn, the Government Accountability Office later released a report detailing that Acorn never mishandled federal monies. However, these reports only came out after O'Keefe was forced to give up all of the footage he shot in the encounters with Acorn employees. In the end, O'Keefe proved nothing except that a couple of Acorn workers went along with his charade to get rid of him, a few more called the police, one referred him and his "prostitute" to a "victims of torture" NGO, and a few more told him he could come to a home buying seminar just like anyone else. Yet, one of the premier NGO's for helping America's poor and lower middle class, ACORN, was left as refuge on the floor, much like those parts of the secret film which vindicated Acorn that O'Keefe cut and pasted to indict the innocent and then refused to release. His successful return to any prominence is as welcome as a backed up septic tank.
O'Keefe, now a "discredited, federal convicted criminal," ran similar scams against his own college, Rutgers, click here Planned Parenthood, New York Times article here and NPR, click here , among many others, successfully ending the careers of individual targets before the unedited versions of the covertly recorded videos were finally obtained by authorities. Only in the case of Acorn, though, did O'Keefe's dishonest subterfuge actually destroy an institution, but what an excellent institution the sleazy film editor destroyed.
One would think O'Keefe might lay low for at least another year. He is currently on federal probation for three years on a reduced charge relating to an attempt to tape Mary Landrieu's office in New Orleans during the debate on President Obama's Health Care bill, when he claims he was investigating reports the Democratic Senator would not allow staff to answer telephone calls. Washington Post article.
Nonetheless, like the mindless undead of popular entertainment gore, O'Keefe crawled out of the grave into our lives again for the New Hampshire primary to help the Republicans prove the need for voter identification laws by posing as dead men wanting to vote. O'Keefe and his gang searched the New Hampshire obituaries for recently deceased voters, comparing the publicly available obituaries to the equally available voting lists, and then tried to obtain a ballot in the name of the deceased on the day of the primary. After obtaining the ballot, or at least the offer of a ballot, the conspirators would state they decided not to vote, or that they were returning to their vehicle to get proof of their identity, although repeatedly assured such proof was not required.
In this way they hoped to avoid violating state and federal law while demonstrating how easy it is to engage in voter fraud when no photo identification is required. Of course, per O'Keefe's modus operandi mo, he published only a selectively edited version of the events in question, stating that he had published the entire unedited version also but at another web address. Those who have studied both contend that both are edited. See the last heading in the article at The Brad Blog.
Some progressives defend the New Hampshire system by offering the rationale that the federal HAVA (Help America Vote Act) requires regular purging of voter rolls consistent with voter deaths that keep the rolls accurate about three weeks later than the deaths. With current technology, this time lapse could be shortened to nearly none, without the necessity of voter identification. Others argue that no one would attempt this type of voter fraud because of the severe criminal and civil penalties attached to it if one were caught. One voting rights activist noted that even if every deceased person managed to vote in an election without anyone discovering such a giant conspiracy the most impact that conspiracy could ever have on the outcome of the election is a 1% difference. We must weigh such a statistically improbable occurrence against the certainty of nearly 11-20% voter suppression that occurs when voter identification laws are passed. click here Others argue that O'Keefe violated his probation and probably federal and state law in his latest sting and should be prosecuted, along with selectively editing the videos he released. Still others argue that better training of poll workers would eliminate this threat. However, all of these arguments miss the point that O'Keefe and his minions did, in fact, successfully obtain numerous ballots in the names of dead people, and essentially concede to his argument. But did O'Keefe really prove that the potential for widespread voter fraud exists where voter identification is not required?
For too long we progressives hasten to defend ourselves when our core beliefs are seemingly called into question. We fire first and ask questions later. We rush to agree with the other side that maybe we need to concede our position, compromise a little, which normally turns out to be a lot. So this time, I hold a different take on O'Keefe's latest trip down the rabbit hold. I do not think New Hampshire needs to change a thing.
O'Keefe faced a difficult situation if voting fraud is a truly serious problem. In New Hampshire, after an individual obtains a ballot, his or her name is checked off the voting list as having voted already. Since O'Keefe is on federal probation, he must have felt certain no one in his conspiracy would be caught. In planning his latest chicanery, O'Keefe must, therefore, have held one firm conviction in mind. O'Keefe had to believe that voter fraud of the type he planned to engage in never really occurs. For if it did, in any substantial size, in a state as small as New Hampshire, then he or one of his co-conspirators were sure to use the name of a dead man whom some other impostor had already used, and whose name was already marked off as having voted. Since this did not happen, O'Keefe proved the absolute opposite of what he set out to prove. He demonstrated that voter fraud on the individual basis requiring voter identification does not exist.
That fact, in itself, is critically important. But being on federal probation, he had to know this before he even started. He was somehow certain that no widespread voter fraud existed that he would accidentally run across. So we see that within Republican circles, the fact that voter fraud does not exist to any significant extent is a well known fact, one so well known that O'Keefe felt he could safely risk incarceration by randomly picking names from the obituary columns of recent newspapers. We see that the Republicans know full well that voter fraud is a fraudulent issue, one created to justify voter identification laws and disenfranchise the poor, minorities, the urban, students, and the elderly, all groups with good reason not to have state driver's licenses.
Many progressives argue that O'Keefe could be prosecuted under federal and state election law, and under state wiretapping law. I am not so sure of that, except possibly New Hampshire state election law, which would then result in a violation of his federal probation. But that discussion is for another article, hopefully upcoming soon.
Currently, only nineteen states remain like New Hampshire where no voter identification is required. click here The Republican insistence on voter identification as a form of voter suppression can be viewed as nothing short of a striking success. Of course, Attorney General Eric Holder could have been fighting these laws for the last three years, but, as we know, for the Obama administration, what is past is passe d. We know that voter fraud does not really exist in any quantity that could affect an election. The Democratic party knows it. The Republicans know it. O'Keefe proved it. Yet, we must live with this new paradigm where the vote is reserved for those who can afford it, just like we must live with a country without habeas corpus relief, the "Great Writ" that can force the executive to bring an imprisoned soul before the judicial branch of government. The Democrats voted habeas corpus away with the National Defense Authorization Act although it is of Constitutional stature (Article I, Section 9), just like the Republicans, and Obama signed the NDAA into law, destroying a right first born in 1215 in the Magna Carta (Section 39) nearly a millennium ago.
Our leaders are solving too many problems that do not yet exist. Like foreshadowing in a novel, one gets the feeling something evil comes our way.