Posted by Brendan Fischer on August 06, 2012

A right-wing group that pledged to "continue the excellent work of the American Legislative Exchange Council" (ALEC) and promote voter ID has published a thinly-sourced blog post that purports to show people of color and the poor are actually helped by voter ID laws, an unsupported claim that is being hyped as a "study" by outlets like Fox News and the Daily Caller. More comprehensive research has demonstrated that these laws threaten to disenfranchise around 5 million people nationally, primarily people of color, students, and the poor.

In April, ALEC disbanded its Public Safety and Elections Task Force to distance itself from the controversial "Stand Your Ground" and voter suppression laws that had prompted a public backlash and an exodus of corporate funders (30 corporations have dropped their ALEC membership as of August 6). Soon after, a right-wing group called the "National Center for Public Policy Research" (NCPPR) announced that it would "continue the excellent work of [ALEC]" and form a Voter Identification Task Force to promote voter ID laws.

The only activity thus far from the NCPPR task force appears to be a blog post that tries to turn the tables on critics of voter ID laws and divert attention away from the well-documented fact that the laws are a cynical and politically-motivated effort to suppress the vote of Democratic constituencies like people of color, college students, and the poor, who disproportionately lack the state-issued IDs the laws require.

Weak Blog Post Described as "Study" by Fox News

"A new study says requiring ID would actually help increase minority participation," exclaimed Fox News personality Steve Doocy (as Media Matters reported). "According to a brand new study from the National Center for Public Policy Research, blacks and the poor are the most common victims of voter fraud and would be protected by voter ID laws. ... Attorney General Eric Holder's Justice Department though, has sued to block voter ID laws across the country claiming they are unfit to minority voters."

The "study" from NCPPR adjunct fellow Horace Cooper is actually a 1,898-word blog post that is long on rhetoric and short on research -- its cited sources are primarily opinion pieces or slanted articles from sources like Fox News and the Daily Caller, with minimal analysis. While Cooper (and the right-wing news outlets covering his article) claimed that these "findings" support the need for voter ID laws, in reality the types of fraud Cooper cites would not be affected at all by ID requirements.

Most of the "fraud" involved felons who said they did not know they were ineligible to register or vote. Other allegations in Cooper's posting involved registration errors and absentee ballot fraud. None of this would have been prevented by requiring a photo ID at the polls, and Cooper cites no examples of the kind of in-person fraud that stricter identification requirements might prevent.

In fact, the one legitimate news article Cooper cites to support his allegations of "voter fraud," a Richmond Times-Dispatch piece on election irregularities, includes this line: "None of the cases appeared to involve someone who misrepresented his or her identity at the polls to vote."

Daily Caller Stretches NCPPR's Unfounded Claims

Cooper's entire thesis is based on the unsupported assertion that "fraud" primarily happens in African-American and low-income communities, and therefore the allegedly "fraudulent" ballots cancel-out legitimate votes from black or poor citizens.

Cooper provides no source for this claim, other than a few isolated examples in upstate New York and Richmond, Virginia not related to voter ID and allegations by Democrat-turned-Republican Artur Davis that "fraud" happens disproportionately in African-American communities. Davis has recently become a right-wing rockstar and outspoken proponent of voter ID, speaking at this month's ALEC conference in Salt Lake City and at events sponsored by groups like the Heritage Foundation.

But this hasn't kept right-wing media outlets from breathlessly reporting on Cooper's blog post as if it were authoritative.

"Criminal justice data shows that blacks and poor people are the most common victims of voter fraud and are the greatest beneficiaries of voter identification rules, according to a new study," reports the Daily Caller. In fact, Cooper cites no "criminal justice data" in his blog post (he just lists a few isolated and anecdotal examples). And his comparison of turnout in Georgia and Indiana circa 2008 to show that African-American turnout did not decline after passage of voter ID laws is not credible, because it failed to account for the surge in turnout when an African-American was at the top of the ballot.

Additionally, the Daily Caller's sweeping claim that people of color and the poor are "the most common victims of voter fraud" appears to be based entirely on a single case Cooper cited from upstate New York -- a case involving absentee ballot fraud, which has nothing to do with requiring voter identification, and which would not have been prevented if a voter ID law had been in place.

The Daily Caller article also quotes Cooper saying "the courtroom evidence completely contradicts the [progressive claim] that blacks, seniors, college students and other disadvantages groups are being victimized." On the contrary, Cooper's blog post fails to cite any "courtroom evidence" that would support this claim. The one case he cites -- Crawford v. Marion County, the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on Indiana's voter ID law -- actually found only minimal instances of in-person voting fraud. And the upstate New York example has nothing to do with voter ID laws, and it does nothing to "completely contradict" the well-documented fact that imposing voter ID laws disproportionately impact people of color, college students, and the elderly.

The Brennan Center has found that nationwide, voter fraud is less statistically likely than getting struck by lightning, but voter ID laws can have a statistically significant impact on elections. More than 5 million people in the U.S. do not have the state-issued IDs required under the laws (many of whom are poor or people of color), and many of those individuals face significant challenges to obtaining an ID.

Political Rather Than Legal?

Cooper concludes with the allegation that the Department of Justice's refusal to pre-clear new voter ID laws in Texas and South Carolina "is political, not legal." But as Justin Levitt notes in his annotated takedown of Cooper's NCPPR blog post:

"The Justice Department's job is to enforce the law. [Section V of the Voting Rights Act of 1965] prevents covered states from implementing new election practices -- including practices intended to deter fraud -- unless the state can demonstrate, with real data, that the new practices do not make it more difficult for minorities to effectively exercise the franchise. Neither Texas nor South Carolina was able to do so, and so the DOJ applied the existing law. In this context, failing to enforce the Voting Rights Act would actually demonstrate the political agenda alleged."

Cooper's, NCPPR's Ties to Abramoff Lobbying Scandal

Though their "voter fraud" claims are largely unsupportable, both Cooper and NCPPR are quite familiar with other forms of fraud.

As CMD reported in April:

NCPPR was involved in part of the scandal that brought down [Republican National Committee] buddy and disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff. According to a U.S. Senate investigation of the financial dealings and influence peddling of Abramoff, NCPPR's founder and president, Amy Moritz Ridenour, directed money received by NCPPR at Abramoff's direction, to other "charities," again at his direction.

This included funneling money to a charity intended to benefit inner-city children, but which then funded luxury golf trips for members of Congress and bought products like sniper scopes for West Bank settlers in Israel.

Talking Points Memo also reports that:

Cooper was indicted in 2009 on five public corruption charges, charged with exchanging political favors for gifts from Jack Abramoff. Cooper allegedly accepted bribes as a staffer to former Majority Leader Dick Armey, as chief of staff for Voice of America and when he worked for the Department of Labor. Cooper later pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of falsifying a disclosure report and was sentenced to 36 months of probation.

"Kicking it up a notch?"

In NCPPR's tough-sounding press release from April announcing its effort to pick up where ALEC left off on voter ID, the group took a defiant tone, declaring that "We're putting the left on notice: you take out a conservative program operating in one area, we'll kick it up a notch somewhere else. You will not win. We outnumber you and we outthink you."

If NCPPR thinks that Cooper's 'study' is "kick[ing] it up a notch," they have a long way to go.

Brendan Fischer

Brendan Fischer is CMD's General Counsel. He graduated with honors from the University of Wisconsin Law School.