by Garret Ean
Jan 27 2012
Since it was posted the day following the New Hampshire primary, a video by a watchdog group showcasing exploits of election security has reached over 350,000 views. I remember seeing several friends sharing the video on Facebook, and although I didn’t find it stimulating enough to watch from start to finish (it needed more editing for my taste), I found it to be an interesting piece of investigative journalism bound to start some heated debate over election security.
The video is briefly prefaced with text stating, “If a person walked in to vote in the 2012 New Hampshire Primary, and said the names of multiple DEAD people…Could he receive a ballot to vote without showing any ID?” “© Project Veritas” is watermarked on the screen. If you watch for the entire ten minutes, you’ll see the same scene repeated multiple times. A man walks into a polling location wearing an inconspicuous camera on his person. He says, “Do you have a (name) on your list?” When asked to confirm the address and party registration, he says, “That is the address” and, “That is the registration”. Upon receiving a ballot, the man returns the ballot and insists on retrieving identification before casting a vote. The video ends with a less than climactic interview of poor audio quality with ward moderator Ryk Bullock.
There was much publicized discontent over a plan by some house republicans earlier last year to mandate voters provide photographic identification at the polls. Currently, potential voters are entitled to a ballot so long as they are willing to sign an affidavit affirming their residence within a particular ward. It is clear what the political motivation of the actors in the video are when they insist that poll workers check their IDs.
On this point, I don’t concur with the producers of the video, who sign off with, “Reporting for the Project Veritas, James O’Keefe and Spencer Meads”. While they made a noteworthy point about the ability to receive a ballot while impersonating the deceased, they did not prove that photo IDs are an imperative necessity for New Hampshire’s election process.
The first editorial published in the Concord Monitor critical of the actions of Project Veritas was penned by Zandra Rice Hawkins, the director of Granite State Progress. Zandra characterizes the actions of O’Keefe and Meads as breaking the law and obstructing the New Hampshire primary. To justify the claim that they had broken the law, she cites the voter fraud statute. In the statute, the act of impersonating another voter is criminalized, in addition to actually casting the fraudulent ballot. While the impersonation may be technically illegal, clearly the spirit of the law is to prevent illegitimate votes from being cast.
Another law alleged to have been broken by the duo is the infamous wiretapping statute. Many who haven’t dug deeply into the applications of the statute falsely believe the law to require consent to audio record an individual. Despite the word “consent” appearing in the RSA, all that is required in the statute is that someone be aware that they could be recorded. When out in public, there’s no expectation of privacy, and apart from the voting booth itself, the polling location is considered to be a particularly public space. The process is considered so open that campaigns are permitted to host poll watchers, whose job it is to monitor the checklist for who has voted as poll workers check names off. On primary day, I volunteered in this capacity for the presidential candidate I dislike the least. While poll watching, a cameraman, likely from WMUR, set up his equipment near the entrance and got several wide shots of the slow action. He did not survey those in the room for consent to be recorded, nor was this his responsibility.
Zandra does not elaborate on how Project Veritas disrupted the primary. Nobody was prevented from voting, and it is not as though one particular poll worker is singled out in the video or made to look irresponsible. She analogizes, “It’s like saying that a bank could be robbed, then filming yourself robbing it to prove your point.” At this point, one is not even comparing apples and oranges. Robbing a bank and not casting fraudulent ballots go together like honeydew melons and predator drones.
While I strongly disagree with Zandra’s suggestion that making criminals of O’Keefe and company is a good idea, I appreciate that while making such strong statements, she was open enough to attach her name. The following day’s Concord Monitor included a follow-up piece, written under the anonymous moniker of the Monitor Editorial Board. The piece which ran on January 20 corrected the mistaken claim that Project Veritas had violated the wiretapping statute, but it took no shame in endorsing a prison sentence and tens of thousands of dollars in fines for the participants in the video. I suggest the editorial board of the Monitor give a second reading to the New Hampshire constitution, which humbly suggests in article 18 that “No wise legislature will affix the same punishment to the crimes of theft, forgery, and the like, which they do to those of murder and treason.” Amateur journalism ought be affixed the same penalty that every other nonviolent, victimless crime ought have: absolutely nothing. Those who call for noncriminals to be imprisoned are mobs endorsing institutional violence. The anonymous author exposes that (s)he cares less for election security than (s)he does seeing political opponents purged. Opening and closing with similar lines, the piece ends with, “The best way to ensure the sanctity of the vote is to make the penalty for daring to obstruct, defraud or otherwise game the system so onerous that only a fool would risk it.”
This approach is as shortsighted as the assumption that executing people for lesser offenses (such as narcotics as in Singapore and Saudi Arabia) will result in people choosing not to commit those offenses. The failure of this assumption is demonstrated as people continue to be executed in those countries year after year. In openly acknowledging in the middle of the article that nobody knows how much voter fraud goes on in the state, the author underscores the fact that putting up a tough front does nothing to deter actual criminals who are free to continue their clandestine activities.
A cheap and easy solution that doesn’t require the mass of voters to carry ID and would greatly deter the type of potential fraud that Project Veritas exposed would be to list dates of birth alongside name, address, and party registration on the voter rolls. Throwing more people in prison and putting them under tremendous financial distress does nothing but increase the State’s threshold for violence.
Jan 30 2012: Yesterday’s Monitor featured a fair biographical piece on James O’Keefe. He directed the actions seen in the NH primary video from New Jersey, where he is prohibited from leaving. In early 2010, he pled guilty to entering a federal building under a false pretense, in connection to a phone jamming incident regarding a Louisiana senator. His probation is scheduled to expire in May of 2013. It turns out that O’Keefe is technically not an amateur to the extent that he is paid heavily for his exploits. Whether an amateur is defined by quality of work over whether one is paid up front, the videos that O’Keefe has produced speak for themselves.