Americans for Prosperity's trail of voter misinformation goes far beyond North Carolina
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Sid Shniad
2014-10-12 20:13:05 UTC
Raw Message
South 10/03/2014Americans for Prosperity's trail of voter
misinformation goes far beyond NCBy Sue Sturgis*

The North Carolina State Board of Elections announced this week that it is
investigating a controversial mailer
the conservative advocacy group Americans for Prosperity (AFP) sent to
thousands of state residents that contained inaccurate information about
voter registration.

The board was required to launch an investigation after a formal complaint
was filed by Casey Mann, executive director of the N.C. Democratic Party.
The complaint noted that the mailer, sent by the AFP Foundation, included
incorrect information on the registration deadline, where to send voter
registration applications, and where to get answers to questions about

The above referenced statements were certainly known by the Respondent to
be false and known by the Respondents to have the effect of misleading,
intimidating, and/or discouraging participation in the North Carolina
General Election by recipients not yet sufficiently informed with respect
to the voter registration requirements.

Under North Carolina law, sending out a mass mailing or taking any other
action where "the intent and effect is to intimidate or discourage
potential voters" is a Class I felony. The elections board told The News &
that it has received at least 2,000 calls about the mailers, and has asked
AFP to send accurate information to the homes that received the

AFP has downplayed the significance of the mailers, releasing a statement
that said they "contained a few administrative errors" that "were not

However, this is not the first time that AFP has been embroiled in a
controversy about misleading voters. It has faced similar accusations in at
least three other states:

** West Virginia.* This past April, West Virginia Secretary of State
Natalie Tennant said voters in at least eight counties in her state
received "misleading and confusing" leaflets that could have led them to
wrongly believe they were not properly registered to vote in the May
primary, The Charleston Gazette reported

Wendy McCuskey, director of AFP's West Virginia chapter, said the mailer
was a nonpartisan effort targeting people who were not registered to vote.
However, the leaflets encouraged residents to "update" their voter
registration. McCuskey told the paper that there "may have been a few

** Virginia. *Last year, voters in Virginia reported receiving a mailer
from AFP that told them they were not registered to vote when in fact many
were. The mailer also threatened to contact neighbors of the recipients and
say that they weren’t registered, further angering those who received the

Larry Haake, the general registrar in Chesterfield County, Virginia, said
he received complaints about the mailer. "It's outrageous what they do,"
Haake told the Chesterfield Observer
referring to AFP. "Most of their information is wrong. They know it's wrong
and they don't care."

Haake said the director of a local AFP office told him that the group was
trying to "rile people up" in hopes of turning them out to the polls.

** Wisconsin.* In 2011, AFP was accused of voter suppression
in the Wisconsin state Senate recall elections after a Democratic voter
received an absentee ballot application from the group that contained
incorrect information.

The form gave a return deadline that was two days after the election was
set to take place. It also instructed voters to mail the ballots to what it
claimed was "the absentee ballot processing center," but which was actually
the mailing address for the conservative group Wisconsin Family Action.

*Cage the vote?*

Another mailer project undertaken by AFP in Wisconsin in 2010 appears to
have been a blatant attempt to strike Democratic-leaning voters from the
rolls during an election that featured a hotly contested U.S. Senate race
pitting incumbent Democrat Russ Feingold against Tea Party Republican Ron
Johnson, who ultimately won.

That year the liberal group One Wisconsin Now recorded speakers
at a meeting of state Tea Party leaders talking about mailing minority and
student voters inaccurate information in an effort to prevent them from

The strategy involved the Wisconsin Republican Party using its statewide
voter file to compile a list of minority and student voters in targeted
communities. It would then give that to AFP, which would send a mailer
marked "do not forward" telling recipients -- wrongly -- that they must
call and confirm their registration information, and that if they did not
they would be removed from voter lists.

However, the real purpose of the mailers was to see if any were returned as
undeliverable. If they were, those voters would then face challenges by Tea
Party recruits at the polls for not legally residing at their registered

It's a practice know as “voter caging.” Supporters claim it prevents voter
fraud, but it's been used to target voters based on race, national origin,
and political affiliation in a way that raises legal questions, according
to a report
by the Brennan Center for Justice, a national voting-rights advocacy group:

The federal Motor Voter Act prohibits state officials from relying on
undeliverable mailings to purge voter rolls. Additionally, federal courts
have stepped in to prohibit voter caging campaigns that are racially
targeted. When a challenger uses a voter caging list to challenge the
ineligibility of voters, he or she attempts to accomplish indirectly what
the state is explicitly prohibited from doing -- disenfranchising a voter
based solely on an undelivered mailing. The challenger may therefore be
helping the state to violate federal law.

Some states explicitly prohibit the use of voter caging lists as the sole
basis of a voter challenge -- including North Carolina. NC Gen Stat §
163-88 states
"A letter or postal card mailed by returnable mail and returned by the
United States Postal Service purportedly because the person no longer lives
at that address or because a forwarding order has expired shall not be
admissible evidence in a challenge heard [on Election Day]."

At this point, it remains unclear who AFP was targeting with its North
Carolina mailer. People have reported receiving mailers that were addressed
to children, deceased relatives, and relatives who live in other counties
or states. One was even sent to someone's cat, as The News & Observer
The mailers were marked "Electronic Service Requested," a paid service
where the post office redirects undeliverable mail for further processing
according to the customer's instructions.

The Notice of Complaint
sent to AFP's national office in Virginia by the North Carolina elections
board asks the group for information on demographic selection criteria for
recipients as well as who crafted the mailer's content, where it was
distributed, the individuals and/or vendors used to produce the mailing
list, and a list of other states where AFP distributed a substantially
similar mailer in the past six months. Dated Sept. 30, the notice asks AFP
to respond within five days.

*AFP's voter suppression connection*

The controversy over the mailer comes as AFP is carrying out the largest
field campaign in its 10-year history in North Carolina, as USA Today has
The state is a key battleground for control of the U.S. Senate, with a
close race underway between incumbent Democrat Kay Hagan and Republican
challenger Thom Tillis, speaker of the state House.

The public's concern about the mailer's intent has been amplified by AFP's
close ties to the billionaire Koch brothers of the Koch Industries oil and
chemical conglomerate and their close North Carolina ally, millionaire
businessman Art Pope, all of whom have been involved in efforts to restrict
voting. The Kochs helped found AFP and are major funders of the group,
while Pope has contributed millions of dollars to AFP and served as a
director of the group until he was appointed state budget director in 2013,
a position he resigned last month.

The Kochs helped fund a systematic campaign
coordinated by the corporate-backed American Legislative Exchange Council
to promote legislation aimed at making it more difficult to vote. ALEC has
been behind bills introduced in dozens of states including North Carolina
requiring voters to provide proof of citizenship before registering,
creating barriers for groups registering new voters, ending same-day
registration, barring ex-felons from voting, and requiring photo ID to vote
-- measures that have a disproportionate impact on traditionally Democratic

And as a Facing South investigation found
in North Carolina a network of groups backed by Pope’s family foundation,
as well as lawmakers backed by Pope's electoral spending machinery, were
instrumental in pushing through a raft of voting restrictions, which are still
embroiled in litigation
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