Whether it is Benghazi, birth certificates, Bigfoot, the Illuminati or an unseen VHS tape of Russian sex workers emptying vodka-filled bladders onto a marmalade-colored man who would eventually become the president of the United States, America loves a good conspiracy theory.
Anna Merlan, a reporter at Gizmodo Media Group’s special projects desk and author of a forthcoming book on conspiracy theories, describes a conspiracy theory thus: “A belief that a small group of people is working in secret against the common good, to create harm, to effect some negative change in society, to seize power for themselves, or to hide some deadly or consequential secret.”
“And a ‘conspiracy,’” Merlan adds, “is when they actually are doing that.”
While wildly imagined plots often sound crazy, they sometimes turn out to be true, especially when it comes to African Americans.
The idea that the United States government repeatedly conspires against its black citizens sounds like hyperbole until you read about the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, a four-decade plot to study the sexually transmitted infection in poor black farmers. If you heard a barbershop conversation about a racist government eugenics scheme, you might dismiss it until you realized that the state of North Carolina forcibly sterilized thousands of poor black women from 1929 until 1974.
And if that sounds too nefarious to be true, then please don’t Google the East St. Louis Army tests. In the 1950s, and again in the 1960s, the U.S. Army “used motorized blowers atop a low-income housing high-rise, at schools and from the backs of station wagons,” to test biological weapons in St. Louis’s predominately black neighborhoods.
But perhaps no asinine notion has gained more officially-sanctioned credence than the idea of widespread voter fraud. Unlike most of the aforementioned fables, this theory has gained so much traction that it has led to Supreme Court cases, legislation and unwavering acceptance by government officials.
Even before America elected the equivalent of a Reddit thread commenter as its chief executive, the voter fraud conspiracy theory was a staple of the conservative right. In response to the election of the first black president, Republican-controlled state legislatures adopted the theory without question and began to take measures to eliminate the non-existent threat of voter fraud.
The basis of the conspiracy was that individuals and organizations were subverting election laws through a variety of means, including registering voters who did not exist, voting in multiple locations, casting absentee ballots for people who didn’t qualify to vote, and the granddaddy of them all, in-person voter fraud.
And the theory is partially correct.
There actually is a nationwide conspiracy to steal votes that involves undermining election laws, sidestepping the will of the people and using any means necessary to subvert the vote.
But it is not a conspiracy.
It is provable beyond a reasonable doubt.
Let’s be clear: There is no widespread voter fraud.
Although everyone from scientists to philosophers often claims that it is impossible to prove a negative, “Voter fraud is not a significant problem in the country,” said Jennifer Clark of the Brennan Center in an August 2016 interview. Clark added: “Basically every analysis that has ever been done has concluded: It is not a significant concern.”
Clark’s comments are backed up by facts.
- When Richard Hasen, a law professor and author of the 2012 book The Voting Wars looked at 30 years of data in search of voter fraud changing the outcome of an election, he couldn’t find a single instance, according to the New Yorker.
- A 2014 Harvard study put the likely percentage of non-citizens voting at “zero.”
- Another (serious) 2014 nationwide study equated in-person voter fraud with the likelihood of someone being abducted by aliens.
- Researchers at Dartmouth found no evidence of voter fraud in the 2016 election.
- The Washington Post found just 4 cases in the most recent election, out of the millions of votes cast.
- A News21 study of 2,068 alleged election-fraud cases in 50 states revealed that, “while some fraud had occurred since 2000, the rate was infinitesimal compared with the 146 million registered voters in that 12-year span.”
Yet, in an effort to combat this mythical plague, states continue to enact a number of rules and legislative fixes. Soon after the election of Barack Obama, almost every state and jurisdiction began purging voters from its rolls. A recent report by the Brennan Center for Justice (pdf) revealed that between 2006 and 2008, jurisdictions purged about 6.2 percent of voters from their list of people eligible to cast a vote. Between 2014 and 2016, that number more than doubled to 15 percent.
And in 2015, after the Supreme Court’s Shelby v. Holder ruling eliminated provisions in the Voting Rights Act that required federal pre-clearance of changes to voting laws, states rushed to enact draconian voter identification laws. Prior to the 2016 election, Florida and North Carolina attempted to shorten the time periods for early voting. Wisconsin cut its early voting hours and Ohio did the same, as well as eliminating same-day voter registration.
Immediately after the 2016 presidential election, the man who eeked out a narrow electoral college win pushed the voter fraud conspiracy narrative further by alleging that he would have won the popular vote if it weren’t for those meddling illegal voters.
Trump doubled down on this fiction, taking it from an unsupported allegation to a government-sanctioned assertion when he signed an executive order creating the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity. The 12-member panel spent hundreds of thousands of dollars and was composed of some of the most vocal supporters of the voter fraud conspiracy theory, most notably, Commission Vice Chairman and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who was once called “the most racist politician in America.”
Despite having the power of the presidency at its disposal and the funds of the federal government to investigate voter fraud across the United States, the commision found no evidence of widespread election cheating. In fact, it discovered so little proof that the commission was dissolved in January 2018.
But a conspiracy actually exists.
The plot to keep black people from voting didn’t end with the 1965 Voting Rights Act, Shelby v. Holder or the election of Trump the Magic Grand Dragon. The tactics employed by voter fraud conspiracy advocates is, at its core, a plot to suppress the black vote and keep non-whites from casting ballots.
To prove any true conspiracy requires unimpeachable evidence. And while photos of Bigfoot always look like they are taken by someone doing the Bankhead Bounce while using a shake weight, there is ample proof of an anti-black voting conspiracy.
You want documents?
Take a look at this 2016 media advisory from North Carolina’s Republican party that brags about their “encouraging” early voting numbers. After the state cut early voting in a number of its counties with large black populations, the memo heralded the fact that “African American Early Voting is down 8.5%” while “Caucasian voters early voting is up 22.5% from this time in 2012.”
Not Republican voters. Not Democratic voters. Just white and black.
Unlike the Jay-Z and Beyonce’s Black Illuminati meetings, there’s actually audio evidence of this voter conspiracy. In 2014, Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp, who is now the Republican candidate for Governor, issued a warning his fellow party members:
I just wanted to tell you, real quick, after we get through this runoff, you know the Democrats are working hard, and all these stories about them, you know, registering all these minority voters that are out there and others that are sitting on the sidelines, if they can do that, they can win these elections in November.
Or perhaps legal court documents and settled case law prove the conspiracy.
There’s the 1990 consent decree signed by former Sen. Jesse Helms (R-NC) after Helms’ re-election campaign, when the North Carolina Republican Party and four campaign consulting and marketing firms were charged with violating the Voting Rights Act. The campaign allegedly sent 81,000 postcards threatening voters in 81 predominately black districts with five years in prison if anything on their voter registration was incorrect, according to the Associated Press.
Then there’s the 2017 federal court decision which ruled, for the fifth time, that Texas’ voter ID law was designed to discriminate against black voters. A separate appeals court ruled the same thing about North Carolina’s voter ID law, explaining that legislators “requested data on the use, by race, of a number of voting practices,” then used it to “target African Americans with almost surgical precision.”
As Anna Merlan said, a conspiracy actually exists when “a small group of people are working in secret against the common good, to create harm, to effect some negative change in society, to seize power for themselves.”
By that definition, Wisconsin’s Republican voter suppression efforts fit the description of a conspiracy when Rep. Glen Grothman declared that his state’s new voter ID law would help the eventual GOP presidential nominee win Wisconsin in the 2016 election. And after the state’s black voter turnout fell sharply as predicted, Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel announced that the law helped Trump win Wisconsin.
Just in case you need data-based proof, how about some academic research? Peer-reviewed studies in Georgia, Kansas, Texas, Indiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida and South Carolina all show that Voter ID laws equal voter suppression, specifically for non-white voters.
After several states enacted voter ID restrictions, a national poll by the Atlantic and the Public Religion Research Institute showed that, in the 2016 election, 9 percent of black voters were told they lacked proper identification to vote versus just 3 percent of white voters. Twice as many black voters (10 percent) than white voters (5 percent) were incorrectly told that their names had been purged from voter rolls.
Another paper by researchers at the University of California San Diego found that voter ID laws disproportionately affect African Americans voters (pdf). Unlike most research that used voter turnout reports that compared turnout before and after Voter ID laws, which change from election to election (for instance, black voter turnout was higher for Barack Obama’s election than for George W. Bush), the UCSD study compared turnout nationwide between states with strict ID laws and those without. The study concluded that strict voter identification laws “substantially alter the makeup of who votes and ultimately do skew democracy in favor of whites and those on the political right.”
Researchers also know that voter purges are more likely to erase black and minority voters from state rolls, and voter purges have dramatically increased, according to the Brennan Center. And despite numerous reports that highlighted the flawed Crosscheck data program that disproportionately flags African American voters to be purged, 30 states still use the system, coincidentally promoted by Kris Kobach, the aforementioned head of Trump’s election integrity committee and advocate for the myth of voter fraud.
See how it all comes full circle?
But, like most conspiracy theories, until you read the facts, it all seems too crazy to be true.
It sounds as preposterous as the government poisoning black people in St. Louis with big fans. The U.S. vote suppression scheme seems as crazy as a four-decade medical experiment on black Alabama farmers. Saying that North Carolina Republicans prevent black people from voting is almost as ludicrous as announcing that the state had a Department of Eugenics to prevent black babies from being born, which is to say ...
It is 100 percent real.