The Democratic Voter Fraud Story Couldn't Come At A Worse Time For Democracy

In the latest “sting” operation from conservative undercover journalist James O’Keefe, two Democratic Party organizers are reportedly implicated in engaging in voter fraud in a series of secretly filmed and highly edited videos. Both operatives have lost their jobs — one was laid off, the other stepped down — but the real damage from the exposé may be much more catastrophic: undermining our country’s confidence in democracy itself.

The investigation from O'Keefe and his organization, Project Veritas Action, claims that Democratic operatives caught on tape, Scott Foval of Americans United for Change and Bob Creamer of Democracy Partners, engaged in large-scale voter fraud. Creamer defended himself from the allegation, saying, "Contrary to the outrageous claims of the notorious right wing blogger James O'Keefe, we have always adhered to the highest standards of transparency and legality in our work for the DNC." Donna Brazile, the interim chair of the DNC, said, "We do not believe, or have any evidence to suggest, that the activities articulated in the video actually occurred."

Some of the clips seem damning, though. At one point, Foval reportedly says to the undercover journalist, “We’ve been bussing people in to deal with you fuckin’ assholes for 50 years,” possibly referring to a scheme whereby voters are brought in from other locations to swing elections. But O’Keefe provides no real evidence that this is happening, other than Foval’s blowhard on-camera boasting and other “targets” making vague claims.

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O’Keefe is the poster-boy of semi-sketchy undercover conservative journalism, having spearheaded other similarly problematic exposés such as the investigation into the community organization ACORN (for which he was sued and ultimately settled by paying $100,000) and a hidden camera sting that caught an NPR executive calling all Tea Party members racists. This latest video from O'Keefe follows similarly manipulative patterns as his others, with selectively edited clips and inconclusive “evidence.”

But none of this matters. Or, let me rephrase: all of this matters a great deal — the allegations, if true, are huge, but shoddy, manipulative reporting can be toxic.

What the exposé does successfully is bolster one of the most sinister aims of Trump’s campaign: to inflame his far-right base by undermining the very democratic system he’s running in. The ploy is as cynical as it is hypocritical: Trump’s calls on Tuesday for his supporters to “monitor” the polls are much more likely to result in voter intimidation than any uncovering of a vast conspiracy of voter fraud.

One feels like a broken record reasserting it, but the rare instances of in-person voter fraud committed in the United States does not constitute an existential threat to our democracy, especially when it’s compared with the kind of disenfranchisement that occurs in the name of preventing voter fraud. And it hasn't actually been proven whether Foval and Creamer did or did not participate in voter fraud — all that exists is an edited video by an undercover journalist of an opposing view.

How do you challenge people like Trump and O’Keefe, who are practicing the worst kind of distortion for the most mercenary ends? As ever, this election long ago stopped being about Trump versus Clinton — it’s about truth versus lies, now, integrity versus cynicism. If you think your vote doesn’t matter, you’ve never been more wrong.