I told myself I wasn’t going to write about James O’Keefe, mostly because his sophomoric pranks are mostly for the net effect of making his pockets fat. He has his hands out, and I’m not trying to help him get paid. I no more want to discuss voting by reference of O’Keefe than I want to write about Middle East affairs by reference of Sacha Baron Cohen in The Dictator.
But his influence on voting rights opponents and legislators alike is particularly jarring. When you hear activists and state senators say we need voter ID laws because of voter fraud, instead of citing data, or even anecdotes, lately they’ve been citing O’Keefe. When I was in Houston at the True the Vote conference I was hardly surprised when the audience erupted in applause as O’Keefe took the podium. You would’ve thought Tim Tebow entered the room. And sure enough, he presented one of his “Project Veritas” videos of himself telling unsuspecting poll workers in Minnesota that he wanted to register “Timothy Tebow” to vote before given a stack of voter registration applications.
See? There is how fraud happens, O’Keefe told the crowd. What was surprising was that no one dared to speak up that no fraud had actually happened. What was O’Keefe’s point in showing this? Yes, it’s true. Someone can fill out a registration card with a fictitious name and address. It’s also true that election officials will verify that the person on the registration card exists, and toss those that don’t. Before that happens, if the person or party handling the registration cards finds something fishy—a dubious name or sketchy address—they’ll often report it to election officials themselves if they don’t discard it, as what ACORN did, contrary to popular opinion. But no crime has been committed, and photo voter ID laws wouldn’t prevent such registration problems anyway.
But O’Keefe isn’t looking for veritas or accuracy—he just needs the perception that something fishy is going on so that he can direct you to his page and have you contribute to his fairy tale fund. That’s how hustles work. Right now, on his website he invites people to fork over the dollars because “Our work in North Carolina as draining on our staff and funds—but we produced jaw-droppiong [sic] results once again!”