Donald Trump’s team is defending attorney general nominee Sen. Jeff Sessions from accusations that he unfairly investigated black activists for voter fraud in the 1980s, citing an article alleging that “black Democrats” really did steal votes.
At day two of the attorney general confirmation for Sessions, a Trump transition staffer stopped by the reporters’ table and dropped off a dossier of stories defending Sessions’s record.
Among the stories cited was an article by Hans von Spakovsky in the Conservative Review titled, “How Black Democrats Stole Votes in Alabama and Jeff Sessions Tried to Stop It.”
Trump team at the Sessions hearing just passed out a dossier citing an article about "how black Democrats stole votes" pic.twitter.com/oOOA3cIJbk— Jeff Stein (@JStein_Vox) January 11, 2017
The key background here is that Democrats and civil rights groups have cried foul over a 1985 investigation Sessions led as US attorney in Alabama of three black civil rights activists for voter fraud. The case, which resulted in no criminal prosecution, derailed Sessions’s nomination to the federal court in 1986.
Von Spakovsky’s story, published January 5, argues that Democrats did collude to deprive black voters of access to the ballot in Perry County, Alabama. The claim is hard to substantiate. As Emily Bazelon documented in an exhaustive piece for the New York Times, the federal investigation into the case — led by 10 FBI agents and involving more than 1,000 interviews — determined that just 27 ballots in the county could be disputed. (Von Spakovsky has a long history of stoking fears of voter fraud at the polls, as this New Yorker profile documents.)
Exactly what the new Trump administration thinks about the existence of voter fraud could have real-world consequences. As Vox’s German Lopez has written, the false belief in widespread voter fraud is often used to justify draconian new voter ID laws that restrict black voters’ access to the polls.
“[Sessions’s] critics are concerned that his DOJ would be uninterested in challenging state and local practices — from gerrymandering to voter ID laws to restrictions on early voting — that have the effect, and sometimes the explicit intent, of reducing minority voting rates,” Vox’s Dara Lind writes.
The Trump team’s decision to defend a voter fraud case that brought down Sessions once before isn’t likely to quell the criticism.