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A 'gotcha' for James O'Keefe, but exactly what did he get?

October 24, 2012|By Jon Healey
  • A screen shot from the latest YouTube video from James O'Keefe's Project Veritas, showing Patrick Moran -- son of Rep. James Moran (D-Va.) -- allegedly offering tips on how to commit voter fraud.
A screen shot from the latest YouTube video from James O'Keefe's… (Project Veritas, YouTube.com )

This post has been updated, as indicated below.

Republicans were cheering Wednesday after right-wing hidden-camera provocateur (and would-be sexual prankster) James O'Keefe unveiled his latest expose, this time catching a Democratic congressman's son advising an undercover member of O'Keefe's team on how to commit voter fraud.

The video, O'Keefe says, "takes an unprecedented inside view of voter fraud in the United States, something that many claim doesn't even exist." In it, O'Keefe's unidentified colleague (who's never shown) approaches Patrick Moran, son of and reelection field director for Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.), in a cafe and says he's concerned that President Obama may lose, and is looking for help casting votes in the names of 100 people who haven't voted in the previous few elections.

The younger Moran doesn't tell the man that what he's planning is illegal, immoral or wrong. Instead, he tells him it would be "tough" and that he'd be better off spending his time and energy getting those 100 voters to the polls. He also encourages him to help Obama's get-out-the-vote efforts in Northern Virginia, which his father represents.

But as the man persists, Moran gets drawn in and tells him that he'd need to forge utility bills or bank statements in the names of the would-be voters. He also tells him to call them to make sure they haven't voted already and weren't planning to.

It's damning, no question about it. Recognizing as much, Moran resigned from his father's campaign seemingly within minutes of the video's release on YouTube.

It does not, however, prove anything about the sort of in-person voter fraud that Republicans are so worked up about. In fact, it makes a pretty good case that you'd be daft to attempt it.

I'm no expert on how one would go about fooling the poll workers in Virginia, but Moran didn't come across as one either. He didn't offer any advice about voting procedures that couldn't have been offered by a regular voter. And the undercover videographer had to prompt Moran repeatedly with suggestions, such as using Microsoft Word to forge a utility bill. And really, Microsoft Word?!? You'd think a scanner and Photoshop would be more likely to be found in a forger's toolbox.

That's not to defend Moran. Instead, I think O'Keefe is good at capturing people with broken moral compasses, not proving criminality. Moran showed himself as someone willing to support a voter-fraud scheme, if not necessarily to cast fraudulent votes himself (the videographer made that suggestion, but Moran ignored it). But it doesn't show him to be an old hand at it, or even well versed in how it's done.

The point that O'Keefe seems to miss from his own video is that there are far easier ways to help a candidate than to commit identity theft on election day. The scheme outlined by the videographer would have required the phony voters to travel hundreds of miles across Virginia (the supposed targets of the fraud were registered in precincts from Alexandria to Richmond). In discussing it, Moran jocularly outlined why there would be a real risk of being caught in the act; it's the videographer, not Moran, who insists that they needn't worry about enforcement. The alternative offered by Moran was to go to one or two counties with a history of low Democratic voter turnouts and shuttle people to the polls.

In short, the video makes the case that, when measured in terms of risk versus reward, in-person voter fraud makes no sense. But then, if people like the younger Moran are stupid enough to entertain the idea of committing voter fraud at the prompting of someone they meet in a cafe, then maybe they'd miss that point too.

It's also worth noting that the video discusses only the type of voter fraud that would be addressed by laws requiring would-be voters to show a government-issued picture ID at the polls. Those laws have been championed by Republicans and opposed by Democrats, who argue that their constituents (particularly low-income, disabled, minority, young and elderly voters) are more likely to lack the necessary ID card than GOP voters. Notably absent from the video was any discussion of how to fraudulently cast absentee ballots, which wouldn't be affected by requiring an ID at the polls.

[Update, 10:19 a.m. Oct. 25: The younger Moran released a statement Wednesday night, which the website Politico reported as follows:

"In reference to the 'O'Keefe' video, at no point have I, or will I ever endorse any sort of illegal or unethical behavior. At no point did I take this person seriously. He struck me as being unstable and joking, and for only that reason did I humor him. 

"In hindsight, I should have immediately walked away, making it clear that there  is no place in the electoral process for even the suggestion of illegal behavior, joking or not.

"In regards to my position on the campaign, I have stepped down because I do not want to be a distraction during this year's critical election."

That's similar to the defense offered by other targets of O'Keefe exposes. Watch the video for yourself and decide whether Moran spent nearly 20 minutes humoring someone he didn't take seriously.]

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Follow Jon Healey on Twitter @jcahealey

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