Just behind the "war on women" and charges of racism, MSNBC's third favorite bogeyman is the specter of "voter suppression." The network was obsessed with that meme in 2012 and will doubtless pound the pulpit on it in the congressional midterms, but it's been relatively quiet about it in 2013. That changed today when MSNBC Live anchor Thomas Roberts brought on Kathy Culliton-Gonzalez of The Advancement Project to forward the complaints of Virginia Democrats against a state voter registry clean-up that has removed about 38,000 from the state's rolls. Liberal Democrats in the Old Dominion took the state to court for daring to kick off the voter registry folks who had registered to vote in other states after having registered in Virginia. Federal judge Claude Hilton turned down their request to reverse the move.
True to form, Roberts described the effort as a "purge," even though the roughly 38,000 scrubbed from state rolls accounts for less than 0.8 percent of the state's "active voter registrations." What's more, as the Associated Press reported, Judge Hilton ruled that no voter was suffering "irreparable harm" from the clean-up because "anybody wrongly stricken can cast a provisional ballot" on election day.
To be fair, Roberts did quote briefly from the judge's ruling. That said, the MSNBC host failed to bring on an opposing point of view and gave Culliton-Gonzalez a platform to level her charge that even if the voter roll clean-up was constitutionally and legally valid, that it was morally and ethically suspect.
"The problem is that these kind of purges so close to an election cause confusion and can cause intimidation," Culliton-Gonzalez groused, adding:
So if this were a federal election, this type of purge would be clearly illegal because purging is not allowed within 90 days of any federal election. But this case just shows us how important state voting rights law are, so it's not as clear under state law as it is federal law, but doing this type of list maintenance or purging, which does have some errors in it and does cause confusion is not allowed under principle under federal law and should not be allowed under state law either.
This would have been the perfect opportunity for Roberts to throw back what a conservative pundit might say, which is that the proper forum for addressing Culliton-Gonzalez's grievance would be the Virginia General Assembly, the state's legislature, rather than seeking to override a perfectly legitimate move by state officials via the fiat of a federal judge.
Roberts, however, failed to do that, instead teeing up Culliton-Gonzalez to knock a softball over the fences:
You bring up this margin of error. As you look at how this race is rolling out there, it's expected to be very close with low turnout expected for this off, off year election. The latest NBC-4, NBC-Marist poll puts McAuliffe at 46 percent, Cuccinelli at 38 percent, so it really could only take a matter, Kathy, of a few thousand votes to put one candidate ahead of another.
Culliton-Gonzalez was appreciative of the homerun derby-worthy pitch and made contact:
Yeah, I guess that's a very important point. So we're a non-partisan group, but sometimes, you know, these types of purges are just politicians manipulating the voting roles for their own, you know, political gain, so there are 38,000 people who were on the list. You know, the litigation is ongoing. We would encourage everybody who's an eligible Virginia voter to vote, and they have the right to vote a provisional ballot if they're on this list.
But, again, you know, it's going to be a close race, and this is why these types of purges shouldn't be done so close to an election. In fact, we don't even know why the purge was done. Nobody's pointing to any serious voter fraud. This just seems to be last-minute list maintenance that causes confusion.
For his part, Roberts then proceeded to try to get Culliton-Gonzalez to charge that the voter list maintenance had a cynically partisan motive as Republican candidate and current Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli provides legal advice to the state board of elections. She was careful not to descend into partisan rhetoric, but agreed with the premise that it smelled bad at the very least:
ROBERTS: The board of elections legal adviser is Ken Cuccinelli. He's the first attorney general in 30 years in Virginia not to step down from that position because of his run for governor. Wouldn't that provide a large conflict-of-interest over this?
CULLITON-GONZALEZ: I would think so. If I was in his position, I wouldn't be doing what he's doing. But, I'm with Advancement Project, we're a non-partisan group. We care very much about the voters. We hope that people still continue to vote, and don't let this intimidate you. If you're on this list and you're a Virginia voter, please go to the polls and vote.
ROBERTS: would that be a red flag to your organization?
CULLITON-GONZALEZ: It could be. It could be. Certainly, we believe that these things should be non-partisan, that people in charge of elections should act in a non-partisan manner. So we're very concerned when politicians manipulate the voting rolls. We are against this purge, we're, you know, waiting to see what the lawsuit brings. But in the meantime, certainly hope that voters come out and vote and not let this new type of shenanigan of trying to manipulate the voting rolls be at all intimidating.
ROBERTS: Kathy Culliton-Gonzalez with The Advancement Project. Great to have you on, Kathy. Thanks for your time today and your insights.
To our knowledge, Virginia Democrats didn't even attempt to argue in court that Democrats were disproportionately impacted by the voter "purge." Had that been the case, Roberts's "conflict of interest" argument would have had more punch and would arguably have led the interview segment.