Last month, Americans for Prosperity (AFP), the conservative political nonprofit funded by the Koch brothers and their donor network, sent out thousands of mailers in North Carolina that gave voters in that state faulty information concerning their voter registration. Forms were addressed to dead people, children and, in at least one case, a cat (which necessitated the creation of this Tumblr).
AFP says the mass mailing was a mistake and has apologized, but the North Carolina Democratic Party has filed a complaint alleging attempted voter suppression.
Now, there’s an Arkansas connection. Sue Sturgis, a blogger for the Durham-based Institute for Southern Studies, has made available two letters sent by AFP attorneys to the North Carolina State Board of Elections, which is currently investigating the NC Dems’ complaint about AFP. The letters say the bad information “utilized a template from a previous mailer sent out to potential new voters in Arkansas”:
The genesis of our errors in North Carolina was entirely inadvertent and resulted from the size and scope of our ambitious voter registration effort which involves multiple states. More specifically, our North Carolina mail was drawn from a similar document previously sent to Arkansas residents. … Our mistake was in taking our Arkansas form and applying it to North Carolina without re-vetting every detail to ensure it reflected North Carolina’s latest voter registration procedures prior to its release.
Hmm. “A previous mailer sent out to potential new voters in Arkansas”? Has anyone out there received one of these?
If so, please snap a picture and send it our way; we’re very curious.
AFP is a political organization, let there be no mistake. It exists for the express purpose of influencing elections and policy decisions, not for nonpartisan voter registration and education. As a piece published in the New York Times Magazine today points out, Americans for Prosperity, along with other powerful emergent outside players in the American political landscape on both the right and the left, now essentially functions as a privatized political party.
So it’s a fair question to ask: Why exactly is AFP choosing to spend a chunk of its war chest, in the midst of one of the most crucial Arkansas elections in decades, on the noble goal of voter education? Was it merely to boost turnout in general?
Back in North Carolina, the State Board of Elections is requesting demographic information from AFP about whom its mailers were sent out, says Sue Sturgis. The board is attempting to determine whether AFP sent the bad information to any particular group of voters; after all, whether boosting turnout is good or bad for AFP’s political goals depends on who exactly does the turning out.
Sturgis also says that elections officials in three other states — Wisconsin, Virginia and West Virginia — have received complaints against AFP about distributing misleading information in the past. In Wisconsin in particular, there have been allegations of voter caging, Sturgis writes:
The strategy involved the Wisconsin Republican Party using its statewide voter file to compile a list of minority and student voters in targeted communities. It would then give that to AFP, which would send a mailer marked “do not forward” telling recipients — wrongly — that they must call and confirm their registration information, and that if they did not they would be removed from voter lists.
However, the real purpose of the mailers was to see if any were returned as undeliverable. If they were, those voters would then face challenges by Tea Party recruits at the polls for not legally residing at their registered addresses.
Are you a newly registered voter? Have you received a mailer from AFP? If so, let us know.
UPDATE FOR MAX: Is it only coincidence that the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette carried an article this morning about complaints from voters in Hot Springs about receiving false notifications by mail that they weren’t registered to vote? Is a caging operation underway in Arkansas? The state Board of Election Commissioners should be seeking answers. The secretary of state should be seeking answers. the Justice Department and FBI’s voter integrity units should be getting to the bottom of this NOW.