O'Keefe's latest sting erroneous, 'infuriating'
A new video by conservative activist James O'Keefe cites three examples of potential voter fraud, but all were wrong, according to elections officials and a newspaper investigation.
The News & Observer
RALEIGH, N.C. — In an undercover "sting" video that debuted online last week, a national group led by conservative activist James O'Keefe cites the cases of three North Carolina voters in an effort to show it's easy to commit voter fraud.
But the examples used by Project Veritas were wrong, according to elections officials and a newspaper investigation. And one family is upset that the name of its patriarch, who died in April, was dragged into a political escapade.
"I don't even know what to say, except that it makes you feel violated," said Winifred Bolton, the widow of Michael G. Bolton, who died of cancer April 23 at age 63.
Michael Bolton is cited in the video, posted on YouTube, as an example of what the narrator calls "ballots being offered out in the name of the dead."
Bolton had been a Raleigh high-school sports star and was a community pillar, serving on two North Carolina State University committees and on the boards of two theater groups.
Two weeks after his death, on the day of the May 8 primary, a Veritas operator clad in a strange outfit built around green lederhosen, a multicolored cap and a bleach job that makes his beard and hair mismatch to a comical degree, appeared at Bolton's polling place.
In the video, the man identifies himself as Bolton and — according to the narrator — is offered the dead man's ballot.
An unedited, 3 ½-hour version of the videotape on Veritas' website, though, shows editors snipped out a key piece of the video: a poll worker asking the 20-something impersonator if he is Michael G. Bolton Jr.
The Veritas operative says yes.
Michael G. Bolton Jr., who has the same address as his father, is very much alive.
His mother, Winifred Bolton, was the first family member to find out something odd had happened at their polling place.
When she went to vote that day, she said, poll workers asked her to remind her son to come back and finish voting. They said a man claiming to be her son had left before filling out a ballot, had been acting oddly and wouldn't sign anything because he had injured his arm.
Someone later pointed her to the video.
She and all four of her children are unhappy about being part of the stunt while still grieving.
The real Michael Bolton Jr. called it "infuriating."
"They should have at least asked our permission, or I guess maybe just picked someone who had been dead a lot longer," he said.
But Veritas couldn't pick someone who had been dead a long time. The state elections board each month receives a list of people who have died. Those names then are forwarded electronically to county boards for updating their rolls.
Gary Bartlett, executive director of the state Board of Elections, said he knows of one case in which someone voted in the name of a dead person — a man who had used his father's name.
The other two cases mentioned in the video are of a Raleigh man and a Morrisville man, described by the narrator as noncitizens, who purportedly registered illegally to vote. The video cites documents that the men had been excused from jury duty because they were noncitizens. But both later attained citizenship and were eligible to vote May 8.
"We checked," Bartlett said. "They are both citizens."
O'Keefe, 27, has a checkered history of such secretly recorded, politically inspired stings, most of which have been described by legal authorities and journalists as "selectively," "heavily" or "deceptively" edited.
His 2009 video targeting ACORN essentially brought down the advocacy group for the poor and minorities, although no criminal charges where filed.
O'Keefe and three fellow activists dressed as telephone repairmen were arrested in January 2010 during a failed attempt to record phone conversations in the New Orleans office of Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La. O'Keefe eventually was sentenced to three years' probation, 100 hours of community service and a $1,500 fine.
His videos also have targeted Planned Parenthood, teachers unions and Medicaid fraud, as well as voting in New Hampshire and the District of Columbia.
In North Carolina, O'Keefe's group apparently was trying to build support for efforts to require voters to present photo identification.
The state's Republican-led Legislature approved such a bill last year, but Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue vetoed it.
Such state bills have popped up across the country, driven by conservative lawmakers who cite public support for such measures and say they're necessary to ensure fraud can't swing an election. Critics say such laws are attempts to disenfranchise poor voters who are less likely to have the required identification and more likely to vote Democratic.
Voter fraud is unusual, but it happens, Bartlett said.
A report that tallies cases his office referred for potential prosecution from 2000 to 2010 show it's unusual to have more than a dozen cases each year. Most voter-fraud allegations, according to the report, either prove to be false, are without criminal intent or can't be substantiated.
As for the Veritas video, Bartlett said, the operatives who impersonated voters may have committed a felony. State elections law bars anyone from "swearing falsely" in regard to any aspect of an election or primary, Bartlett said.
By filming inside a polling place without permission, Veritas also appears to have committed an infraction of a measure designed to protect voter privacy, Bartlett said.
The elections board has reviewed three hours of the unedited version of the video and is investigating, he said.
"We are looking at every aspect of this, and we are taking all of it seriously," Bartlett said.
Officials with Veritas didn't return calls seeking comment. O'Keefe sent an email response last week, though.
"It is unfortunate that the head of the elections board is prejudging the results of his investigation," he wrote. "Our elections process does rely upon honesty and transparency so investigations into whether our elections are being conducted properly can't be harmful to the process — particularly ones that expose ballots being offered in the name of the dead or registered voters who refused jury service because they identified themselves as noncitizens.
"We look forward to the results of the election board investigation. We are confident with this, as every previous inquiry, it will be found we in no way committed a wrongdoing."
Information from Seattle Times archives is included in this report.