Of course you probably won't hear an apology or retraction on the network's programming, but PolitiFact.com has determined that MSNBC's Chris Matthews was in error when the Hardball host claimed on his June 4 program that a new Florida law -- which has been on hold by a federal judge -- made it utterly impossible for voter registration drives to sign up new voters over weekends. The law requires voter registration drive volunteers to turn in new voter registration forms within 48 hours after having collected them. "You don’t have to be a lawyer to own a calendar or know what a weekend is. A weekend is 48 hours," Matthews sneered at Florida GOP chairman Lenny Curry, insisting that its impossible to register new voters over a weekend without running afoul of the law
But the Tampa Bay Times/Miami Herald-run PolitiFact site did what Hardball producers should have done before Chris took to the air, actually look up and read the text of the legislation. In doing so, PolitiFact found that there's an exception in the law that takes weekends into account:
Matthews was relentless about his point. But he is also incorrect.
We read the bill (HB 1355) that passed the Legislature in 2011 and was signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott.
The 158-page bill does indeed create a 48-hour deadline for voter groups to turn in completed registrations. But there’s a caveat.
According to the law, a completed application "shall be promptly delivered to the division or the supervisor of elections within 48 hours after the applicant completes it or the next business day if the appropriate office is closed for that 48-hour period." (The passage is included on page 21 of the bill text. We added the bold for emphasis.)
Put plainly, if someone is registering voters on a Friday evening -- as Matthews said -- they would have until Monday to turn in the completed forms. If Monday was a holiday, the deadline would be extended until Tuesday. If Monday and Tuesday were holidays, or if the elections office was closed for any reason, the deadline would be Wednesday. And so on.
We confirmed our interpretation of the law with Florida Department of State spokesman Chris Cate.
There’s no doubt the deadlines were deterring groups from going out to register voters. After the law’s passage, the League of Women Voters said they wouldn’t conduct their usual voter registration drives because the new requirements were too difficult to meet.
But Matthews said that Florida’s 2011 voting law made it impossible for third-party groups to register voters on Friday afternoon, because a 48-hour deadline to turn in those applications would expire before the elections office opens Monday morning.
That’s not correct. The law factored in weekends and holidays and gave voter registration groups until the next business day. We rate Matthews’ claim False.
Thus far it appears Matthews has not taken to his program to offer a correction or an apology for misleading his viewers.
But even granting that Matthews's strong assertions were based on sheer ignorance, that only illustrates that Matthews does not in fact do his homework. Perhaps Lenny Curry, knowing the hostile environment he was walking into, could have been better equipped to cite the law back to Matthews and inform viewers that Matthews's claim was all wet. But it's not, and shouldn't be, the role of a guest on a cable news program to be an ombudsman who corrects the faulty assertions of a cable news journalist.