MSNBC Hosts Wrongly Claim Ohio Purges Nonvoters After Just Two Elections

January 11th, 2018 12:20 AM

On Wednesday, MSNBC was doing its part to spread misinformation that bolsters liberal spin on alleged "voter suppression" by Republicans as anchors Craig Melvin and Hallie Jackson -- hosting MSNBC Live at different times of day -- both wrongly claimed that, according to Ohio law, voters can be removed from the voting rolls if they fail to vote in just two consecutive elections.

When Jackson was hosting, guest Jill Colvin of the Associated Press even joined in pushing the misinformation until the Washington Post's Aaron Blake stepped in to inform them that it actually takes about six years of not voting for a purge to happen -- but even he still fretted that other states might use the Ohio law as precedent to be more restrictive.



At 10:45 a.m. ET, host Jackson hyped a U.S. Supreme Court case challenging the Ohio law as she teased: "Coming up, we're talking about a fight in front of the Supreme Court right now that could effect who is registered to vote in your state. This is an under-the-radar story happening today you need to know about. We'll tell you why Ohio has been taking some of its voters off the books and what this all means ahead of the midterms."

At 10:49 a.m. ET, Jackson used the misinformation as she introduced the segment:

That system lets Ohio take voters off the rolls if they have not voted in two elections in a row, and if they have not confirmed their mailing address with the state. The lead plaintiff here is a guy named Larry Harmon -- he showed up to vote in 2015, but his name was not on the list of his polling place. That's because Harmon had not voted since 2008. And he said he did not get a post card from the state he was to send back to confirm his voting address.

At one point, on screen was displayed an article posted by NPR's Nina Totenberg which is apparently the source of the misinformation about the voter-purge time frame that Jackson repeated apparently without taking the time to check its accuracy first.

After the MSNBC host went to NBC's Pete Williams for an update on the Supreme Court hearing the case, Jackson then went to a panel discussion with Colvin and Blake. Colvin immediately complained:

I mean, it's pretty extraordinary, the idea that you can show up at the polling place, and because you didn't vote for, you know, for an election cycle here, your name won't be there. And the fact is, that most people receive a whole bunch of junk mail in the mail, and if you don't look at that post card right, and you don't mail it back, you won't be able to vote. I mean, that's the ACLU's argument here.

Blake then jumped in and contradicted Jackson's and Colvin's incorrect claims about the law:

The Ohio law -- as I understand it -- is after you don't vote in two consecutive elections, you then get sent this card, and if you don't respond to the card, and you don't vote another four years, which would include two federal elections, you don't get to vote. So there is a -- you would have to vote for a long -- not vote for a long period of time to be taken off the rolls...

But Blake then worried there would still be negative consequences if the Ohio law were upheld by the Supreme Court:

But if the Supreme Court says, "Hey, you can take people off the voter rolls without them affirmatively doing something such as changing their address," you know, there are going to be efforts in a lot of these states -- and Pete (Williams) mentioned some of them -- there are going to be efforts to stretch that ruling as far as they can go because there's a lot of money behind efforts to do this kind of thing.

Jackson then responded to Blake's commentary by fearmongering further:

I'm so glad you brought up that point by Pete because there were big implications for this year's midterms. Look at how many people in Ohio took off the voter rolls in 2015 and 2016 -- nearly half a million people -- because of this. So if, in fact, the Supreme Court does end up ruling in Ohio's favor, again, this is going to have fallout not just in this state, but in a lot of states that are critically important to 2018.

Notably, according to the same day's PBS NewsHour, the Ohio law has been in effect for more than two decades -- since 1994 -- and was only within the last few years the subject of a lawsuit.

A few hours later, when Melvin was anchoring MSNBC Live between 1 and 2 p.m. ET, he also repeated the original wrong information, and did not receive any correction as both of his guests were on the liberal side of the issue and had no incentive to prevent him from repeating misinformation that was in their favor.