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Anatomy Of An Election Fraud Scare

The problem with our breaking news-war room media-political culture is that not everything is as it first may seem. Now that the dust is settling on last week's election, we're learning some of the many inside stories, and while some are just delicious--could Sarah Palin really not have known that Africa is a continent?--others should set off alarms.

You may recall a last-days alert about a flier that was making the rounds in the Hampton Roads region of Virginia, a missive that purported to be from the state board of elections, instructing Republican voters to come to the polls on Nov. 4 (Election Day) and Democrats to delay showing up until the following day, Nov. 5.

Even if the flier was littered with grammar and spelling errors, there was fear that some people would be dissuaded from voting on the proper date, and news of the flier spread far and wide.

But now the Virginian-Pilot has taken the time to check into what really happened, and the story is instructive. The flier was of course phony, but it doesn't seem to have come from any Republican dirty tricks operation. Rather, state police told the newspaper, it was a bad joke that got swept up by the too-efficient defenses of the Barack Obama campaign.

The unnamed prankster made the flier and distributed it only to a few co-workers at the office. One of those co-workers, appalled that this might be part of a larger election disinformation effort, notified an Obama campaign office in the Hampton Roads area. Lawyers were summoned, and one of them scanned the flier into a computer, creating an electronic version that was then emailed around to campaign staffers. From there, the email went viral.

So at no point did anyone campaigning against Obama distribute the flier--rather, the Obama camp unwittingly created its own scare. And state police didn't clarify the situation publicly until the Virginian-Pilot asked what had happened.

No one will be charged in the incident, but that doesn't mean all sides shouldn't take a lesson. Sometimes a joke flier is just a joke flier.

By Marc Fisher |  November 11, 2008; 8:18 AM ET
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Please email us to report offensive comments.

"Sometimes a joke flier is just a joke flier."

And sometimes shouting "Fire" in a crowded theater is just a joke. Do you begin to clear out the theater in case there is really a fire or spend time investigating to confirm the fire first? It may be too late if there actually is one.

After what happened in Florida in 2000 and the history of disenfranchisement of black voters in this nation, I think that the Obama campaign was right to make sure that this flier was outed as a scam. I don't think that they ever said or implied that the flier came from the Republicans or any one group. You just never know how many uniformed voters there are who would believe the fliers.

Posted by: 3littlebirks | November 11, 2008 8:51 AM

Did you just compare a joke flier that had almost no circulation to shouting Fire in a crowded theater?

Posted by: Comunista | November 11, 2008 9:11 AM

Yes, it is instructive. Possibly the Obama campaign created its own problem.

This same joke was circulating during the 2000 elections but nobody took it seriously. It's interesting, though, that even then, it was Republicans who were supposed to vote on election day and Democrats who were to go the day after; so perhaps it is also instructive because it says something about a peculiarly Republican mindset?

Posted by: threeoaksgone | November 11, 2008 9:23 AM

Perhaps you could enlighten us all on that peculiar little election in Alaska.

There's a REAL story there, I'm guessin'

Posted by: tmcproductions2004 | November 11, 2008 9:45 AM

Well, obviously one of this prankster's co-workers did not realize it was a joke, and it certainly didn't seem funny to the Obama campaign or to any other American who heard it. It says a lot about the Republican party that a great many reasonable people were willing to take this flyer seriously.

That being said, there should really be some kind of consequence for the original prankster. His act may not be comparable to yelling fire in a crowded theater, but it's certainly comparable to saying you have a bomb in an airport security line.

Posted by: baddabing1 | November 11, 2008 9:48 AM

I'm just glad the Virginian-Pilot followed up and that you have shared their findings with us. One of the things I like about a good local newspaper is that stories get pursued beyond their brief, sometimes misleading, moment in the spotlight, so that we find out the rest of the story, or its aftermath. It is scary to think this may not always be the case, but nice to see that the Virginian-Pilot is still in there pitching. Thanks for highlighting this.

Posted by: fairfaxvoter | November 11, 2008 10:09 AM

Mr. Fisher hits the nail on the head here. All news organizations are hungry to be the first to break a scandal or a drama. And in this new instant information age, the ability to get facts is easy, but apparently the ability to check facts isn't, or ignored as a trade-off for speed.

As such, many stories on many different websites, including candidate ones, are very raw and as citizens we need to try to digest them in this raw state and a lot of folks don't know how to do that.

Posted by: kolbkl | November 11, 2008 10:15 AM

J.McC. himself said that suspicious voter registrations and proposed changes in Union elections was "threatening the very fabric of democracy."

Did Mickey Mouse show up to vote anywhere?
Wasn't that a little melodramatic?

Posted by: sacomment | November 11, 2008 10:31 AM

What kind of blame-the-victim nonsense is this? This flier was a joke? I suppose so was the vile, racist editorial of the real-Virginia Republican boss, and the Republicans' steady practice of trying to disenfranchise minority voters, and the real America/unreal America dividive rhetoric of the McCain campaign? This might be a joke if it were not part of a pattern of race-baiting rhetoric and various disenfranchisement strategies.

And what harm, exactly, did the Obama camp cause by calling attention to (and correcting) this misinformation? Far less than the airport personnel who freak out over the theoretical bomb joke! (Incidentally, calling fire in a crowded theater will not cause the theater to burn down, but feeding misinformation to voters could create a different winner in an election.)

Given the avalanche of voter-suppression attempts by Republicans, combined with their boo-hooing over phantoms of voter fraud, maybe Mr. Fisher shouldn't be fishing so hard to find a misstep by the Obama campaign -- and in this case, their grievous sin seems to be CORRECTING A FALSE, RACIST FLIER. Maybe he should find out of how many of those scary dead voters, and Mickey Mouse voters, and guys who registered 50 times actually cast any fraudulent votes (The answer: probably close to zero, out of 130 million votes cast)... All after McCain warned of "the greatest fraud in history, thretening to rip the fabric of democracy" or some such claptrap.

Alien intruders: Please bring back the real, sane Mark Fisher and get rid of the cyborg with whom you have replaced him.

Posted by: sumnonski | November 11, 2008 10:47 AM

If this is the kind of PC, overly-sensitive BS that we're going to have to live with over the next 4 years, I'm leaving.

What I see is a joke, magnified by a dimwit that doesn't understand jokes, magnified by a campaign that doesn't tolerate jokes.

The person who passed this on to Obama is in desperate need of stick-removal surgery.

Posted by: tonynelson1 | November 11, 2008 12:09 PM

Martin Eisenstadt took credit for starting the hoax, according to Patrick W. Gavin of
fishbowlDC, who wonders if the hoaxer's self-disclosure might be a hoax.


Mike Licht

Posted by: MikeLicht | November 11, 2008 12:30 PM

Yeah, that "joke" is really hysterical. This very funny "prankster" is obviously a Democrat, right? Where is the humor again?

Posted by: bb211 | November 11, 2008 12:47 PM

Just further proof that liberals have no sense of humor or commonsense.

Posted by: alvint | November 11, 2008 1:18 PM

Remember the "New Yorker" cover, that was supposed to be an elite joke within the confines of the New Yorker readers?

The problem with a joke is that *everyone* has to be in on it, or it just doesn't work. Saying one staffer didn't find it funny belies another possibility: they saw the flier after the fact and didn't realize it was a joke to begin with.

It isn't overreaction on the part of an Obama staffer in that the person they got that information from was missing that element (it was a joke). What if it weren't a joke?

Others have alluded to this: the campaign by John McCain made great pains to paint his opponent as supporting 'un-American' things, such as "socialism" and "terrorism" and, with his allusions to ACORN, "voter fraud". Those didn't work, but the seeds were planted.

The only positive in this is that it had no real effect, the flier, except to make sure that all those in the Hampton Roads area were aware of official Virginia elections policy.

Posted by: peabody | November 11, 2008 1:41 PM

The flyer is miniscule in comparison to the obvious ELECTION FRAUD BEING PERPETRATED by Barack Hussein Obama, the DNC, and the FEC when they put up a CONSTITUTIONALLY UNQUALIFIED candidate whose OWN GRANDMOTHER says HE WAS BORN IN KENYA.

The TAPE RECORDING and TRANSLATED TRANSCRIPT of her is at the US Supreme Court in conjunction with the lawsuit BERG vs OBAMA.

Barack Obama et al have until December 1, 2008 to respond to the application for Writ of Certiorari in BERG vs OBAMA.

Will Barack Obama respond or will he stonewall the Writ applicatin in an attempt to perpetuate his SCAM against theAmerican voters and citizens by usurping the US Constitution requirement POTUS MUST BE A 'NATURAL BORN CITIZENE?'


Posted by: Archarito | November 11, 2008 1:51 PM

^ That guy is nutzo.

Posted by: sacomment | November 11, 2008 6:15 PM

My god - by the tone of half these comments, you'd think there was a national Prozac supply problem. Did I miss a headline? Did the Supreme Court outlaw common sense and a sense of humor? Folks - wake up! That "Tuesday/Wednesday" joke has been around for ages. I saw it first in 1992 when Clinton was a small-state Governor. This isn't election fraud - it's someone one making mountains out of mole-hills. The fact is that Obama is President, and most Republicans want him to succeed - simply because he's the POTUS. I voted for McCain, but I want Obama to succeed. His failure is a national failure, but his success is a national success. So I wish him the best. I have high hopes. But his almost cult-like followers are going to have to take a serious chill-pill, or they're going to be his own worst enemy. If they jump off a cliff every time a balloon pops they're going to make his Administration a joke. Relax everyone - even McCain's telling jokes by now.

Posted by: mwcob | November 11, 2008 7:39 PM

"After what happened in Florida in 2000,,,"

What happened in Florida in 2000 is that the networks called the state before the polls closed; the Democratic party in Palm Beach was spectacularly incompetent in their butterfly ballot design; and GWB won. Go back and read the after-the-fact recount by the NYTimes and multiple other responsible newspapers, if the actual truth is of interest to you.

For all the actual voter rights problems that may/do exist, you devalue any other statement you make on the topic by this misinformed/intentionally misleading statement. Get over it and enjoy the results of the 2008 election.

Posted by: Ho_Ho_Ho | November 11, 2008 8:27 PM

The person above has literally ALL their facts wrong. What a loon!

Posted by: bbcrock | November 11, 2008 9:32 PM

And there is no one named Martin Eisenstadt in the campaigns, that person is a hoax.

Posted by: bbcrock | November 11, 2008 9:32 PM

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