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Conservative activists promote misleading, ‘undercover’ video about voter fraud
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The video shows two conservative activists trying to get a Democratic organizer to tell them how to vote illegally.
The man’s organization is not affiliated with the Democratic National Committee. He tells the men four times that they have to be citizens to vote.
Under Arizona law, prospective voters do not have to submit proof of citizenship with their registration. But they are only eligible to vote in federal elections.
With Democratic primary elections starting, a secretly recorded video is spreading misinformation about voter fraud.
The video, uploaded to YouTube on Jan. 22, is titled "LEAKED: DNC Group teaches ILLEGAL VOTING in Arizona." It shows two men pretending to be undocumented immigrants as they approach a Democratic activist at a Women’s March rally in Phoenix, Ariz., on Jan. 19.
The video caption reads: "After asking the organization's co-founder, Richard Gooding, about how to vote as non-citizens, asking if they ‘support illegals,’ the staffer told our undercover journalists how they could sneak around voter laws and vote as non-citizens in federal elections!"
The video was flagged by VineSight, a company that uses artificial intelligence to flag misinformation on social media. We also found the video on Twitter and Facebook.
The "undercover journalists" in the video, Joe Basrawi and Josh Aminov, are college students and conservative activists for Turning Point USA, a group that supports limited government and free markets.
The YouTube video is similar to clips from Project Veritas, an investigative outlet run by conservative activist James O’Keefe. Project Veritas has a history of using undercover reporting, hidden cameras and selectively edited videos.
With that in mind, we wanted to take a closer look at what was said during the video. We found that Gooding’s comments were misconstrued to play into a common conspiracy theory about voter fraud.
The shaky video lasts nearly four minutes. It shows a booth at an outdoor event. No one’s face is visible.
Over the course of the recording, Basrawi and Aminov repeatedly question Gooding about how they can vote illegally. At four points, Gooding tells them that they must be citizens to vote.
Here’s everything that Gooding, co-founder of the liberal grassroots organization AZ Blue 2020, said in response:
Aminov: "I like Democrat but I come here illegally. Can I register?"
Gooding: "No, you can’t."
Gooding: (to Basrawi) "Are you registered to vote?"
Gooding: "How old are you?"
Gooding: "Are you a U.S. citizen?"
Basrawi: "Not yet."
Gooding: "OK. Are you going to get your naturalization?"
Basrawi: "Maybe. I don’t know."
Gooding: "Well, when you do, if you do that, they actually have people there that will register you to vote, but you have to be a U.S. citizen and over 18."
Basrawi: "I’m from the Middle East. I came here to study."
Gooding: "Where at? Where are you at school?"
Basrawi: "Over at ASU. I want to vote to get Trump out of office."
Gooding: "You have to get your citizenship to vote."
Basrawi: "I have to get my citizenship. There’s no way for me to vote?"
Then the camera shuts off and is replaced by some distorted audio that claims to be the same interaction. In it, Gooding tells Basrawi and Aminov that, for them to vote, they’d have to "tell me you’re a citizen when you’re not."
Gooding: "You can go to the Secretary of State’s office, and ask them for a federal form because they don’t verify your citizenship."
Basrawi: "And I can register to vote?"
Gooding: "Yes, but you’re going to have to check the box that says you’re a citizen. I mean you would, and it’s illegal, but …"
When Basrawi and Aminov press him on the comment, asking if it’s a "big deal" or if they would get deported, Gooding says: "I have no idea."
Aminov: "I want to support party."
Gooding: "Yeah, I know. Really the best thing to do is to become a citizen."
When the two men continue to press Gooding on the voter registration form, he clarifies.
Aminov: "Tuesday we can come, we register to vote and we don’t need citizen."
Gooding: "Well, there’s a federal form, and they don’t check your citizenship. So you illegally registered to vote."
Then the video shuts off again.
The video is misleading on several fronts.
First, AZ Blue 2020, the group that Gooding belongs to, is not part of the Democratic National Committee. A public Facebook group for AZ Blue 2020 describes itself as "an independent organization of energized volunteers who want to make a difference. Our goal is to elect Democrats at every level to create a Democratic governance in Arizona by 2020."
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The organization’s mission is to "empower and prepare the grassroots members of the Democratic Party, the Precinct committeepersons."
Gooding told PolitiFact that AZ Blue 2020 does not have a connection to the DNC, which oversees the national efforts of the Democratic Party.
"We are a AZ State PAC and an Indivisible group," he said, referring to a progressive movement that launched after Trump’s election.
In a phone call, Basrawi conceded that AZ Blue 2020 is not a DNC group but stood by the video’s assertion that Gooding was teaching "illegal voting."
During the YouTube video, Gooding repeatedly told Aminov and Basrawi that, if they want to vote in the federal election, they should become citizens. He said it’s illegal to register as a citizen if you’re not.
What Gooding was describing in the video about a federal form is an Arizona quirk: the state accepts voter registration forms from people who don’t provide proof of citizenship, such as a valid driver’s license, birth certificate, passport or naturalization documents. But they can only vote in federal elections, they have to attest to their citizenship when they register, and they must bring a valid photo ID to their polling place.
"A person is not required to submit proof of citizenship with the voter registration form, but failure to do so means the person will only be eligible to vote in federal elections (known as being a ‘federal only’ voter)," the Arizona secretary of state’s website reads. "A ‘federal only’ voter will become eligible to vote a ‘full ballot’ in all federal, state, county and local elections if he or she later provides valid proof of citizenship to the appropriate County Recorder’s office."
If federal-only voters lie about their citizenship on Arizona’s voter registration form, they are subject to prosecution, said C. Murphy Hebert, director of communications for the Arizona secretary of state.
The federal voter registration form also asks about applicants’ citizenship status. Respondents must check either yes or no, under penalty of perjury.
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"We never use the federal form and have never registered a voter using the federal voter registration form, because we could be registering non-citizens," Gooding told PolitiFact in an email. "My error was sharing that information with those with an ulterior motive."
Undocumented immigrants sometimes end up registered to vote after getting a driver’s license or state ID card. The Arizona Republic has reported on efforts by state elections departments to verify voters’ citizenship.
Officials in Maricopa County, where Phoenix is located, told the newspaper that "instances of non-citizens or undocumented immigrants attempting to register, let alone casting ballots, are extremely rare." According to a database maintained by the conservative Heritage Foundation, there have been 20 confirmed instances of voter fraud in Arizona dating back to 2009.
A YouTube video claims to show a "DNC group" teaching "ILLEGAL VOTING in Arizona."
The group that the video purports to show is a grassroots local political organization in Arizona, and is not affiliated with the DNC. The activist in the video said multiple times that it’s illegal to register as a U.S. citizen if you’re not. He told the two men in the video that there is a loophole in Arizona and federal law by which prospective voters can register to vote without showing proof of citizenship. He did not encourage undocumented immigrants to try to illegally vote.
The YouTube video is inaccurate. We rate it False.
The Arizona Republic, "Are undocumented immigrants voting in Ariz.?" Oct. 27, 2016
Arizona Secretary of State, Proof Of Citizenship Requirements, accessed Jan. 29, 2020
Arizona Secretary of State, Voting In This Election, accessed Feb. 5, 2020
Arizona Voter Registration Form, accessed Feb. 5, 2020
Campus Reform, accessed Jan. 29, 2020
Email interview with Richard Gooding, Jan. 29, 2020
Eventbrite, accessed Jan. 29, 2020
Facebook group, accessed Jan. 29, 2020
Facebook post, Jan. 26, 2020
Heritage Foundation, Voter Fraud Cases: Arizona, accessed Feb. 5, 2020
Interview with C. Murphy Hebert, director of communications for the Arizona secretary of state, Feb. 5, 2020
Interview with Joe Basrawi, Feb. 3, 2020
LinkedIn, accessed Jan. 29, 2020
NPR, "Some Noncitizens Do Wind Up Registered To Vote, But Usually Not On Purpose," Feb. 26, 2019
PunditFact, Turning Point USA's file, accessed Jan. 29, 2020
Snopes, "Project Veritas’ Election 2016 ‘Rigging’ Videos," Oct. 18, 2016
Tuscon.com, "Arizona agrees to ease some restrictions for people registering to vote," June 4, 2018
Tweet, Jan. 24, 2020
U.S. Election Assistance Commission, Voter Registration Application, accessed Feb. 5, 2020
The Washington Post, "What the latest James O’Keefe video leaves out," June 28, 2017
YouTube video, Jan. 22, 2020
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Conservative activists promote misleading, ‘undercover’ video about voter fraud
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