James O’Keefe’s latest video – in which several election officials in New Hampshire handed out ballots for dead people – has a lot of people talking about the issue of requiring photo ID at polling places. But for me, it immediately brings up a different question.
Why should it be illegal to videotape public officials?
When some local politicians in New Hampshire found out that election officials had been handing out ballots for voters who were already dead, they were outraged… with O’Keefe!
For example, look at the reaction of Nashua City Clerk Paul Bergeron:
“They recorded it without election officials’ knowledge, which apears to be a violation of our New Hampshire wiretapping codes, and some of these are out of state residents, so I don’t know if violations of wiretapping or ID theft could hold up in court, but if they crossed state lines to commit these crimes, it may be a federal crime as well. This is serious; we won’t tolerate voter fraud, regardless of what the intent might be,” Bergeron said.
“If these are New Hampshire residents they should lose their right to vote forever, in addition to fines or imprisonment. I take it seriously, and people shouldn’t dismiss this as just a harmless stunt; it’s not,” Bergeron said.
Wow – this guy takes fraud really seriously! Any time fraud happens he’s pounding his desk demanding that something be done about it. Except that, I haven’t been able to find one quote from him expressing even the slightest concern about how easy it was for someone to walk into a polling place and get a fraudulent ballot.
If that seems inconsistent, it is. And a quick look at the Nashua web site will tell you exactly why Bergeron is furious about the undercover video that was taken… but reluctant to talk about how vulnerable this election was to fraud:
[The City Clerk’s Office] conducts all local, state and national elections…
So Bergeron isn’t really angry that someone allegedly broke a random law about videotaping public officials. He’s angry because someone is spotlighting the fact that he didn’t do enough to ensure the integrity of this election.
Now that his ineffectiveness is getting publicity, rather than take responsibility, Bergeron is attacking James O’Keefe – plain and simple.
Another politician who’s outraged and demanding that O’Keefe and his associates be “prosecuted to the full extent of the law” is New Hampshire Governor John Lynch. Why? Last year he vetoed a bill that would have required a person to show photo ID in order to vote. In hindsight, maybe Lynch is realizing that that wasn’t the best decision.
In reality, neither of these guys are genuinely outraged by this voter fraud. Their reaction can be explained with three letters: C-Y-A. That’s all it is. They are angry that someone is drawing attention to their ineptitude so they are lashing out at the person doing it.
This perfectly demonstrates why we as citizens need to be legally able to videotape our public officials. Unfortunately, this type of reaction is common when someone in a position of authority is challenged because people in power will often do whatever they need to do to hold on to that power.
Our elected officials have a lot more resources at their disposal than the average citizen and can even use their position in government to retaliate against anyone who exposes their shortcomings. Because of the enormous power that comes simply from being in government, we as citizens need to have the most powerful defense available to us – video tape.
But this is about much more than just defending ourselves from being persecuted by out of control politicians. Video is also by far the most effective way for individuals to create change in the policies of government. In fact, O’Keefe’s video has already prompted an investigation.
As New Hampshire’s unfortunately named Assistant Attorney General explained:
According to the Union Leader, state Associate Attorney General Richard Head said his office became aware of the effort on Election Day and began investigating immediately.
“That investigation is ongoing,” he said. “Based on the information received on Election Day and the information on the video, we are undertaking a comprehensive review of voting procedures with the Secretary of State.”
Now do you think O’Keefe would have gotten an immediate reaction like that if he had obtained ballots for dead people and then written an article about it?
What if he had interviewed election officials and written about that?
How about if he had written a letter to the Attorney General?
Of course not. If he had used any or even all of those methods there is no way that Richard Head would already be reviewing the voting procedures. That is the power of video.
It all comes down to the balance of power between the people and the government – and right now the scales are tipped way too far in favor of the government. Because of that, videotaping public officials is a tool that we must have at our disposal if we are going have any chance of properly holding our government accountable.