Thursday, April 25, 2019

Bernie Sanders + PolitiFact + Equivocation = "True"

When PolitiFact plucks a truth from a bed of untruth (or vice-versa) we call it "Tweezers" and tag the example with the "tweezers or tongs" tag.

But every once in a while PolitiFact goes beyond tweezing to pretend that the tweezed item and the bed of untruth were both true.

And that's the case with a PolitiFact Vermont fact check of Democratic Party presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).

It's true, as Sanders said, that people in jail in Vermont may vote. Except perhaps those in jail convicted of voter fraud or other crimes that may run afoul of Vermont's constitutional stipulation that voters must maintain "quiet and peaceable behavior."

The problem occurs in the middle of Sanders' claim. Vermont's original 1793 Constitution (like its 1777 Constitution) limits voting to men above a certain age. So it's just not true that it says "everybody can vote."

PolitiFact might have solved the problem in the fact check header by shortening the quotation with an ellipsis. Like this: "In my own state of Vermont ... people in jail can vote." That statement pretty much counts as true if we assume that everyone in jail is of quiet and peaceable behavior by Vermont's definition.

Unfortunately, the text of PolitiFact Vermont's fact check reinforces the false middle of Sanders' claim instead of either explicitly excluding it or providing accurate context. The fact check does not mention that Vermont's early constitution did not allow women to vote. Nor does it let on that men had to attain a certain age to vote.

Given those omissions, we count it a major victory that PolitiFact noted the stipulation that voters must be of "quiet and peaceable behavior"--not that the potential exceptions affected PolitiFact's rating of Sanders' claim:
Our ruling

Sanders said: "In my own state of Vermont, from the very first days of our state’s history, what our Constitution says is that everybody can vote. That is true. So people in jail can vote."

It’s true that Vermont felons can vote from prison today, and we can’t find anything to suggest that hasn’t always been the case in the state. Though it seems quite possible that the efforts being made today to allow them to cast ballots hasn’t always been made.

The Vermont Constitution requires people to be of "quiet and peaceable behavior," but otherwise places no restrictions on who can vote. And Sanders said prisoners "can" vote, not that they always have voted.

We rate this claim True.
 Though PolitiFact claims Vermont's constitution places no restrictions on who can vote (other than "quiet and peaceable behavior"), the fact is that Vermont places a number of restrictions on who can vote:

Every person of the full age of eighteen years who is a citizen of the United States, having resided in this State for the period established by the General Assembly and who is of a quiet and peaceable behavior, and will take the following oath or affirmation, shall be entitled to all the privileges of a voter of this state:

You solemnly swear (or affirm) that whenever you give your vote or suffrage, touching any matter that concerns the State of Vermont, you will do it so as in your conscience you shall judge will most conduce to the best good of the same, as established by the Constitution, without fear or favor of any person.

Every person who will attain the full age of eighteen years by the date of the general election who is a citizen of the United States, having resided in this State for the period established by the General Assembly and who is of a quiet and peaceable behavior, and will take the oath or affirmation set forth in this section, shall be entitled to vote in the primary election.
PolitiFact's fact check fairly overflows with misinformation and ends up calling the false parts of Sanders' statement true.

Is this why we have fact checkers or what?

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