Fact-checking Charlie Daniels 

Researcher finds a marred education project.

NO LONGER ON-LINE: The secretary of state's factually challenged presentation on suffrage.
  • NO LONGER ON-LINE: The secretary of state's factually challenged presentation on suffrage.

March 21, researching voting-rights development for U.S. minorities, I Googled "U.S. Native American suffrage." The very first return was a page of Arkansas Secretary of State Charlie Daniels titled "A Chronology of American Suffrage 1776-2002."

I study media and other public-information accuracy, and see many faulty "authoritative" reports. I often contact errant outlets to seek corrections and document response behavior. It's often defensive and uncooperative.

Here's a partial sampling of Daniels' page. More may have been wrong; I took little time to research all possible errors. What's here raises questions I usually ask. For starters: Who wrote this? How were they chosen and what are they paid? How long was this site up? Were there other complaints and how were they addressed?

The page was chronological and I'll go chronologically, not in order of fault:

"1865: A Civil Rights Act [sic] defines citizenship and prohibits discrimination based on race. President Andrew Jackson vetoes the bill, however the Republican Congress overrides the veto."

Andrew Jackson, whose name adorns an era and a political style, was a great soldier, a senator and more, elected president in 1828 and 1832. Vice President Andrew Johnson, a very different critter, succeeded on Lincoln's death almost 30 years after Jackson left office.

"1872: Susan B. Anthony [...] is arrested for violating a law that forbids the votes of confederates [sic] or traitors."

Susan B.: traitor and — Confederate? Nonsense, as presented. She was prosecuted for voting while female, for "knowingly, wrongfully, and unlawfully [...] without having a lawful right to vote [...] being then and there a person of the female sex."

"1931: Arkansan Hattie Caraway assumed her husband's U.S. Senate seat, after his death, becoming the first female U.S. senator. She was elected in her own right in 1932."

Wrong. The first woman senator, Rebecca Felton, was appointed by Georgia's governor on a senator's death — not her husband or relative — and famously sworn Nov. 21, 1922. She addressed the Senate Nov. 22 before yielding to her elected successor. However briefly, she was senator.

"1940: Native Americans are made citizens by an act of Congress. However, in New Mexico and Arizona Native Americans cannot vote because they do not pay property taxes." (A later passage cited these bans' defeat after a 1947 court case.)

That's a multilayered mess of commission and omission. Daniels' webpage told us or at least strongly implied no Indians were citizens before 1940, and New Mexico and Arizona were the (only) states still pushing back. All wrong:

1924's Indian Citizenship Act (Snyder Act) gave citizenship to Indians henceforth born in the U.S. But since the 14th Amendment has a hedge about U.S. "jurisdiction" (conveniently construed to exclude some Indian "nations"), and excluded "Indians not taxed" from apportionment, it did take 1940's Nationality Act to conclusively make citizens of all people born in the U.S. But noting 1940 as Daniels does, without mention of 1924, is wrong. Further, other Western states continued to deny at least some Indian voting. According to the ACLU and others, Indians on reservations could not vote in Utah until 1957 and Colorado until 1970.

"1955: Orval E. Faubus was the first Arkansas governor to serve six terms (1955-1976)."

Faubus was elected in 1954 to the first of six two-year terms. He took office in January 1955 and served through January 1967.

"2002: The Help America Vote Act is signed in as a law by President George W. Bush totally overhauling the election system."

Really? Not just overhauled, but totally? Forget the laughable adverb; did the act even "overhaul" elections? Many acts have fine names but dubious content and implementation. Today we have the same or greater concerns about election fairness, integrity and electronic security.

March 22 I tried to report these issues to Daniels' office, asking for Deputy Secretary of State Janet Harris. An aide named Yvonne, who at first refused to identify herself, refused connection because I'm not "with" a firm, agency, etc. But Harris did come on, immediately making clear she wasn't inclined to correct Yvonne let alone the site. I'd cited one error — Jackson/Johnson — when Harris' response became so sarcastic I hung up. In following weeks I found the site unchanged. But when I checked in mid-May for the first time in at least a month, it was gone.

What happened in that time? I contacted the Democrat-Gazette and Commercial Appeal. They didn't write about it, but perhaps that encouraged the decision to remove the page.

(Editor's note: Deputy Secretary of State Harris said that when she asked Powell for the specific document where the errors appeared that he told her she could Google it as he had. She said he became upset and eventually hung up. "After he got off the phone I found it. It was a document we'd done several years ago for children. I had historians look at it. There were some inaccuracies." She said the page was removed from the web after historians completed the check and it is undergoing revision. "We were happy to look at it," she said. "When we make mistakes, we try to fix them.")

Powell, of Arlington, Va., is a journalist who published columns in U.S. and Canadian newspapers. His more recent work to report uncorrected factual errors in major media and other educational outlets is much less popular, he says.



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