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Voting Rights Shall Not Overcome NYT Reporting Like This

President Barack Obama makes remarks at the foot of the Edmund Pettus Bridge to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the "Bloody Sunday" march from Selma to Montgomery, in Selma, Alabama, Saturday, March 7, 2015. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

The New York Times' report (3/8/15) on Barack Obama's speech commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Selma march noted that the president called the Voting Rights Act, passed in the wake of the march, “the culmination of so much blood and sweat and tears, the product of so much sacrifice in the face of wanton violence.” With the law “weakened, its future subject to partisan rancor,” Obama called on Congress to “pledge to make it their mission to restore that law this year.”

Not so fast, wrote Times reporter Richard Fausset:

That could be difficult, given the highly partisan tenor of the debate over voting rights. In many states, particularly since 2010, Republicans have passed new laws requiring voters to show identification cards and restricting early-voting hours, arguing that these methods would help prevent voter fraud.

Democrats say such fraud is nearly nonexistent, and charge that the laws are a new push to disenfranchise minority voters and the poor.

Voting Rights is unlikely to overcome the “partisan rancor” Obama warned about, the Times reports, because of the “highly partisan tenor of the debate.” Thanks for the insightful analysis, paper of record!

Actually, if we shall not overcome partisan rancor, it will be because of reporting like this, which duplicates and does not investigate the claims made about voting reform. Will voter ID and restrictions on early voting “help prevent voter fraud,” or is such fraud “nearly nonexistent”? The Times can’t say, but can only say what others say, as if there were no objective reality that the paper could report on directly.

Law professor Justin Levitt has been trying to investigate the reality of voter fraud. Since 2000, he reported in a Washington Post op-ed last year (8/6/14), he's tracked down every “specific, credible allegation that someone may have pretended to be someone else at the polls, in any way that an ID law could fix.”

He's documented 31 incidents–in 15 years of voting, involving more than a billion ballots cast.

Levitt's work was the main basis of a New York Times editorial (10/9/11) that stated:

There is almost no voting fraud in America. And none of the lawmakers who claim there is have ever been able to document any but the most isolated cases. The only reason Republicans are passing these laws is to give themselves a political edge by suppressing Democratic votes.

But that's reality, which is reserved for the opinion page; in the news pages, all that’s allowed are dueling opinions.

P.S. If you want to quote politicians on whether voter ID laws and restrictions “are a new push to disenfranchise minority voters and the poor,” you aren't limited to Democrats—there are plenty of Republicans admitting, even boasting, of the the political intent of these laws, as a round-up by Jason Sattler of the National Memo (10/25/13) illustrated:

“I guess I really, actually feel we shouldn’t contort the voting process to accommodate the urban—read African-American—voter-turnout machine.”

—Franklin County (Columbus) GOP Chair Doug Preisse ( Columbus Dispatch, 8/19/12)

“The reduction in the number of days allowed for early voting is particularly important because early voting plays a major role in Obama’s ground game. ”

—Phyllis Schafly, WorldNetDaily (8/19/13)

“Voter ID…is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania.”

—Pennsylvania House Republican Leader Mike Turzai (Politics PA, 6/25/12)

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Jim Naureckas

Jim Naureckas

Jim Naureckas is editor of EXTRA! Magazine at FAIR (Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting). He is the co-author of Way Things Aren't: Rush Limbaugh's Reign of Error, and co-editor of The FAIR Reader. He is also the co-manager of FAIR's website.

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