Some of the coverage, in-state and out, has gotten this right. Here’s how NPR’s Ailsa Chang handled this point when reporting on the North Carolina law:
A lot of residents are applauding this new rule requiring picture IDs, such as Mac Lawrence. He’s supervising big machines cropping leaves in his tobacco field.
“I think there’s a lot of folks voting in more than one place. If you can’t prove who you are, then you ought not be able to vote,” Lawrence says.
Actually, evidence of voter fraud in North Carolina is pretty minimal. The State Board of Elections has reported only two cases of voter impersonation fraud in the past 10 years.
(Here’s a thought: maybe the reason Lawrence thinks “a lot of folks” are committing in-person voter fraud is because he keeps hearing elected leaders say it’s the reason the state needs new laws.)
And Raleigh TV station WNCN produced an entire story on the subject right after the legislature passed the law, under the headline, “Widespread voter fraud not an issue in NC, data shows.” From Jake Seaton’s report:
One of the more compelling arguments for voter identification is the suppression of voter fraud. But for North Carolina, the number of cases of voter fraud reported by the state Board of Elections is minimal.
In 2012, nearly 7 million ballots were cast in the general and two primary elections. Of those 6,947,317 ballots, the state Board of Elections said 121 alleged cases of voter fraud were referred to the appropriate district attorney’s office.
That means of the nearly 7 million votes cast, voter fraud accounted for 0.00174 percent of the ballots.
Looking back at the 2010 election cycle — which was not a presidential year — 3.79 million ballots were cast and only 28 cases of voter fraud were turned over to the appropriate DA’s office. So in 2010, voter fraud accounted for 0.000738 percent of ballots cast.
That’s good stuff. But factchecking and record-correcting is just the start. Robinson, the ex-News & Record editor, told me he felt many media outlets in North Carolina have treated the events in Raleigh, including the passage of the new voting law, as “business as usual.” The broader challenge, especially for in-state journalists, is to deliver coverage that captures and communicates what’s at stake, and that reflects the drastic changes being made to the Tar Heel tradition.
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