How can journalists cover Voter ID laws this election?
A major federal voting rights case in North Carolina, in which state legislation required voters to produce photo identification and follow other rules disproportionately affecting minority groups, was blocked by a federal appeals court on July 29.
The decision by the Richmond, Va.-based 4th Circuit Court of Appeals also reinstates an additional week of voting and appears to pave the way for more groups to vote in this year’s presidential contest.
It was the third ruling in less than two weeks against voter ID laws with the court decisions affecting Texas and Wisconsin.
These rulings give journalists an opportunity to determine whether their states have similar laws, which can be determined at the website of the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Also, the Associated Press just released a story taking a look at why voting rights matters.
Since Republican-controlled legislatures passed the laws, journalists can ask Democrats if they are going to seek changes. Democrats in Tennessee recently did this with U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper of Nashville leading the charge.
The League of Women Voters is another resource.
At EIJ14 in Orlando, the Florida League was represented at a program put together by the SPJ Diversity Committee. The North Carolina law was one of several items. At the time, then-Diversity Chair April Bethea was at the Charlotte Observer and keeping abreast of the court fight. Sandra Gonzalez, a Diversity Committee member then at KSNV-TV in Las Vegas, was the moderator. There also was a local elections administrator.
This is speculative, but my guess some legislatures may try to figure out a way to continue to require some form of identification beyond registration.
At the EIJ14 meeting, Charley Williams of the Florida League provided a hand out with set of questions from the National League of Women Voters, that he said journalists should ask elected officials about photo ID.
These questions apply today and are repeated here:
- Election Day voter turnout has been historically low across the country—why introduce further restrictions on voting right now? How many eligible individuals in (STATE) do not currently possess the documentation that would be required under the law?
- What evidence do we have the individuals have shown fraudulent identification at the polls in this state? Why is this law necessary?
- What forms of ID will be accepted under the new law? For example, will student IDS be accepted? Will a voter have to show a photo ID, or can they use other forms of ID, such as a recent utility bill?
Georgiana Vines is a political columnist at the News Sentinel in Knoxville, Tenn. She is currently a member of the Diversity Committee as well as a member of the League of Women Voters of Knoxville-Knox County.
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