Does any journalist who is not an overt shill for the right actually believe that Republicans are pushing voter ID laws because they’re concerned about voter fraud?
No, of course not.
In Pennsyvlania, which just adopted a tremendously restrictive photo-ID law that could disenfranchise 1 in 10 voters, state officials conceded they have no evidence of voter fraud, nor any reason to believe it could become a problem.
By contrast, there is ample evidence that voter ID laws inhibit voting, particularly among minorities and the poor — two major demographic segments that tend to vote Democratic.
And that’s hardly a coincidence. Consider the recent bragging by the Pennsylvania House Republican leader that his state’s voter ID bill “is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania.”
This is not simply another gratuitously partisan act by the GOP. This is an attack on the very notion of democracy. The voter ID push, along with intimidation of voter registration groups and purges of voter rolls have only one goal: blocking legitimate but probably Democratic voters from exercising their constitutional rights. It is a poll tax with a new twist.
And the pursuit of this goal ostensibly in the name of voter fraud is an outrageous deception that only works if the press is too timid to call it what it really is.
For reporters to treat this issue like just another political squabble is journalistic malpractice. Indeed, relating the debate in value-neutral he-said-she-said language is actively helping spread the lie. After all, calling for someone to show ID before voting doesn’t sound pernicious to most people, even though it is. And raising the bogus issue of voter fraud at all stokes fear. “Even if you say there is no fraud, all people hear is ‘fraud fraud fraud’,” said Lawrence Norden, a lawyer at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law.
Think about it. If you were covering elections in another country, and one political party was actively trying to limit voting in the name of a problem that objectively didn’t exist, would you hesitate for a moment to call out that tactic — and question that party’s legitimacy? Hardly.
Modern American journalists strive for impartiality, but there is a limit. Mainstream journalists shouldn’t be afraid of being accused of taking sides when what they’re doing is standing up for basic constitutional rights. Indeed, the greater danger is that readers condemn them — or even worse, stop paying attention to them — for having no convictions at all, and no moral compass.
The GOP has taken increasingly radical positions, confident that the media’s aversion to taking sides will protect it from too much negative coverage. But failing to call out the voter ID push is like covering the civil rights movements and treating “separate but equal” as if it was said with sincerity.
All reporters should get every candidate they can on the record about the issue of ballot access, make it clear to readers whether those candidates want to make voting easier or harder, and then assert the simple truth that there is no plausible justification for making it more difficult to vote, other than partisan trickery at the expense of the rights of minorities and the poor.
This post originally appeared on the NiemanWatchdog.org website, where Froomkin is deputy editor.