As conservative legislators in nine states renew the push for restrictive voter ID laws, their efforts have been aided by state media outlets that continue to ignore or misinform readers on the issue.
Republican lawmakers in several states -- Alaska, Arkansas, Missouri, Montana, New York, North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia and Wisconsin -- have stated that new or more restrictive voter ID rules will top their agendas in 2013. (Republicans control both houses of the legislature in all those states but New York and West Virginia. In Virginia, the GOP controls the House and maintains a 50/50 split with Democrats in the state Senate.) These proposals come just weeks after the 2012 election, in which there was no evidence of massive voter fraud.
A Media Matters analysis of the largest newspapers in each state found that coverage of these new voter ID initiatives has been largely devoid of context about the overstated dangers of voter fraud or of the significant influence of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a shadowy organization dedicated to pushing a homogeneous conservative agenda state-by-state. Only four of the nine newspapers covered the 2013 initiatives at all, and only one mentioned ALEC.
The Anchorage Daily News, Alaska's largest printed news source, mentioned ALEC's role in the voter ID debates. From the ADN (emphasis added):
In an early sign of Republican muscle-flexing in the reordered Alaska Legislature, an Anchorage House member says he plans to revive a dormant bill to require Alaskans to show a photo ID to vote.
“It'll be one of the first bills we hear,” said Rep. Bob Lynn, R-Anchorage, the chairman of the House State Affairs Committee.
Photo ID laws have been pushed as a way to prevent voter fraud by the American Legislative Exchange Council, a national organization that promotes conservative model legislation.
For the 2012 election, the Republican-dominated Redistricting Board changed the election map and voters changed the Legislature. Enough Republicans were elected to the Senate that they were able to form their own majority for the 28th Legislature, set to convene Jan. 15. Sen. Fred Dyson, R-Eagle River, is the incoming chairman of State Affairs. Sen. John Coghill, R-North Pole, will chair the Judiciary Committee. Both are strong conservatives and members of ALEC, as is Lynn.
Lynn said he wasn't using a model ALEC bill, but he “may do some research with ALEC materials.”
In addition to a dearth of ALEC coverage, the remaining eight newspapers (which include the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Billings Gazette, New York Times, Charlotte Observer, Virginian-Pilot, Charleston Gazette and Milwaukee Journal Sentinel) also generally failed to inform readers about the scarcity of voter fraud or the suppressive effects of voter ID laws. The Charlotte Observer, however, did reprint the Anchorage Daily News piece on ALEC, as well as pieces by the Associated Press and the News & Observer which mentioned upcoming voter ID initiatives in the state (the latter pieces did not mention ALEC or any broader discussion of voter fraud).
The following is a breakdown of their news coverage of voter ID laws from November 13, one week after the 2012 general elections, until January 7, 2013: