MSNBC Hypes Republican Push for Voter Registration Reform as 'War on Voting'

"With such a strong bloc of these young people voting Democratic [in presidential elections], Republican leaders in some key swing states are looking to even the playing field coming up in 2012," MSNBC's Thomas Roberts insisted as he introduced Heather Smith of Rock the Vote (RTV) in a segment devoted to that group's fears about "voter suppression" -- see RTV screen capture below the page break -- in states such as New Hampshire, Wisconsin, North Carolina, and Missouri.

Those are four states where Republicans control both houses of the state legislature and are pushing reform laws aimed at voter ID requirements, tightening up residency requirements that largely impact college kids, and/or repealing last-minute voter registration at the polls.

"Heather, this has been called the war on voting, whether it's requiring an ID or proof of citizenship at the polls. Explain this for us," Roberts prompted at the beginning of his interview.

At no point did Roberts question any of Smith's or RTV's claims, nor did he provide a follow-up segment with an advocate of such laws, although he did note that proponents of voter ID requirements "point to voter fraud, or say voter fraud is a major problem here."

Roberts failed to explore whether or not RTV's claims are hyperbolic and/or misleading, although there is much to question on the group's website.

For example, a form letter Rock the Vote urges Wisconsin residents to send their state legislators laments that:


According to a University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee study, 36 percent of young people, including more than 70 percent of African-Americans ages 18 to 24, do not have a driver's license. An estimated 23 percent of people ages 65 and older do not have a Wisconsin driver's license or other photo ID. Under this bill, student IDs, even those issued by a state university, wouldn't be accepted at the polls. Voting is a fundamental, constitutional right that shouldn't be subject to one's ability to get to the DMV or pay for a passport...

Yet under the state Senate bill that RTV opposes that would require voter ID, there are provisions for those who cannot afford a state-issued ID. From the bill's plain-English "Analysis by the Legislative Reference Bureau" (emphases mine):

The bill also permits an elector who is eligible to obtain a Wisconsin identification card to obtain the card from DOT free of charge, if the elector specifically requests not to be charged.

There's even provisions for those who for religious reasons do not wish to be photographed:

The bill permits an applicant to receive a Wisconsin identification card without a photograph being taken, as currently required, if the applicant provides an affidavit stating that he or she has sincerely held religious beliefs against being photographed, that he or she is a member of a religious organization or identifies with the tenets of a religious organization and names that organization, that the religious tenets of that organization prohibit such photographing, and that he or she requests the identification card for the purpose of voting.

And as for RTV's complaint about the elderly being disenfranchised (emphasis mine), there are exemptions for invalids and residents of nursing homes or retirement communities:

Under the bill, any person who applies for an absentee ballot, except a military or overseas elector, as defined by federal law, or a person whose address is confidential as a result of domestic abuse, sexual assault, or stalking, must also provide a copy of the license or identification card, unless: 1) the person has already provided a copy of his or her license or identification card in connection with an absentee ballot cast at a previous election and has not changed his or her name or address since that election; 2) the person has been required by a law enforcement officer to surrender his or her license (see below); 3) the person is indefinitely confined, in which case the person may submit a statement signed by the person who witnesses his or her absentee ballot verifying his or her identity; or 4) the person is an occupant of any nursing home, or is an occupant of a community−based residential facility, retirement home, adult family home, or residential care apartment complex where a municipality sends special voting deputies, in which case the person may submit a statement signed by the deputies verifying his or her identity.

What's more, no person in Wisconsin will be kept from voting on Election Day for lack of a voter ID. Persons without ID may vote with a provisional ballot. If they want the vote to count they must come back the following day with proof of identification:

Under the bill, if a person who votes at a polling place fails to provide a license or identification card, the person may vote provisionally. If a person votes by absentee ballot and fails to provide a copy of the license or identification card, unless exempted from the requirement, the ballot is treated as a provisional ballot. A provisional ballot is marked by the poll workers, who immediately contact the municipal clerk or board of election commissioners. The person may then provide the required identification either at the polling place before the closing hour or at the office of the clerk or board. If the person does not provide the required identification to the clerk or board by 4 p.m. on the day following the election, the person’s vote is not counted.

"Let's just keep everybody involved in the political process. Eighteen and older go vote," Roberts exhorted viewers at the end of his interview segment as he thanked Smith for appearing via satellite for the interview.

Of course, no one's disputing that college-aged kids have a right to vote. At issue is proving residency and identity of the voter so that the process is safeguarded from malfeasance or fraud. It's a question each state is free to resolve in its own legislature and which numerous states are doing now.

It's a debate worth having. It's just a shame MSNBC is unwilling to give equal time to both sides.

Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd is the Managing Editor for NewsBusters