When it comes to reporting on North Carolina's new voter ID law, NBC News's Pete Williams is an improvement over his colleagues at MSNBC, who practically portrayed the new law as the ghost of Jim Crow coming back to haunt the Tar Heel State with a new spin on the detested poll tax. That said, the peacock network's senior justice correspondent did not give viewers of the August 13 Nightly News a balanced or accurate portrait of the law, and indeed suggested that the law was motivated by racial and partisan animus.
Williams began his segment -- titled "The Fight to Vote" in an onscreen graphic which accompanied substitute anchor Lester Holt's introduction -- by noting the plight of one "Alberta Curry, who lives near Fayetteville [and] has voted in every presidential election since 1956." Ms. Curry, an elderly African-American woman, "doesn't have a birth certificate and says it will be hard to comply with North Carolina's tough new voter ID Law" which "was passed a month after the Supreme Court struck down the heart of the Voting Rights Act," Williams complained. After dispatching with Republican Gov. Pat McCrory's point of view in a brief soundbite, Williams listed three changes rendered by the new law, the first of which was misleading:
The new law also cuts early voting by a week, ends same-day registration, and stops a program to let 17-year-olds pre-register to vote.
While the new law cuts early voting days from 17 down to 10, it expands voting hours on those ten days for no net loss in early voting hours. As for same-day registration, the Washington Post notes that most states do not allow folks to register to vote on election day. Suffice it to say there are plenty of logistical and fraud-prevention reasons why states would want to not allow same-day registration, but Williams failed to explore any of those.
At this point, Williams moved on include the broadsides of liberal activists. "It is 57 pages of regressive, unconstitutional acts to rig and manipulate elections through voter suppression," North Carolina NAACP President William Barber II complained in a clip taken from a press conference.
"Civil rights groups say the changes hit minorities hard, because 70 percent of African-Americans voted early last November compared to 52 percent of whites. The lawsuits say minority voters use same day registration more" than white voters do, Williams noted.
Of course, in North Carolina, any voter can vote absentee by mail, without needing to provide some reason why he or she cannot be physically present at the polling place. What's more, just because statistically speaking black voters are more likely to early vote than whites doesn't mean that the paring back in early voting days is discriminatory in the application of the law. Every voter wishing to early vote will find him or herself with fewer days on which to vote, albeit having the same amount of early voting hours.
But rather than bringing on a proponent of the law to rebut the charges of liberal civil rights activists, Williams gave a platform for prospective 2016 Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton to assert that the law was motivated by racial animus:
WILLIAMS: Hillary Clinton last night said it's part of a trend nationwide to make voting harder.
CLINTON: Anyone who says that racial discrimination is no longer a problem in American elections must not be paying attention.
Williams closed out his story in a stand-up in front of the U.S. Department of Justice headquarters in Washington:
The Obama administration will be among the next to sue, urging the courts to again force North Carolina to get federal approval before changing its voting laws.
The controversy over voter ID laws is worthy of solid, objective and fair reporting and vigorous debate from both sides. Unfortunately for NBC viewers, they won't find that on the network, not even from usually decent reporters like Pete Williams.