One of the most distressing indications of failure in American journalism today is the release of a poll last week that reveals that nearly half of the country believes that voter fraud occurs “very or somewhat often.” Since there is no rational basis in law or fact for this belief, since you are more likely to be struck by lightning than to be a victim of in-person voter fraud, the poll results tell us that reporters, analysts, and commentators who try to cover this topic have failed to adequately explain to our audiences the contours of the myth of voter fraud or to highlight how the issue has been hijacked by one party to try to disenfranchise those likely to vote for the other party.
The poll results tell us that the scourge of “false equivalence” in reporting has infected this intensely-partisan policy area in the same way it has infected other areas. There is no “on the one hand, on the other hand” when it comes to the evidence about the sort of voter fraud that voter identification laws are supposedly designed to prevent. Just because Republican lawmakers in several states have passed these laws, and just because some conservative judges have upheld them, does not mean that the rationale supporting the legislation is legitimate. It is not, as the story of the voter ID law in Texas teaches us.
Nor is there a valid he said/she said divide when it comes to the arguments made by lawmakers to justify limiting early voting days or hours or restricting access to polling stations. The latest of these arguments made in North Carolina—that early voting is a menace because early voters could die between the time they cast a ballot and the day of the election—is laughable until you remember that absentee ballot fraud, a potentially far more serious problem, was left unaddressed by those same lawmakers. More white people vote by absentee ballot. More minority voters cast early ballots. That explains it all.
Debunking the myth of pervasive voter fraud, like debunking the myth behind Barack Obama’s foreign birth or the myth that global warming is a hoax, requires a level of journalistic commitment that few news outlets are able or willing to muster. It requires, you could say, a chipping away with relentless evidence at people unable or unwilling to let facts interfere with their beliefs. It requires the victory of logic over fear, of evidence over bias, and today those victories seem harder than ever.