The recent Supreme Court decision on the Voting Rights Act is bound to bring voter ID laws back into the media discussion. And, unfortunately, that means some of these discussions will suffer from a familiar problem: The unwillingness to point out that the problem such laws are allegedly fighting–voter fraud–doesn't exist.
Here's how an Associated Press story (7/14/13) about the court hearings over the Pennsylvania's ID law put it:
Critics derided the law as a cynical GOP effort to discourage young adults, minorities, the elderly, the poor and the disabled from going to the polls. Republicans said most Pennsylvanians have driver's licenses to use as photo ID and claimed that the law would discourage voter fraud.
One side says X, the other says Y.
It would responsible– and entirely accurate--to point out that the problem of "fraud" has never been documented. But that would probably qualify as taking a side in the dispute, and that is apparently something of a no-no.
The New York Times also had a piece on the same issue today (7/16/13) which almost fell into the same "balance" trap:
As in other states that have passed strict voter ID requirements, Republicans, who controlled the legislature and governor's office in Harrisburg, last year argued that the law was needed to prevent voter fraud. Photo IDs, already a part of modern life, could be easily obtained, they said.
Opponents said the law's intent was to simply to limit participation by students and minority poor and elderly voters, who disproportionately lack the required IDs and tend to vote Democratic.
The Times did, though, add one more thing:
Michael Rubin, a Washington lawyer working with the American Civil Liberties Union to oppose the law, said the state had no evidence of fraud and no plan to present any at the trial, which is taking place in Commonwealth Court in Harrisburg and is expected to last two weeks.
This is better–though attributing this statement of fact to the legal team challenging the law still contributes to the idea that this is something that one side of the debate believes.
We would have a much different discussion of voter ID if media outlets felt obliged to consistently and clear point out that it is an attempt to "solve" a problem that does not exist.