North Carolina Voting Law Changes: 2 Debates

August 21, 2013

The PBS News Hour and CNN’s The Situation Room debates on recent changes to NC’s voting law, offer a study in contrast on Rules adherence and debate integrity.  While both were illuminated by facts that supported strong arguments, CNN had more Rule breaks and became mired in False Argument with too much crosstalk because a few basic Questions were not Asked early on.

The change to North Carolina’s law, which takes affect in 2016, has 4 components:
(1) government photo ID is required
(2) early voting period is shortened from 17 days to 10 days
(3) same-day registration no longer allowed
(4) preregistration for those eligible to vote by Election Day no longer allowed

Debate participants included:
News Hour:   Tom Murry (R-NC Rep),  G.K. Butterfield (D-US Rep);
Judy Woodruff, moderator
Situation Room:   SE Cupp (R),  Stephanie Cutter (D);  Wolf Blitzer, moderator

In both debates, the case against the new law was made by contrasting the small number of actual fraud cases found in the 2012 election (PBS NH: <12 out of 4 million voters, gen. election;  CNN SR: 100-112 out of 7 million, combined prim. & gen. elections), with much larger numbers of projected suppressed votes, given the changes (PBS NH: ~300,000; CNN SR: “100’s of thousands”). Since Romney won NC by less than 100k votes, this could be significant.

PBS News Hour (no ads)

On News Hour, impacts of 2 of the provisions- voter ID (1), and shortened early voting (2)- were easier to seperate out, making for a clearer and more concise debate than on CNN. Mr. Murry noted only 3% of voters need an ID and claimed Georgia’s ID implemention resulted in increased minority voting rates. Mr. Butterfield countered that: “300k people [have no ID] and many people won’t [get one]”. On the early voting change, Mr. Murry said more locations will be added resulting in the same number of hours for early voting, overall. Mr. Butterfield clarified the law only “[gave] discretion to add more sites” and argued that an extended, not shortened, period was needed since lines were long, adding that Sunday voting, when many African Americans voted, will be eliminated.

CNN The Situation Room (no ads)

On CNN, Stephanie Cutter supplied stats on early voting: in 2012, 50% of African Americans, 50% of students, and 50+% overall- the majority for Obama- voted early, implying provision (2) would cause the vote suppression. She also emphasized that no voter ID fraud at all was found. This reasonably inferred that the voter fraud happened in areas that provisions (2-4) sought to rectify, calling into question the necessity of provision (1). (Indeed, when Mr. Murry was asked on the News Hour why voter ID was needed, he replied “it’s common sense” and “60-70% of the voters approve it”.)

SE Cupp, to her credit, acknowledged Ms. Cutters “legitimate concerns of voter access” but objected to her refusal to admit “legitimate concerns of voter integrity”. Ms. Cutter responded: “… [they are] trying to create a problem, or solve a problem that doesn’t exist …”, and asked Ms. Cupp if it’s worth trading “100’s of thousands” of suppressed votes for “100 cases of fraud?”, to which Ms. Cupp replied: “… there is so much voter fraud that isn’t reported since [Democrats won’t allow access] … “.

The debate became muddled with each talking over the other, repeating the same points, and falling into the Generalization Trap– Ms. Cupp for not specifying what type of voter fraud those 100+ cases were; Ms. Cutter for not identifying which provisions would result in what portion of those “100’s of thousands” of suppressed votes.

Ms. Cutter was effectively making a False Argument, in essence, arguing the entire law was bad because no voter ID fraud had been found, when, in the absense of attributing some of those future suppressed votes to the voter ID clause (her GenTrap), the fact that no ID fraud was found, does not even prove that that provision, alone, is bad, only that it is unnecessary. And though her early vote statistics imply that provision (2) would result in suppressed votes, by dismissing provisions (2-4) without addressing where the fraud cases occurred, debate was precluded on them.

Of course it fell more naturally to Ms. Cupp to specify what type of fraud those 100+ cases were, since she was the one claiming ‘legitimate voter fraud’. That is her GenTrap break. Had she and Ms. Cutter been more specific early on, we would have been spared the shout-fest and made progress in the debate. (Note: these 2 will soon be co-hosting a new show, Crossfire, on CNN.)

The above notwithstanding, it was really Wolf Blitzers job, as moderator, to Ask The Question (of Ms. Cupp): What kind of voter fraud were those 100+ cases?. With Ms. Cutter, he did Ask why she claimed “100’s of thousands” of suppressed votes, “when people can get an ID from a drugstore for free”. Ms Cutter’s response was: “Let’s see how that gets implemented”. Even assuming a satisfactory implementation of the voter ID requirement, this still left unclear whether, all, some, or no vote suppression would be eliminated.

As well, Mr. Blitzer was remiss in not following up with Ms. Cupps assertion that the amount of voter fraud is unknown due to ‘lack of access’, a serious charge. He should have asked her to Cite The Basis for it.

Am I splitting hairs over argument logic here given the disparity of fraud found vs. claimed impact of changes? Maybe, but it is precisely these cracks in logic that often give enough wiggle room to allow false debates to continue and persist ad nauseum. I’d rather close the discussion out cleanly, and move on.

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