VOTE 2012: News21 Voting Rights Investigation

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Student journalists from ASU andten other universities across the county spent months investigating voting rights as part ofthe national Carnegie-Knight News21 program. Their work included an exhaustive investigation into voter fraud, which has gained a great deal of national attention. Learn more about the News21 program, and its voting rights investigation, from Kristin Gilger, Associate Dean of ASU’s Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

Ted Simons: In the last decade Arizona and many other states have adopted voter I.D. laws to fight election fraud but those laws may be solutions in search of a problem according to a nationwide analysis conducted by News21, an investigative journalism program for student reporters based at ASU's Cronkite School of Journalism. Here to talk about News21 look at voting rights is the Cronkite School's Associate Dean, Kristin Gilger. Good to have you here. Thanks for joining us.

Kristin Gilger: Thank you.

Ted Simons: What is the Carnegie Knight News21 program? What are we talking about here?

Kristin Gilger: This is a program that was started six years ago and moved to the Cronkite School three years ago and basically brings together top journalism students from around the country to do in depth, innovative multi-media journalism. It's been at the school for three years and we did voting rights this year.

Ted Simons: And how come you did voting rights this year? What were you looking at, what were you looking to find, and let's talk about what you found?

Kristin Gilger: The topic was very pertinent to what's going on now coming into an election season, so we thought that was sort of a natural. So the students did like 20 different stories, but one of the big efforts was to compile the most comprehensive database ever created on voter fraud. So they went back to 2000. They looked through 2,000 records, did hundreds of public information requests from throughout the states, and they found 10 cases of in-person impersonation voter fraud.

Ted Simons: And we should say there were other cases. We should define voter fraud and election fraud. It's a big umbrella. One thing you focused on was voter impersonation, correct?

Kristin Gilger: Voter impersonation because that is what has driven many states, 37 states I think at this point, to actually pass voter photo I.D. laws. So that you're prevented from pretending you're somebody else and going to the polls to vote. That seems to be the issue that is most at the top of mind. But actually, they found more cases of voter fraud in mail balloting, for example, than in in-person.

Ted Simons: Looked like, what, 400 some odd alleged absentee ballot and registration fraud?

Kristin Gilger: Yes.

Ted Simons: Those are through the mail kind of problems. Nothing to do with voter impersonation.

Kristin Gilger: There's nothing that a voter I.D. is going to do to prevent that kind of fraud.

Ted Simons: Looking through the report, it looked like simple mistakes were behind a lot of the allegations of fraud.

Kristin Gilger: Yes. Voters make mistakes. They go to the wrong poll. They do something else wrong. Election workers make mistakes. Sometimes inadvertently giving somebody a ballot when they have already had a ballot or sending them to the wrong place. Those sorts of things happen. Over all they found the students found a pretty infinitesimal amount of voter fraud over all.

Ted Simons: In the report I saw something along the lines actually in stories on the report Republican National Lawyers Association has a list of 375 some odd cases of election fraud. That's more than 10. What's going on there?

Kristin Gilger: It's how you define it and how you can document it. When the students looked at it they started with that database. But much of it is things that are repeated or newspaper articles or other kinds of articles that just say this happened. So what the students did was they went to state and county election officers and they asked for the data. When you get the actual documents, this is what you get.

Ted Simons: I was going to say, how was the investigation conducted? This would be a great learning experience on getting public records searching through public records and how difficult and long a process that can be.

Kristin Gilger: Exactly. It's a perfect educational opportunity. I think every journalism student should go through it. It can be very difficult and frustrating.

Ted Simons: They basically went to a variety of places, sat down, and went through them.

Kristin Gilger: Sometimes it was doing a public records request. Often it was talking to people over the phone, going through multiple, multiple documents. The students also traveled to something like 22 different states. They came from all over the country, so some of this they did prior to coming here in the summer. In some cases they were able to do this in person.

Ted Simons: So 10 cases out of 2,000 alleged cases regarding voter impersonation, what kind of response are you getting from this, not only response from the news media, but just response overall?

Kristin Gilger: From people. Right. A lot of response. This project is on our website, which is A big part of this whole initiative was the Carnegie night News21 is to share this material and get it out as widely as possible. So "The Washington Post" has run some of the stories and did an editorial on this. The Philadelphia Enquirer,, and the Huffington post, min post, and The Arizona Republic on the front page today. All of that is sort of hard to get a handle on how many comments we're getting, but I can tell you that got 10,000 comments on the main voter fraud story. There's a lot, a lot of interest in it. A lot of people who still have serious concerns about voter fraud and legitimately serious concerns about voter fraud, and one of the things we hear is, but you haven't proven what they didn't catch. Well, we can't prove a negative. We can't say here are some people who did commit voter fraud but they weren't caught. We can only go with those who are actually prosecuted in some way.

Ted Simons: I have seen some of the criticisms, why not? Regardless of the numbers, why not just have to show I.D. at the polls?

Kristin Gilger: Well, that's a great question. There are two sides to it. Some people say most everybody has some kind of identification, how hard could this be? But the students did specific stories on some groups that are adversely and disproportionately impacted. That includes minorities, it includes elderly, it includes disabled, it includes college students who seem to be disproportionately affected by these sorts of photo I.D. laws.

Ted Simons: Last question on this. The idea of doing a news story, obviously great work, and a great teaching experience here for the students. It also opens up the idea of raising an issue to the public consciousness. Again I'm hearing critics of the report saying just talking about voter suppression; just even hinting that it exists or could exist could suppress the vote. Does that make sense?

Kristin Gilger: Yes, I think it does. The more that we have the facts on the table and the more we have a discussion about this, the better off we're going to be as we move forward with how in this country are we going to both encourage people to vote, we want people to vote but make sure it's legitimate voting.

Ted Simons: Great work. Congratulations on the success of that investigation. We'll look forward to more stories from the Carnegie Knight News21 program.

Kristin Gilger: Thank you very much.

Ted Simons: Thank you.

Kristin Gilger:Associate Dean, ASU Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication;

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