Voting Rights: How to Track Bills Affecting Voters – National Press Foundation

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Voting Rights Lab attorney demonstrates tracking tool for statehouse reporters, while Texas Tribune reporter and Common Cause attorney remind reporters to focus on human stories voters.

Amanda Zarrow of the Voting Rights Lab: How to follow election law

State political reporters should know the election laws in their own state and be able to compare them nationally. The State Voting Rights Tracker allows journalists to examine current and pending legislation in 50 states and Washington, D.C., said Amanda Zarrow, director of legal and legislative monitoring for the Voting Rights Lab, a nonpartisan organization supporting elections. fair.

The tracker categorizes thousands of election-related bills across the country and is updated daily by a team of attorneys. It can be searched by state, bill number, or topic, such as “interference in election administration” or even more specifically, interference in the certification of results. Bill entries include the author of the bill, a link to the current text of the bill, the last action on it, and the Voting Rights Lab’s analysis of the bill, including how it differs from the existing law.

It also provides a legislative overview of what is happening nationally.

“Most of the issues that we track in invoice tracking, we also have inquiries into existing law for…which can be a useful resource when trying to figure out, ‘OK, what’s the substantive rule in the state and how long has it been like this?

In 2022, Zarrow said, there are about 250 bills that “if passed would really run the risk of interfering with election administration.” About 70 would impose “partisan or coercive election reviews that really differ in nature from your traditional statistical or risk-limiting election audit”, 56 would penalize election administrators, some even for “good faith professional performance”, and 43 “are taken of legislative power, pure and simple.

Zarrow said he was very surprised by the “emerging trend of targeting election administrators themselves…I don’t think we saw that coming at all, frankly. And that’s something that we really delved into because it’s about how our elections work, it’s about how our ballots are counted, our elections are certified. It’s about how our elections are funded, really critical things that I think are very much behind the scenes.

Texas Tribune’s Alexa Ura: Put voters at the center of your stories

Although the news may come out of the state house, “at the end of the day, you’re talking about real people who could be disenfranchised because of the actions you’re covering, so that’s my call to all of you for you remember to center your voters,” said demographics journalist Alexa Ura.

She pointed to a story she did in which she took a proposed formula for regulating polling stations and mapped it out, showing that there would be fewer polling stations in areas with high concentrations of voters of color. “It doesn’t just have to be, it’s what Republicans say, it’s what Democrats say. It’s possible, here’s what this proposal is all about and how it could actually affect voters in these communities. .

Ura also reminded reporters to use clear and accurate language — no jargon or party lines.

Privileged readers may not understand voting restrictions without these human stories. “If you are a voter with a car, with a schedule that allows you to go and vote at any time … if you are someone who really does not have to worry about being able to exercise this right, you might not accept the realities of others. “Ura said.

This was echoed by Anthony Gutierrez, executive director of Common Cause Texas, using the example of voter ID laws. “Here’s a person who’s going to be impacted, not because they don’t have ID, but because you wrote a law that’s really, really confusing and people are going to worry like, ‘Well, I’m not sure I have one, so I’m not going to go there because it seems like a problem. Finding these human stories… is the most important thing you can do.

Common Cause’s Anthony Gutierrez: Go further, follow through

Gutierrez said the bugbear for advocates is when a flood of reports turns into a trickle and a bill’s real impact is missed.

“Every time a bill is introduced … there’s the first set of stories that say, ‘Here’s what this thing is. That’s why it’s bad,” he said. “We don’t see enough of the next step, really in-depth coverage.”

He cited the need for continued accountability for Texas’ rejection of mail-in ballots, how citizens fought it, and the role of the secretary of state. “The ‘why did this happen’ stories are the ones that I think we don’t see,” he said.

Gutierrez also spoke of the need for journalists to make the connection between political movements and their effects.

“In Texas, if we had a decade of these cards that were in court and, in our words, completely manipulated and illegal, well, what would the political implications be? What are the things that happened in this decade that wouldn’t have happened if we had had a fair card at the start of the decade? …obviously that’s how it’s going to affect the vote, but what is the impact beyond that? How will it affect how public policy is created in the next legislative session if that political party is able to manipulate the outcome of the election to take a majority? »


The Statehouse Reporting Fellowship was sponsored by Arnold Ventures. The National Press Foundation is solely responsible for the content.

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