I suppose I should be pleased that Richard Fausset of The New York Times traveled to North Carolina to report this story, but he does a terrible job of teasing out the facts:
SHELBY, N.C. -- When Alan Langley, a Republican member of the local elections board here, explains a new proposal to consolidate five voting precincts into two, it sounds procedural and well-meaning: He speaks of convenient parking and wheelchair access at the proposed polling places, and of saving more than $10,000 per election.Look, you and I know exactly what's going on. We know that this is intended to make voting that much harder for black voters in a purple state.
Those precincts, however, are rich with black voters who generally vote Democratic. And when the Rev. Dante Murphy, the president of the Cleveland County N.A.A.C.P. chapter, discusses the plan, he talks of "disenfranchisement" and "conspiracy."
"We know," Mr. Murphy said, "that this is part of a bigger trend -- a movement to suppress people's right to vote."
The bitter disagreement in this city of 20,000 is part of a broader voting rights battle charged by race and partisan politics that is happening in a number of communities, many of them Southern, where changes to election laws no longer require advance approval from the federal government after a year-old Supreme Court ruling voided a key section of the Voting Rights Act....
But most Americans don't see anything wrong with the current wave of GOP vote-suppression laws. A 2013 McClatchy-Marist poll, for instance, found that 83% of Americans support a voter ID law.
Here's a partial list of what we never learn from Fausset's story: How many majority-white precincts in North Carolina have been consolidated, or are in the process of being consolidated? What (if anything) will be the process of informing voters of their precinct changes? Have these changes created travel difficulties for some voters? What have the waiting times been like at the current polling places, and how do they compare with waiting times at majority-white precincts?
I learn something about the geography from this editorial in the Shelby Star, and I learn something about turnout in the county (very low in 2011 and 2013, 44% in the last gubernatorial year, but 68% in the last presidential year). What I also learn from that article, and not from the Times, is this:
The [precinct] merger is the fourth for the county, which has already merged eight precincts to four.Oh? Really? I'd like to know more about that -- and, again, about how it compares with what's been done in white precincts.
The Times story uses the precinct battle as a window into the fight over voting rights in the wake of the Supreme Court's removal of requirements that North Carolina pre-clear its voting changes with the federal government. If you're left-leaning, surely you have firm opinions about this -- but a centrist or conservative can read the Times story and see the fight as just the normal political give-and-take, not as a racist Republican power play:
In places affected by the Supreme Court decision, the overt racism of the 1960s is largely a thing of the past: What often lingers is a racial mistrust that can make the moving of a polling place from a fellowship hall to a public park seem innocent to some, sinister to others.Oh, and it's only in the 24th paragraph of the story that we learn a key point -- that a vote in North Carolina used to be counted if it was cast at the wrong precinct, but that's no longer the case. Of course, this is precisely what's going to happen to some voters as a result of these precinct consolidations.
"It's amazing what can prevail in the minds of two people, where they can see the same thing and think completely differently about it," [the NAACP's Dante] Murphy said.
I expect the Times to present both sides of a story -- but I want whatever facts that will allow me to get to the truth, even if those facts disrupt the story's "balance." On that count, this story fails. Centrists and conservatives will come away from it thinking that blacks and progressives are just whining. The rest of us will know better -- but only because we already did.