The distance between stating something as fact and strongly implying it is fact appears to be wide when it comes to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. Their PolitiFact operation put this Tammy Baldwin tweet to its “truth-o-meter” test:
Voter turnout in 2016 was reduced by approx. 200,000 votes because of WI’s photo ID laws. We need to oppose them: https://t.co/HpHYNDOs4P
— Tammy Baldwin (@tammybaldwin) May 18, 2017
PolitiFact gave the tweet a “mostly false” rating:
Baldwin says: “Voter turnout in 2016 was reduced by approx. 200,000 votes because of WI’s photo ID laws.”
A report she cites from a Democratic candidate-supporting group says a decline in voter turnout between the 2012 and 2016 presidential elections in Wisconsin was entirely due to the state’s new photo identification requirement for voting.
But experts say that while photo ID requirements reduces turnout to some extent, they question the methodology of the report and say there is no way to put a number on how many people in Wisconsin didn’t vote because of the ID requirement.
We rate Baldwin’s statement Mostly False.
Yet, a story that strongly implied the same thing as Baldwin’s tweet appeared not only in the Journal-Sentinel but several other Gannett-owned Wisconsin newspapers last month. The Journal Sentinel headline over the AP story reported: “Wisconsin voter ID law proved insurmountable for many.” But as Media Trackers reported back then, the story itself contains just four examples of people claiming they were unable to vote due to the Photo ID law. And it walks the reader right up to the line it accuses Baldwin of crossing:
By one estimate, 300,000 eligible voters in the state lacked valid photo IDs heading into the election; it is unknown how many people did not vote because they didn’t have proper identification. But it is not hard to find the Navy veteran whose out-of-state driver’s license did not suffice, or the dying woman whose license had expired, or the recent graduate whose student ID was deficient — or Harris, who at 66 made her way to her polling place despite chronic lung disease and a torn ligament in her knee.
The 300,000 eligible voter number the AP cites is actually an estimate presented in a 2014 Wisconsin court case challenging the photo ID law. The number wasn’t verified back then and even if it was accurate, there is no way of knowing how many of those people got the ID needed to vote in November, 2016(as the story indicates). In fact, nowhere does the story substantiate the “many” claim made in the headline.
The story appeared in dozens, if not hundreds, of outlets around Wisconsin and around the country with the identical headline(those links are no longer active because the story was removed due to a factual error). Yet, the Milwaukee-Journal Sentinel’s PolitiFact never saw fit to challenge the headline over that story in its paper or anywhere else. While challenging Baldwin’s claim, PolitiFact also seems to agree with AP that “many” equals four.