[imgcontainer right] [img:gIQAIjUIAL_gallery.jpeg] This is the “most-talked-about” new museum in the country. The Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art is opening this month in Bentonville, Arkansas. [/imgcontainer]

New laws requiring voters to show photo identification at the polls could have a disproportionate effect on rural voters.

The New York Times this morning reviews the wave of new laws in 14 states this year requiring new forms of ID at the voting booth. A new study produced by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law concluded that these laws “could make it significantly harder for more than five million eligible voters to cast ballots in 2012.” 

The Brennan Center estimates that 11 percent of potential voters do not have state-issued photo identification cards. Sen. Richard Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, says these laws “will make it harder for millions of disabled, young, minority, rural, elderly, homeless and low-income Americans to vote.”

That view is seconded by Tennessee state senator Roy Herron, who wrote about how a new photo ID law would work in his state. Herron wrote in the Knoxville newspaper about what this new law would mean for his mother: 

Mother has not driven in at least two decades, so she has no driver’s license. But when she is pushed in her wheelchair to the polls, not one election worker will mistake her for another 94-year-old trying to vote.

My mother is one of 675,337 Tennesseans age 18 and older who, according to the Department of Safety, either have no driver’s license or have a license that does not carry their photo. These citizens may be registered to vote, but unless they obtain a photo ID from a driver’s license station or can produce another type of government-issued photo ID that the new law accepts (such as a military ID or a passport), they will not be allowed to vote.

One cannot get a government ID from the state Department of Safety without producing a “primary proof of identity,” most commonly a birth certificate. Not surprisingly, my mother’s 1916 birth certificate has been misplaced.

The problems go on and on. Fewer than half of the counties in Tennessee have driver’s license testing centers. Sen. Herron said that some of his rural constituents would have to go three counties away to find an office that could issue a photo ID — all of which costs time and money. Herron concludes:

“I’m not opposed to voters having photo IDs, but I am opposed to taking away the right to vote through a bureaucratic system of poll taxes. People have died trying to register to vote. Now even those who are registered may still be denied the right to vote.”

Do such voter ID laws reduce turnout? The evidence is mixed

• Appalachian coal is dwindling and “the industry is facing an expected collapse in production over the next few years,” reports Ken Ward Jr. at Coal Tattoo. 

Ward has been sounding this trumpet for several years — that there is less mineable coal in the eastern mountains. As a consequence, Ward writes, coal states need to be preparing for the economy after coal.

He notes a recent AP story that says, “The U.S. Department of Energy projects that in a little more than three years, the amount of coal mined here will be just half of what it was in 2008. That’s a significant loss of a signature Appalachian industry, and the jobs that come with it.” 

Other studies are predicting rapid declines in coal mining jobs. Ward writes:

Unfortunately, Lovan focused much of his story on repeating the complaints from the coal industry and its political allies about the Obama administration’s crackdown on mountaintop removal and proposals to curb air pollution and greenhouse emissions from coal-fired power plants — rather than putting these industry officials and the region’s business and political leaders on the spot for what their plan is for dealing with the inevitable production decline that has little if anything to do with environmental rules.

• A Wisconsin judge has ruled against a farm that had developed a method for selling raw milk to a regular group of buyers. 

Kay and Wayne Craig, owners of the Grassway Farm in Calumet County, had signed up farm “members” who would become part owners of their farm. In return, the members could get raw milk from the farm.

The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture ruled that the plan allowed for a regular base of customers to buy raw milk, which is illegal in the state.

A Dane County judge sided with the state.

• A University of Kentucky trustee asked his fellow board members if there was a conflict between the university’s quest to be the state’s flagship academic institution and its status as a land grant institution? 

Great question, one that could be asked at universities in a number of states.

• The L.A. Times goes to North Dakota, the land of low unemployment. (See map below.) 

Steve Williams, 59, moved his struggling construction company from Montana to Watford City (N.D.), where he lives with his wife, son and two towheaded grandsons in a home he’s renovating in exchange for rent. He knows he has a lot to be thankful for: He has health insurance for the first time in decades, a steady job and a new life in a town he says is “America, the way it should be.”

“I have more work than I know what to do with,” said Williams, a slight man with a brown beard and glasses. “I look at it like the Gold Rush.”

• The Washington Post delves into race relations in rural West Texas in the 1950s in a story about a Rick Perry hunting camp. The camp had a racially-charged name painted on a rock — a name that according to one person remained until just a few years ago. 

These names litter the nation’s geography.

• The “most-talked-about new museum in the United States in a generation” is found in Bentonville, Arkansas. It was built with Wal-Mart money. 

• The AP writes that Republican candidates are preparing to fight it out in the “vast, mostly rural state” of Nevada. 

Is that so? Well, the land in Nevada is mostly rural, but acres don’t vote. People vote. And in Nevada, 9 out of ten people live in urban areas, according to the U.S. Census.

• The L.A. Times is quoting an Iowa political operative who says Rep. Michele Bachmann hasn’t been seen much in rural parts of the state.

Of Iowa’s 99 counties, she’s only visited a handful, most of which are urban counties,” the Politico said. “She needs to go out to the rural counties — she would be well received.”

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