Best of #StateReads: Roots of a Voting Rights Challenge

By: - December 19, 2012 12:00 am

This week’s collection of #StateReads tells the origin of a court case that could reshape elections in the South, outlines the pressures faced by Wisconsin caseworkers investigating child abuse, and explains why guards—but no inmates—show up every day at a juvenile prison in southern Illinois.

These examples of extraordinary journalism about state government were recommended in tweets using the #StateReads hashtag on Twitter and in email submissions to [email protected].

“From Alabama, an epic challenge to voting rights” — Reuters

A court case that could mean the end of an era in southern politics stems from a four-year-old election in Calera, a small but rapidly changing city south of Birmingham, Alabama, reports Joan Biskupic (@JoanBiskupic). The U.S. Supreme Court could take up the case to determine whether communities in the South must continue to submit their election law changes to the federal government for approval (pre-clearance) as is mandated under the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The law requires the U.S. Department of Justice to sign off on voting changes made in all or parts of 16 states with histories of racial discrimination. Calera shows signs of a new, more integrated South, where blacks and whites live in the same neighborhoods. But Biskupic notes that when the city used disputed district maps in 2008, residents voted out the city’s only black member of the city council.

“Promise vs. reality in Newark on mayor’s watch” — The New York Times

The residents of Newark, New Jersey have a different view of Mayor Cory Booker than his national reputation suggests, reports Kate Zernicke (@kzernicke). Booker, a Democrat who is considering a bid for New Jersey governor next year, has developed a national following on TV and on Twitter for saving a resident from a house fire, shoveling homeowners’ sidewalks and living on the amount of food that could be purchased by food stamp recipients. “But a growing number of Newarkers complain that he has proved to be a better marketer than mayor, who shines in the spotlight but shows little interest in the less glamorous work of what it takes to run a city,” Zernicke writes.

“High caseloads, state regulations pressure child abuse investigators” — Green Bay Press Gazette

Wisconsin caseworkers investigating child abuse and neglect claims often have caseloads larger than national experts recommend and keep cases open longer than the 60-day limit imposed by the state, write Doug Schneider (@PGDougSchneider) and Adam Rodewald (@ONWAdamRodewald). “Social workers and their supervisors insist they haven’t allowed harm to any child as a result of the ever-increasing demands, but child protection advocates warn that growing workloads will eventually stress the safety net, increasing the chances for mistakes and, ultimately, risking kids’ safety,” the reporters warn.

“Plenty of guards, but no inmates at Downstate juvenile prison” — Chicago Sun-Times

Columnist Neil Steinberg (@NeilSteinberg) recently visited a juvenile prison in southern Illinois and found a facility with no inmates but with guards who show up every morning, only to get in vans to work at a prison 46 miles away. The ghost facility in Murphysboro is on Governor Pat Quinn’s list of prisons that he wants to close but has been unable to, because of ongoing lawsuits. The administration says the minimum security facility is no longer needed, because the number of youth offenders has dropped since it opened in 1997. But prison guards say it is a better fit for many teenagers than the maximum security prison where the guards and the inmates are now sent.

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