News21 students investigate voting rights

August 13, 2012

Student journalists participating in the national Carnegie-Knight News21 program have produced a major national investigation into voting rights in the United States. “Who Can Vote?” is the 2012 project of News21, a national investigative reporting initiative funded by the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

The goal of News21, headquartered at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University, is to produce in-depth, innovative and interactive investigative journalism on issues of national importance. Download Full Image

Twenty-four students from 11 universities across the country worked on the voting rights project under the direction of journalism professionals. The Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation provided a grant supporting the work of six of the students, and the Hearst Foundations supported another three fellows.

The project began in January 2012 with a video-conferenced seminar on voting rights taught by Leonard Downie Jr., former executive editor of The Washington Post and Weil Family Professor of Journalism at the Cronkite School. The students heard from multiple experts, conducted interviews and did extensive research on voting and voting rights.

During the summer, they participated in an intensive 10-week investigative reporting fellowship based out of a newsroom at the Cronkite School in downtown Phoenix. The fellows traveled to more than 40 cities, 21 states and one U.S. territory, conducted more than 1,000 interviews, requested thousands of public records and reviewed nearly 5,000 documents. Their most ambitious effort was to gather, organize and analyze all reported cases of election fraud in the United States since 2000, building the most comprehensive database of its kind.

“In seven months, these outstanding students have produced original, timely multimedia journalism about a subject of great national importance, with voices and faces of prospective voters throughout the country, plus the only authoritative database and analysis of election fraud cases in all 50 states from 2000 to now,” Downie said.

“Through a growing number of national and local publishing partnerships, along with the project's own website, we expect their work to reach hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Americans this election season. And we believe the student journalists' growth and accomplishments during the News21 experience will greatly enrich their future careers.”

The students, led by Nick Andersen and Annelise Russell, developed an active online presence for the project over the summer. Andersen managed the News21 Twitter account, @WhoCanVote, tweeting more than 1,700 times and building an audience of more than 200 followers in 10 weeks. Russell coordinated a voting rights blog that posted more than 160 submissions, including daily news items, photos and updates on the project’s progress.

The finished project, launched just before the 2012 political conventions, consists of more than 20 in-depth reports and rich multimedia content that includes interactive databases and data visualizations, video profiles and photo galleries.

“(News21) offers the unique privilege to work in a groundbreaking and cutting-edge newsroom with nationally renowned members of the journalism industry,” said Cronkite graduate student Corbin Carson, who led a team investigating voter fraud. “Each year the national topics put the fellows in the position to have their work sought after by newsrooms across the country.”

Michael Ciaglo, a graduate of the University of Oregon who produced multimedia content for the project, said, “At News21 the amount of time you get to spend on one subject means that, at the end of the day, you have something with so much more depth and significance than could be produced under the pressure of putting out a daily paper.”  

Major media partners that will publish all or part of the project include The Washington Post,, National Public Radio, The Center for Public Integrity, The Philadelphia Inquirer, nonprofit investigative online sites affiliated with the Investigative News Network and New America Media, which represents ethnic media.

Based on an exhaustive public records search, the News21 analysis of voter fraud shows:

• Since 2000, while fraud has occurred, the number of cases is infinitesimal.

• In-person voter impersonation on Election Day, which prompted 37 state legislatures to enact or consider tough voter ID laws, is virtually non-existent. Only 10 such cases over more than a decade were reported.

• There is more fraud in absentee ballots and voter registration than any other category. The analysis shows 329 cases of absentee ballot fraud and 364 cases of registration fraud. A required photo ID at the polls would not have prevented these cases.

• Voters make a lot of mistakes, from people accidentally voting twice to voting in the wrong precinct. However, few cases reveal a coordinated effort to change election results.

• Election officials make a lot of mistakes, giving voters ballots when they’ve already voted, for instance. Election workers are often confused about voters’ eligibility requirements.

Among the other project findings:

• Photo ID laws and other new voting restrictions disproportionately affect minorities, students, the disabled and the elderly.

• State rules on voting by felons vary widely. In some states, felons can vote from prison; in other states, felons may never regain their right to vote.

• True the Vote, a Texas-based Tea Party initiative, has trained and dispatched election observers in at least 20 states. The growing national movement’s goal is to prevent voter fraud; opponents say it’s a way to intimidate eligible voters, particularly minorities.

• Once-neutral secretary of state offices are becoming increasingly politicized as these office holders join the political debate over voting access.

2012 News21 Fellows:

• Nick Andersen, University of North Carolina
• Maryann Batlle, Arizona State University
• Sarah Jane Capper, Syracuse University
• Corbin Carson, Arizona State University
• Lizzie Chen, University of Texas
• Michael Ciaglo, University of Oregon
• Kassondra Cloos, Elon University
• Alia Conley, University of Nebraska
• John “Jack” Fitzpatrick, Arizona State University
• Joseph “Joe” Henke, Arizona State University
• Natasha Khan, Arizona State University
• Jeremy Knop, Arizona State University
• Ana Victoria Lastra, University of Oklahoma
• Ethan Magoc, University of Florida
• Emily Nohr, University of Nebraska
• Caitlin O’Donnell, Elon University
• Khara Persad, Arizona State University
• Alex Remington, Harvard University
• Andrea Rumbaugh, University of Florida
• Annelise Russell, University of Oklahoma
• Lindsey Ruta, University of Oklahoma
• Alissa Skelton, University of Nebraska
• Carl Straumsheim, University of Maryland
• AJ Vicens, Arizona State University

Reporter , ASU News


Modeling reveals significant climatic impacts of megapolitan expansion

August 13, 2012

According to the United Nations’ 2011 Revision of World Urbanization Prospects, global urban population is expected to gain more than 2.5 billion new inhabitants through 2050. Such sharp increases in the number of urban dwellers will require considerable conversion of natural to urban landscapes, resulting in newly developing and expanding megapolitan areas.

Could climate impacts arising from built environment growth pose additional concerns for urban residents also expected to deal with impacts resulting from global climate change? Growth of the urban Sun Corridor adds heat to climate concerns Download Full Image

In the first study of its kind, attempting to quantify the impact of rapidly expanding megapolitan areas on regional climate, a team of researchers from Arizona State University and the National Center for Atmospheric Research has showed that local maximum summertime warming resulting from projected expansion of the urban Sun Corridor could approach 4 degrees Celsius.

This finding, reported in the journal Nature Climate Change, establishes that this factor can be as important as warming that results from increased levels of greenhouse gases.

Arizona’s Sun Corridor is the most rapidly-growing megapolitan area in the United States. Nestled in a semi-arid environment, it is composed of four metropolitan areas: Phoenix, Tucson, Prescott and Nogales. With a population projection expected to exceed 9 million people by 2040, the developing Sun Corridor megapolitan provides a unique opportunity to diagnose the influence of large-scale urbanization on climate, and its relation to global climate change.  

"We posed a fundamental set of questions in our study, examining the different scenarios of Sun Corridor expansion through mid-century," says Matei Georgescu, lead author and assistant professor in the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning in ASU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. "We asked, ‘what are the summertime regional climate implications, and how do these impacts compare to climate change resulting from increased emissions of greenhouse gases?'"

The study’s authors used projections of Sun Corridor growth by 2050 developed by the Maricopa Association of Governments, the regional agency for metropolitan Phoenix tasked with providing long-range and sustainably-oriented planning. Incorporating maximum- and minimum-growth scenarios into a state-of-the-art regional climate model, the researchers compared these impacts with experiments using an urban representation of modern-day central Arizona.  Their conclusions indicate substantial summertime warming.
“The worst-case expansion scenario we utilized led to local maximum summer warming of nearly 4 degrees Celsius," said Georgescu. "In the best-case scenario, where Sun Corridor expansion is both more constrained and urban land use density is lower, our results still indicate considerable local warming, up to about 2 degrees Celsius.”

An additional experiment was conducted to examine an adaptation where all of the buildings were topped by highly reflective white or “cool” roofs. 

“Incorporating cool roofs alleviated summertime warming substantially," says Georgescu, "reducing the maximum local warming by about half. But another consequence of such large-scale urbanization and this adaptation approach also include effects on the region’s hydroclimate."

The cool roofs, like the maximum-growth scenario without this adaptation approach, further reduce evapotranspiration – water that evaporates from the soil and transpires from plants.

Ultimately, comparison of summertime warming resulting from Sun Corridor expansion to greenhouse-gas-induced summertime climate change shows that through mid-century the maximum urbanization scenario leads to greater warming than climate change.

However, the authors say that pinning precise figures on the relative contribution of each effector is difficult.

“The actual contribution of urban warming relative to summertime climate change warming depends critically on the path of urbanization, the conversion of natural to urban landscapes, and the degree to which we continue to emit greenhouse gases,” says Alex Mahalov, a co-author of the Nature Climate Change article and principal investigator of the National Science Foundation grant, “Multiscale Modeling of Urban Atmospheres in a Changing Climate,” which supported the research.

“As well as providing insights for sustainable growth of the Sun Corridor and other rapidly expanding megapolitan areas, this research offers one way to quantify and understand the relative impacts of urbanization and global warming,” says Mahalov, who is the Wilhoit Foundation Dean’s Distinguished Professor in the School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences at ASU.

The group conducted their numerical simulations using an “ensemble-based” approach. By modifying their model’s initial conditions and repeating their simulations a number of times, they were able to test the robustness of their results. In all, nearly half of a century of simulations were conducted.

“By incorporating differing Sun Corridor growth scenarios into a high-performance computing modeling framework with projections obtained from Maricopa Association of Governments, we quantified direct hydroclimatic impacts due to anticipated expansion of the built environment,” Mahalov added. Simulations were conducted at ASU's Advanced Computing Center (A2C2).

Georgescu says that one take-home message from this study is that the incorporation of sustainable policies need to extend beyond just greenhouse gas emissions. He also stresses the importance of extending adaptation strategies beyond the focus on mere average temperature.

“Truly sustainable adaptation, from an environmental standpoint, must extend to the entire climate system, including impacts on temperature and hydrology,” he says.

The study’s co-authors also included Mohamed Moustaoui, an associate professor in ASU’s School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences, and Jimy Dudhia, a project scientist in the Mesoscale and Microscale Meteorology Division at the National Center for Atmospheric Research. All three ASU co-authors are affiliated with ASU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and the Global Institute of Sustainability.

Margaret Coulombe

Director, Executive Communications, Office of the University Provost