API’s Trusted Elections Network connects journalists with experts in elections and misinformation to help audiences participate knowingly and meaningfully in elections this year. As part of that effort, we’ll publish occasional roundups of elections- and misinformation-related news we’re tracking, especially from participants in the network. If you’d like to learn more about the Trusted Elections Network, sign up here.
With Election Day approaching fast, we want to share and resurface some of the lessons learned from the network’s members over the past eight months so they can help guide newsrooms through the next few weeks and beyond.
People still need information about how to vote.
Many voters will choose to vote absentee by mail this election, having never done so before. The potential for voters to make an error that causes their ballot to be rejected is relatively high, at least compared to in-person voting.
In North Carolina, where mail ballots were sent out in early September, more than 36% of all requested mail ballots have been returned to election offices. But a recent investigation from WRAL and ProPublica highlighted disparities in “deficiencies” of those returned mail ballots. Voters of color, particularly Black voters, are more likely than white voters to have their ballots flagged as “deficient,” often due to issues with voter or witness signature information. Such deficiencies are grounds for the ballot to be rejected if the issue isn’t corrected by the voter.
Historically, voters who make a ballot error often don’t correct the issue with their mail ballot. And many states lack adequate processes to alert voters of an error in a timely manner or don’t alert voters at all. In all but a few states, it will be important for voters to complete their ballot correctly the first time to ensure their vote counts.
News organizations can provide an important service by frequently publishing, broadcasting and sharing across platforms the information voters need to complete their ballot correctly. Here are a few explainers to consult for inspiration:
- The Detroit Free Press explains how to vote by mail on YouTube, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.
- The Philadelphia Inquirer put together a short video explainer detailing the steps to complete and return a mail ballot successfully and an FAQ page with answers to common voting questions.
- Enlace Latino NC is developing shareable infographics in Spanish with key information about voting.
- The Raleigh News & Observer offers a one-stop voter guide, with information about how to vote, the candidates and other election coverage.
- Business Insider highlights common mistakes (and how to avoid them) with mail ballots.
Help voters understand the election administration system.
American elections are far from perfect. However, election officials work hard to correct issues, ensure the voting process is secure, and count all eligible votes. The confusion caused by the many changes to this year’s voting process — coupled with widespread misleading information from public officials and others — has served to undermine voter confidence in our election systems. This distrust could make voters more likely to reject the results of the election. It’s important to cover not just the problems but also how the system works and what voters can expect.
Here are some examples to consider:
- In Washington, the Columbian highlights how drop boxes are kept secure and fit into the state’s mail voting system.
- In Wisconsin, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel runs through the steps election officials have taken to improve the voting process since Wisconsin’s April much-maligned primary.
- In Florida, Mahsa Saeidi of WFLA details the state’s recount process.
- In Georgia, Stephen Fowler of Georgia Public Broadcasting notes how mandatory testing identified a display issue on voting machines in the state’s Senate race and details the proposed remedy.
- In Pennsylvania, the Philadelphia Inquirer answers audience questions about how votes are processed and counted.
Be prepared to explain what’s known and what isn’t as processes change.
Election lawsuits are common every cycle, but this year has seen an unprecedented level of litigation related to the voting process. As a reporter, it’s important to understand what litigation is pending that may affect voting in your state, including ballot return or postmark deadlines, ballot dropoff options, ballot requirements, and more.
The Stanford-MIT Healthy Elections Project is tracking election litigation. Check to see what cases are pending that may affect the jurisdictions you cover, and ask election officials or other experts what that litigation means for voters.
THERE TO HELP
- The NYU Ad Observatory offers a useful and easy-to-use platform for tracking local political advertising on Facebook.
- ProPublica offers guidance on how reporters can cover voting by mail effectively. There’s still time to join ProPublica’s Electionland, a nationwide effort to cover voting this year.
- First Draft just launched a dashboard for monitoring election-related mis- and disinformation with ways journalists can respond.
- ElectionSOS has compiled helpful resources on creating voter guides, planning for uncertainty, and many other issues to buttress your election coverage.
IDEA TO CONSIDER
Tell your audiences how you’re approaching election coverage this year. In this explainer, Colorado Public Radio details their decision making in their election coverage, including how they allocate resources across the state, source stories, and fact check candidates. They end with an invitation to their audiences to help direct their coverage.
The Colorado Sun offers similar insight into their approach, telling audiences they’ll focus resources on “reporting where the candidates in the top races stand on issues; breaking down the latest poll numbers; tracking spending and campaign messages; and analyzing election administration and security to combat misinformation and disinformation.”
SOME ADDITIONAL ANGLES TO FOLLOW
- My colleagues John Hernandez and Susan Benkelman published a profile of three reporters covering elections, with takeaways for how local reporters can cover this beat.
- False information about elections and voting remains rampant. Check out our 9 tips for responding to false election information.
- Pew Research Center offers guidance to help understand and better report on polling.
- The National Task Force on Election Crises breaks down the rules for post-election legal disputes in key states.
- Journalists may be unwitting but critical vectors for election disinformation this year. A report from the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society suggests that mass media, rather than social media, bears greater responsibility for false beliefs about the security of mail voting by amplifying false claims from campaigns and elected officials (though not all new outlets appear equally culpable). Axios similarly details how media outlets are intentionally targeted by influence operations to spread false claims. This election, it’s critical that journalists practice greater vigilance to avoid spreading false or misleading claims in a fast-paced news cycle.