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.
Lessons From Wisconsin and Ohio
Last month, Wisconsin and Ohio brought national focus to the complexity of conducting elections in the midst of a pandemic.
Wisconsin held its spring election as scheduled, despite the coronavirus pandemic. Turnout was higher than anticipated — with unprecedented increases in the number of absentee voters — but the process was not without problems. An investigation by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, FRONTLINE and Columbia Journalism Investigations described an “absentee ballot crisis,” highlighting overwhelmed election officials, technology failures, and high numbers of undelivered and unreturned ballots.
Having postponed its March primary, Ohio wrapped up voting in its spring election on April 28 with, as expected, substantial increases in mail ballots. Despite more than a month between the original primary date and the April election, the changes still prompted confusion about the date of the election and the multi-step process for requesting and submitting an absentee ballot. Frank LaRose, the Ohio Secretary of State, is already recommending a digital absentee ballot request process for November, saying a digital process would be an improvement on signing “a dead tree piece of paper,” which is currently required of Ohio voters to get an absentee ballot.
These experiences highlight the need for journalists to provide information to voters regularly about the election process, emphasizing what’s different from previous elections, especially as officials, legislatures, and courts adjust processes throughout the year.
Pennsylvania is set to host an election on June 2. Election officials in the state are already expressing concern about their ability to process absentee requests, find personal protective equipment for poll workers, and provide timely information about which poll locations will be open.
Election experts in the network are already encouraging journalists to examine the election policy changes that are happening in response to COVID-19. Significant adjustments to voting processes require a lot of runway. The Brennan Center is tracking election administration changes in each state in relation to policy recommendations they’ve made, which should allow for comparisons between states that can inform the questions journalists ask local election officials.
Here to Help
- First Draft is tracking misinformation trends and providing daily updates on Slack related to COVID-19, elections, and more. Journalists can sign up to join their Slack channel here.
- Stanford and MIT launched a Project on a Healthy Election, providing resources and expertise “to assess and promote best practices to ensure the election can proceed with integrity, safety, and equal access.”
- Ryan McCarthy at ProPublica breaks down the ways mail ballots are processed and counted across the country, with implications for states that are dramatically ramping up vote-by-mail capacity this year. Reporters can join ProPublica’s election reporting collaborative, Electionland, here.
Idea to Consider
As the volume of misinformation grows, Minnesota Public Radio is asking its audience to submit examples of mis- and disinformation they see online. The call out is part of its broader focus on false information this year, Disinformation 2020: Can You Believe It?
What Else You Might Want to Follow
- How do you distribute critical information? Media consultant Fiona Morgan describes 7 ways to get your COVID-19 reporting to those who need it, ideas that could also apply to critical election information.
- Fake news sites? Quartz reports on liberal sites filling local news voids with partisan content. The Tow Center for Digital Journalism uncovered similar networks of conservative-affiliated sites last year.
- How else is coronavirus changing elections? The Guardian reports social distancing measures are hampering signature collection efforts to put initiatives on state ballots. Efforts to register new voters are facing similar challenges, especially in the 10 states that don’t allow online registration.
- What might election changes cost? The Brennan Center put together national cost estimates for measures intended to improve voter safety this fall. In a follow-up report, the Brennan Center — with the R Street Institute, the Alliance for Securing Democracy, and the University of Pittsburgh — provided state-level cost estimates for Georgia, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio and Pennsylvania.