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 THE PRIMARIES
The experiences of the spring primaries thus far have highlighted real challenges facing our election systems, with the general election a little less than five months away.
1. “Vote by mail” systems vary significantly across jurisdictions
Since the pandemic began, states have been scrambling to align their election systems with the guidance of public health officials. In large part, that’s meant ramping up access to mail voting. Wisconsin offered an early indication of the challenges rapid changes to electoral processes bring, but many other jurisdictions with more time to prepare haven’t fared better. In Pennsylvania, Georgia, Maryland, the District of Columbia, and elsewhere, election officials struggled to keep up with the crush of absentee ballot requests. As a result, many voters received their ballot with too little time to return it before Election Day, never received it at all, or received the wrong ballot. In New Jersey, nearly 10% of all mail ballots returned were rejected – 25% because of signature matching issues and another 20% because the ballot was received too late.
Some things to pay attention to in upcoming elections:
- Does your state allow adequate time to request, receive and return a mail ballot before the deadline? ProPublica highlights delays in U.S. Postal Service first-class mail service, noting that absentee ballot request deadlines too close to Election Day make it nearly impossible for officials to process requests and for voters to receive a ballot in time to return it.
- What processes does your state have for “curing” ballots, or allowing voters to respond to issues with their ballot, like an unmatched signature? Do your audiences know about these processes, or how they’ll know if they need to correct an issue with their ballot?
2. In-person voting will remain critical
Problems with mail voting exacerbated issues at in-person polling places, as voters who never received an absentee ballot headed to the polls. Most states, and especially in urban areas, closed or consolidated polling locations due to the pandemic, both because of a shortage of poll workers and because of closures in traditional polling places like nursing homes and schools. In places like Georgia, issues with voting machines compounded those problems. The result: incredibly long lines and wait times to vote in person in many states.
Some things to pay attention to in upcoming elections:
- Have jurisdictions in your area identified alternative polling places for the remainder of the year? How are they making those decisions and how do data and equity inform them?
- What actions are jurisdictions taking to recruit additional poll workers? When you share information about voting with your audience, are you also including information about becoming a poll worker? The National Guard was previously floated as a solution to the shortage, but their mobilization during the protests may make that untenable.
In tracking voter registration data in 13 jurisdictions, the Center for Election Innovation & Research saw a sharp decline in new voter registrations in March and April relative to 2016 after higher numbers in January and February. CBS News, however, reports a recent uptick in voter registration, possibly stemming from heightened civic interest as protests for racial justice sweep across the country.
It’s unclear whether rhetoric from some Republican officials about the potential for fraud with mail voting will discourage Republican absentee voters. In Georgia and Wisconsin, reports found that members of both parties chose mail voting at similar levels. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, at least in some counties, Republicans were less likely to request absentee ballots. And in Michigan, at least some Republican voters burned the absentee ballot requests sent by the Secretary of State.
THERE TO HELP
- Hearken and Trusting News are offering free election-focused training on engagement, trust, and security for interested journalists. Applications for their July cohort are due June 26.
- Solutions Journalism Network is accepting applications through June 22 for its Renewing Democracy grant program, offering support up to $5,000 for solutions reporting efforts focused on democracy and elections.
- On June 24, the Stanford Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society will host a conversation exploring the intersection of COVID-19 disinformation, institutional trust, and Black voter turnout.
IDEA TO CONSIDER
Documented, a non-profit news site covering New York City’s immigrant communities, partnered with Univision 41 in New York to ask their audiences for examples of coronavirus misinformation spreading on WhatsApp, television and social media. They fact checked the 10 most common examples in both English and Spanish. The audience-driven effort highlighted mis- and disinformation claims that were less visible, and thus mostly unreported, by mainstream fact-checking outlets.
WHAT ELSE YOU MIGHT WANT TO FOLLOW
- Through snow and rain, but what about elections? In recent reporting, both ProPublica and the Guardian highlight the challenges facing the USPS as states expand mail voting before November.
- How risky might in-person voting be in November? Reporting for Wired, Gilad Edelman suggests in-person voting may not be as dangerous as previously feared.
- How will your newsrooms navigate hacks and disinformation this year? Stanford’s Cyber Policy Center offers guidelines and a practicable template for ethically covering false or hacked information.