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.
Americans are being inundated with misleading or inaccurate information about this year’s elections. Elected officials, candidates, voters trying to figure out what’s true, and yes, even journalists, are all sharing conflicting information about our election system and the candidates running for office. This environment of confusion will likely serve to depress voter turnout and undermine faith in our democracy.
So what can journalists do to approach false information about the election? We’ve pulled together recommendations that news organizations can follow in a separate piece, “9 Tips for Covering Election Misinformation.”
The pandemic has precipitated a surge in absentee/mail voting. As a result, more votes are likely to not be counted in November. In the Washington Post’s Monkey Cage blog, experts warn “voting by mail increases the number of ballots that are rejected — and not counted in the final tally. And ballots from younger, minority and first-time voters are most likely to be thrown out.”
Recent primaries have provided new data to support that warning. In Wisconsin, an investigation from APM Reports and Wisconsin Watch shows that more than 23,000 mail ballots were rejected, either because of certification issues (like a missing signature or witness address) or because they arrived late. That number, larger than President Trump’s margin of victory in the state in 2016, may increase with higher overall turnout in the general election. Wisconsin, like many states, has few or no requirements for officials to provide voters with an opportunity to fix issues with their ballot, especially after Election Day.
That doesn’t mean voters should be discouraged from absentee voting. Local news media should provide information about common challenges with mail ballots, help voters navigate the process, and encourage voters to submit their ballots early, as Asha Prihar does here for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
THERE TO HELP
- The Stanford-MIT Healthy Elections Project is a great source for election research and data, guidance on pandemic voting, and expert analysis of voting experiences in key battleground states.
- The U.S. Vote Foundation offers a useful registry of local election officials.
IDEA TO CONSIDER
Voting this year, in many ways, is markedly different than in years past. Many voters are entirely new to the absentee/mail voting process. Others are unsure how they can register or where they’ll vote in person. The pace of that change, and the misinformation that’s attended it, can easily overwhelm even the most committed voter. That’s why we wanted to highlight this personal approach from David Plazas, the opinion and engagement director at the Tennessean. David first walks readers through his own experience voting, provides would-be voters with useful information to help them make their plans to vote, and then offers additional context on the voting experience in Tennessee.
WHAT ELSE YOU MIGHT WANT TO FOLLOW
- Will misinformation affect voting behavior? The Washington Post reports attacks on the security of mail voting are discouraging Republicans from voting by mail.
- Are we on the precipice of an electoral disaster? We’ve seen more disaster predictions for November than we care to count, but this rundown from Pew’s Stateline highlights the ones we should take most seriously (at least right now). If you’d like to go deeper on these issues, a group of election law scholars met earlier this year to discuss possible outcomes and responses.
- Speaking of disasters. An analysis from the Brennan Center suggests polling place consolidation, primarily due to shortages of poll workers, decreased overall voter turnout in Milwaukee by 8.6% and Black voter turnout by 10.2%. The aforementioned Healthy Elections project offers resources for poll worker recruitment efforts and the Center for Tech and Civic Life highlights ideas jurisdictions are pursuing across the country to recruit and retain poll workers.
- Can the White House unilaterally postpone or cancel the election? Not legally, according to this primer from the National Task Force on Election Crises.
- How else is the pandemic affecting potential voters? The Arizona Republic reports that more than 300,000 people may not become citizens in time to cast their ballots, due to delays in processing naturalization applications.