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Our Electionland Project Is Tracking Voting Problems — and Getting Results

On Tuesday, more than 250 reporters from over 125 newsrooms will be working together toward one goal. We are all part of Electionland, a collaborative journalism project dedicated to identifying problems with access to the ballot.

Handwriting Disputes Cause Headaches for Some Absentee Voters

An election clerk in Sacramento inspects a mail-in ballot earlier this year. (Rich Pedroncelli/AP Photo)

Elisabeth Warner drove 12 hours the weekend before Election Day so her daughter could vote.

Her daughter, Emma Warner-Mesnard, 20, attends Transylvania University in Lexington, Kentucky, but is registered to vote in her hometown, Columbus, Ohio — about a three-hour drive away. Warner-Mesnard mailed the Franklin County Board of Elections her request for an absentee ballot in mid-October, but officials there determined her signature on the application didn’t match what they had on file and placed her ballot on hold.

ICE, Dispelling Rumors, Says It Won’t Patrol Polling Places

Voters in Milwaukee in 2008. (Darren Hauck/Getty Images)

Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers will not patrol polling locations on Election Day, an ICE spokeswoman said in response to social media rumors of potential voter intimidation from the federal law enforcement agency.

False claims that ICE is interfering at polling locations have cropped up intermittently over the past two years. In the lead-up to the 2016 presidential election, for example, an image spread on Twitter appearing to show an immigration officer arresting someone in line to vote. The image was a hoax.

File-Sharing Software on State Election Servers Could Expose Them to Intruders

Residents of Elkhorn, Wisconsin, submitting their ballot in the voting machine for the 2018 state primary election. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

As recently as Monday, computer servers that powered Kentucky’s online voter registration and Wisconsin’s reporting of election results ran software that could potentially expose information to hackers or enable access to sensitive files without a password.

The insecure service run by Wisconsin could be reached from internet addresses based in Russia, which has become notorious for seeking to influence U.S. elections. Kentucky’s was accessible from other Eastern European countries.

Mail-In Ballot Postage Becomes a Surprising (and Unnecessary) Cause of Voter Anxiety

Mail-in ballots in bins to be processed at the Sacramento County Registrar of Voters, on Oct. 22, 2018, in Sacramento, California. (Rich Pedroncelli/AP Photo)

At the absentee ballot parties organized by assistant professor Allison Rank and her political science students at the State University of New York at Oswego, young voters can sip apple cider and eat donuts as they fill out their ballots. But the main draw is the free stamps.

“The stamp was actually the thing I was concerned about,” one freshman told Rank after she explained the process of completing and mailing in a ballot. According to Rank, only one store on the rural upstate campus sells postage. It has limited hours and only takes cash, which many students don’t carry.

It’s not only students who may be short a stamp this election. An increasing number of Americans vote by mail in an age when fewer of us have a reason to keep postage on hand. But it’s long been an open secret among election officials: Even though the return envelopes on many mail-in ballots say “postage required,” the U.S. Postal Service will deliver even without a stamp.

How Big Oil Dodges Facebook’s New Ad Transparency Rules

A Facebook ad in October urged political conservatives to support the Trump administration’s rollback of fuel emission standards, which it hailed as “our president’s car freedom agenda” and “plan for safer, cheaper cars that WE get to choose.” The ad came from a Facebook page called Energy4US, and it included a disclaimer, required by Facebook, saying it was “paid for by Energy4US.”

Yet there is no such company or organization as Energy4US, nor is it any entity’s registered trade name, according to a search of LexisNexis and other databases. Instead, Energy4US — which Facebook says spent nearly $20,000 on the ads — appears to be a front for American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers, a trade association whose members include ExxonMobil, BP, Chevron and Shell. In 2015, when the Energy4US website was launched, it was registered to AFPM, which is also first on a list of “coalition members” on the site. AFPM, which did not respond to calls and emails for this article, has spent more than $2.5 million this year lobbying the federal government, including advocating for less stringent emission standards.

Groups Mask Partisan Attacks Behind Neutral-Sounding Names in Facebook Ads

Some political groups on the left are borrowing a tactic from disinformation campaigns, placing ads on Facebook that pretend to be impartial information or unbiased news sources, when in fact the ads spread misleading facts about candidates.

¿Has experimentado algún problema al votar? Queremos escuchar tu historia

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Las elecciones están a la vuelta de la esquina. Si estás planeando votar, ya sea el 6 de noviembre o durante el período de votación anticipada en tu estado, queremos que nos ayudes a encontrar problemas en el proceso de votación.

Let Us Know About Voting Problems During the Midterm Elections

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We’re on the lookout for any problems that prevent people from voting — such as long lines, registration problems, purged voter rolls, broken machines, voter intimidation and changed voting locations. To let us know how your voting experience went or to tell us if you encountered anything that stopped you or others from casting a ballot, here’s how to sign up.

Election Experts: We Need You

Electionland is gearing up for the midterms, and we’re looking for experts in election administration and election law to be part of an expert database. We’d love to have you participate. Our goal is to ground real-time coverage of elections in fact and context — you could be a huge part of helping us achieve it.

How Well Are Your Elections Run?

Election Day is only weeks away. Find out how — and how well — your county or town handles election administration.

Why Am I Seeing This? Interesting Facebook Ads From Our Political Ad Collector

These ads are collected from participants in our Political Ad Collector project. If you want to help us by submitting the ads you see to our collection, join the project. It’s easy.

The Overlooked Weak Link in Election Security

Photo illustration by Agnes Chang/ProPublica, source image by Serge/Getty Images

More than one-third of counties that are overseeing elections in some of the most contested congressional races this November run email systems that could make it easy for hackers to log in and steal potentially sensitive information.

A ProPublica survey found that official email accounts used by 11 county election offices, which are in charge of tallying votes in 12 key U.S. House of Representatives races from California to Ohio, could be breached with only a user name and password — potentially allowing hackers to vacuum up confidential communications or impersonate election administrators. Cybersecurity experts recommend having a second means of verifying a user’s identity, such as typing in an additional code from a smartphone or card, to thwart intruders who have gained someone’s login credentials through trickery or theft. This system, known as two-factor verification, is available on many commercial email services.

No, a Teen Did Not Hack a State Election

AP Photo/Isaac Brekken

Headlines from Def Con, a hacking conference held this month in Las Vegas, might have left some thinking that infiltrating state election websites and affecting the 2018 midterm results would be child’s play.

Articles reported that teenage hackers at the event were able to “crash the upcoming midterm elections” and that it had taken “an 11-year-old hacker just 10 minutes to change election results.” A first-person account by a 17-year-old in Politico Magazine described how he shut down a website that would tally votes in November, “bringing the election to a screeching halt.”

But now, elections experts are raising concerns that misunderstandings about the event — many of them stoked by its organizers — have left people with a distorted sense of its implications.

Fund Meant to Protect Elections May Be Too Little, Too Late

A woman votes on Nov. 8, 2016, in Durham, North Carolina, which plans to spend more than $5 million to modernize its decades-old statewide election information system. (Sara D. Davis/Getty Images)

The Election Assistance Commission, the government agency charged with distributing federal funds to support elections, released a report Tuesday detailing how each state plans to spend a total of $380 million in grants allocated to improve and secure their election systems.

When Sarah Sanders and the ACLU Teamed Up for Voting Rights

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders in February 2018 (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

As the midterm elections approach, Republican state officials and lawmakers have stepped up efforts to block students from voting in their college towns. Republicans in Texas pushed through a law last year requiring voters to carry one of seven forms of photo identification, including handgun licenses but excluding student IDs. In June, the GOP-controlled legislature in North Carolina approved early voting guidelines that have already resulted in closing of polling locations at several colleges. And last month, New Hampshire’s Republican governor signed a law that requires students who vote in the state to also register their cars and obtain driver's licenses there.

One nationally prominent Republican, however, once took the opposite stance on student voting. As an undergraduate at Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia, Arkansas, Sarah Huckabee — now White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders — sued to allow students to vote after being one of more than 900 purged from the county’s rolls.

Election 2016 Gets a Report Card

According to a new MIT study, it's getting easier to vote. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

A new report out today by researchers at MIT contains some good news about America’s election process. States seem to have fixed the long lines and sky-high wait times that plagued voters in 2012. Overall, it’s getting easier to vote, the research shows.

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Election Commission Documents Cast Doubt on Trump’s Claims of Voter Fraud

A White House staff member records President Donald Trump speaking at a meeting of the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity in July 2017. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP Photo)

In May of 2017, President Donald Trump established a presidential commission to explore the threat of voter fraud — staffing it with multiple Republicans who had theorized that fraud was a substantial problem in American democracy. The commission, widely called the voter fraud commission, was immediately criticized as a political creation aimed at a phony problem.

Kris Kobach’s Lucrative Trail of Courtroom Defeats

Cities across the U.S. took on debt to pay for Kris Kobach's costly anti-illegal immigration policies, but they had nothing to show for it. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

Kris Kobach likes to tout his work for Valley Park, Missouri. He has boasted on cable TV about crafting and defending the town’s hardline anti-immigration ordinance. He discussed his “victory” there at length on his old radio show. He still lists it on his resume.

But “victory” isn’t the word most Valley Park residents would use to describe the results of Kobach’s work. With his help, the town of 7,000 passed an ordinance in 2006 that punished employers for hiring illegal immigrants and landlords for renting to them. But after two years of litigation and nearly $300,000 in expenses, the ordinance was largely gutted. Now, it is illegal only to “knowingly” hire illegal immigrants there — something that was already illegal under federal law. The town’s attorney can’t recall a single case brought under the ordinance.

About Electionland

ProPublica’s Electionland project covers problems that prevent eligible voters from casting their ballots during the 2020 elections. Our coalition of newsrooms around the country are investigating issues related to voter registration, pandemic-related changes to voting, the shift to vote-by-mail, cybersecurity, voter education, misinformation, and more.

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