We’re 10 months away from the 2020 election. While the stakes are incredibly high and the electorate is more polarized than it has been in decades, Americans’ faith in the legitimacy of the outcome is low — and not without reason. There’s evidence that the forces that sought to influence the electorate in 2016 are at it again, and attempts to shore up the cyber defenses of local election systems have had uneven results.
Crucially, in a vacuum of trustworthy facts, questions about election integrity, fraud and security can be answered by dishonest players with a stake in the outcome. Local newsrooms, reeling from new rounds of belt-tightening and layoffs, are less able to sustain the effort necessary to cover a fast-moving, complex, technical and data-rich story by themselves.
That’s why we announced Monday that we’re running our Electionland project again, to bring together journalists around the country to report on voting barriers and electoral integrity.
We’ll be on the lookout for some 21st-century problems, such as inauthentic social media posts that spread misinformation about voting and server breaches that seek to prevent one side from voting, to sow chaos and doubt, or even to change votes. Other problems persist that have been around much longer, like long lines, malfunctioning machines and arbitrarily moved polling places, to name a few.
What’s common to all of the problems ProPublica and our Electionland partners will be investigating is that they all risk disenfranchising, for all practical purposes, eligible voters. And there’s no right more central to our democracy than the right to cast a vote.
Because election administration happens at the local level, we can’t cover this alone. There are, in effect, thousands of Election Days in the U.S. As we did in 2016 and 2018, we plan to gather data and share it with partner newsrooms to report on voting problems. We’ll share datasets starting in the coming weeks and months, and when voting starts this fall, we’ll do so in real time. This will allow local journalists to report on what’s happening early enough for officials to take action so that voters can cast their ballots.
As a mission-driven newsroom, we want to build on the impact our coverage has had in the past, which included:
The Houston Chronicle’s coverage of voting problems at a historically black university prompted the Texas secretary of state’s office to step in and allow students to vote without filling out additional paperwork.
The Chronicle reported on a memo to poll workers to remove several progressive groups from the polls, which led the Harris County Clerk’s Office to rescind the memo.
Voters in Nebraska were allowed to use cellphones inside polling booths after a voter alerted Electionland that a poll worker told her she could not vote if she was using a cellphone, the Omaha World-Herald reported.
Bklyner and WNYC reported on an official New York City voter guide that incorrectly stated felons can vote only after completing parole. The agency updated its website and corrected a two-year-old blog post that included the outdated information.
We reported that the New York City Housing Authority instructed hundreds of residents in a Coney Island building to remain home for a routine inspection on Election Day. After a ProPublica reporter reached out to the agency, a spokesperson said it was an oversight and promised not to schedule inspections on Election Day.
In 2016, voters in New York and Atlanta who had been denied access to the ballot had their ability to vote restored; the New York City Board of Elections phone hotline was fixed after we told them it was unavailable; Texas poll workers who were giving incorrect information were set straight; and misleading information published by Urban Outfitters was taken down.
So far, we’ve teamed up with Quartz, The Guardian, First Draft and the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY. And now we’re welcoming newsrooms to sign up and join our coalition.
Any newsroom can apply to become an Electionland partner: digital, print, radio or TV. If you’re a local journalist in a newsroom who will cover the election, or a national journalist who covers voting, you can sign up to participate in the project below. (Freelancers must have a relationship with a local outlet where their stories can appear.) We’re interested in reporters who have experience covering elections, but we also have resources to get journalists up to speed on how election administration works and what problems to look out for.
We’ll offer access to real-time tips during the election, including about long lines, machine breakdowns, an uptick in provisional balloting, ballot confusion and more. During the year we’ll provide additional data on elections, access to a private Slack group, trainings, a weekly newsletter, reporting resources, customizable data alerts on candidates and races you’d like to watch, and more. We’ll also promote stories produced as part of the project on the Electionland website and social media accounts.
If you’re interested in becoming a partner, please fill out the sign-up form.