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Ignoring Trump and Right-Wing Think Tanks, Red States Expand Vote by Mail

An Ohio voter drops her ballot into a box outside the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections on April 28 in Cleveland. (Tony Dejak/AP Photo)

On April 23, during the same week that Kentucky’s Republican secretary of state said he was contemplating a “significant expansion” of vote by mail, the Public Interest Legal Foundation emailed one of his employees under the subject line “28 MILLION ballots lost.”

“Putting the election in the hands of the United States Postal Service would be a catastrophe,” wrote J. Christian Adams, president of PILF, a conservative organization that has long complained about voter fraud. His missive contended, with scant evidence, that “twice as many” mailed ballots “disappeared” in the 2016 presidential election than made up the margin of votes between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.

The state worker forwarded the message to his supervisor, who ignored it, according to emails obtained through a public records request. Only days later, Kentucky finalized its plan for the biggest increase in vote by mail in the state’s history. Secretary of State Mike Adams (no relation to J. Christian) said he had little trouble persuading legislators to pass the measure. “I’ve been pleasantly surprised on social media and elsewhere,” he said. “Republicans and Democrats both have been supportive of what we did.”

A Conservative Legal Group Significantly Miscalculated Data in a Report on Mail-In Voting

Mail-in ballots being reviewed in Ohio last month. A study from a conservative legal group suggesting that voting by mail opened the door to widespread fraud appears to have been based on flawed data. (Matthew Hatcher/Getty Images)

In an April report that warns of the risks of fraud in mail-in voting, a conservative legal group significantly inflated a key statistic, a ProPublica analysis found. The Public Interest Legal Foundation reported that more than 1 million ballots sent out to voters in 2018 were returned as undeliverable. Taken at face value, that would represent a 91% increase over the number of undeliverable mail ballots in 2016, a sign that a vote-by-mail system would be a “catastrophe” for elections, the group argued.

However, after ProPublica provided evidence to PILF that it had in fact doubled the official government numbers, the organization corrected its figure. The number of undeliverable mail ballots dropped slightly from 2016 to 2018.

Whether the Ballot You Mail Is Counted May Depend on Where You Vote

A voter waits to drop off a ballot at the Board of Elections in Dayton on Tuesday after the Ohio primary shifted to an exclusively vote-by-mail system to reduce the coronavirus spread. (Megan Jelinger/AFP via Getty Images)

The April 6 guidance from the U.S. Supreme Court seemed final: Election officials in Wisconsin should only count absentee ballots postmarked on or before the next day’s voting. Then, in the days after the chaotic primary, thousands of ballots poured in with missing or illegible postmarks — an issue the court had not directly addressed. Throwing up its hands, the Wisconsin Elections Commission left it to local officials to decide if ballots had been mailed on time.

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Who Has Emergency Authority Over Elections? Nobody’s Quite Sure.

Primary day in Whitmore Lake, Michigan, on March 10. The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed severe limits on how election officials can respond to emergencies. (Erin Kirkland/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

The tug of war over whether and how to hold Tuesday’s Wisconsin primary exposes a national problem: State and local officials with the most experience running elections lack the power to revamp or postpone voting during a crisis.

Voting by Mail Would Reduce Coronavirus Transmission but It Has Other Risks

Election worker Ruth Ard opens vote-by-mail ballots for the presidential primary on March 10 in Renton, Washington. (Jason Redmond/AFP/Getty)

As COVID-19 spreads, many are proposing to hold the November election by mail. Without careful preparation, though, the transition could run into logistical problems and provide opportunities for voter fraud.

Elections May Have to Change During the Coronavirus Outbreak. Here’s How.

Empty voting stations at a Florida precinct during Tuesday’s primary. Polling volunteers say that in-person turnout is down at most locations due to fears of the COVID-19 virus. (Zack Wittman for the Washington Post)

As the novel coronavirus spreads through the U.S. during presidential primaries, election and government officials are scrambling to figure out how to allow voters to cast their ballots safely ― or postpone primaries altogether. Managing in-person voting during an unprecedented pandemic has forced authorities to overcome new virus-related hurdles: providing sufficient cleaning supplies to polling places, moving polling places out of nursing homes and ensuring there are enough poll workers.

There’s also a huge open question: If the virus continues to infect large numbers of people, how can the general election take place safely this fall?

We’ve Reported on Elections for Years. Here’s How Reporters Can Hold Officials Accountable.

Californians vote using new touch-screen machines on Super Tuesday, March 3, in Los Angeles. (Melina Mara/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

As part of our Electionland project, we work with journalists around the country to provide reporting resources about voting rights, election security and election-related misinformation. We’ve put together a series of tips and ideas about how local reporters can tackle election reporting well ahead of the general election.

Some Election-Related Websites Still Run on Vulnerable Software Older Than Many High Schoolers

Diego Patiño, special to ProPublica

The Richmond, Virginia, website that tells people where to vote and publishes election results runs on a 17-year-old operating system. Software used by election-related sites in Johnston County, North Carolina, and the town of Barnstable, Massachusetts, had reached its expiration date, making security updates no longer available.

Republican National Committee Obscured How Much It Pays Its Chief of Staff

President Donald Trump at the 2018 Republican National Committee winter meeting at the Trump International Hotel in Washington. The RNC has covered costs or made payments that are personally beneficial to the president. (Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images)

Amid the record-breaking flows of cash, the RNC is giving lucrative consulting work to a select group of political operatives with Trump campaign ties.

The Iowa Caucuses App Had Another Problem: It Could Have Been Hacked

Precinct captain Carl Voss of Des Moines, Iowa, shows the IowaReporterApp on his phone. (Nati Harnik/AP)

A glitch in the smartphone app used to count and report votes from individual precincts continues to delay results from Monday’s Iowa caucuses. But a closer look shows that the app had a potentially graver problem that apparently did not come into play: its vulnerability to hacking.

Iowa’s Lesson: Political Parties Are Not as Good as Government Officials at Counting Votes

Mackenzie Mcilmail awaiting results of the Iowa caucuses at a Bernie Sanders campaign event Monday in Des Moines. (Salwan Georges/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Here’s the takeaway from the Iowa fiasco: Beware of caucuses run by political parties. But don’t panic about the integrity of most primaries and the general election, which are run by state and county election administrators.

Help Us Cover the Election With Electionland 2020

Erin Lefevre for ProPublica

ProPublica is relaunching its collaborative project for a third time to cover voting during this crucial election year. We’re recruiting newsroom partners.

Kansas Abandons Technology Trumpeted by Kris Kobach, Trump’s Onetime Voter Fraud Czar

Former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach. (Thad Allton/The Topeka Capital-Journal via AP)

A system supposedly meant to root out voter fraud was beset by security and accuracy issues.

Working Together Better: Our Guide to Collaborative Data Journalism

Linley Sanders, left, and Kerem Inal consult during Electionland, a project to monitor voting problems in real time, on Nov. 6, 2018, at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. (Erin Lefevre for ProPublica)

We’ve learned a lot about how to make large-scale collaborations around datasets work, and today we’re giving away all of our secrets.

About Electionland

Electionland is a coalition of newsrooms around the country that are covering misinformation, cybersecurity, and problems that prevent eligible voters from casting their ballots during the 2020 elections.

Questions? Read our FAQ.

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