Herald joins national news organizations launching Electionland project

Editor of The Herald

The Herald has joined with nearly 100 news organizations working together to track the voter experience across America in real time.

As part of a national reporting initiative announced in New York late last week, a coalition of organizations – including ProPublica, Google News Lab, the USA TODAY NETWORK, Univision News, First Draft, WNYC, and the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism in New York – will use innovative technology designed to identify election administration issues as they are happening and empower local reporters to take action.

Electionland will look for problems typically experienced in voting, such as long lines, malfunctioning machines, harassing election challengers, upticks in provisional ballot use, names dropped from voter rolls and unrequired requests for photo identification, as well as any evidence of in-person voter fraud.

There were several key elements to the initiative that convinced Herald senior managers that the newspaper should join the effort:

  • Part of the difficulty of covering elections in a sustained, national way is that they are run under a chaotic, decentralized system. There are thousands of different voting jurisdictions across the country that run elections in thousands of different ways – with unique rules dictating registration, absentee balloting, early voting dates, polling place hours and locations, and voter ID requirements.
  • In 2016, the challenges have multiplied. This year’s presidential election will be the first since 1965 without the full protections of the Voting Rights Act, following the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision to strike down key parts of the federal law. Since then, as many as 15 states have passed new election laws that have never been tested in a presidential election.
  • We believe this election demands renewed scrutiny. Once a citizen misses an opportunity to vote, they can’t get that vote back again. As journalists, we have an important role to shine a light on barriers to the ballot, as well as fraudulent voting.
  • We have access to an unprecedented amount of information, and will be able to track how voting is going, down to the precinct level. Using innovative technology, Electionland will filter and verify this data, and deliver vital information to newsrooms across the country in real time.

Throughout the early voting period and on Election Day, the Electionland coalition will receive real-time data on voting problems from multiple sources, including social media, Google search trends and Facebook’s Signal platform, as well as data from Election Protection, a project of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, which receives calls from voters around the country about voting issues.

First Draft, a coalition of social newsgathering and verification specialists, will coordinate and train a selected network of journalism school newsrooms – at University of Alabama, Arizona State University, Columbia University, University of Florida, University of Georgia, Louisiana State University, University of Memphis, University of Missouri, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Ohio University, University of Oregon and Texas State University – to monitor and flag reports that emerge on social media. ProPublica editors and reporters will oversee the student journalists, who plan to use Meedan’s Check platform to organize their work, and leads will be sent to local media organizations for follow-up.

On Nov. 8, Electionland will establish a pop-up newsroom, working from facilities at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism in New York. From this hub ProPublica will publish national stories on the state of voting, including the extension of a live blog to be launched during early voting, and updates on social media throughout Election Day.

“Most newsrooms in America are asking an important but premature question while polls are open: ‘Who’s winning?’ ” said Scott Klein, ProPublica deputy managing editor and the project’s leader. “Electionland is an experiment that asks whether we can help empower newsrooms to cover other vitally important questions that day: How is the election itself going? Who’s voting and who’s being turned away?”

The consortium will consist of more than two dozen public radio stations, Univision local television stations; and newspapers such as the Arizona Republic, Cincinnati Enquirer, Des Moines Register, Detroit Free Press, Indianapolis Star, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Tallahassee Democrat and the Tennessean.