Election SOS First Aid Kit: After Tuesday
The polls have closed, but the electoral process is still underway. Experts have warned that announcing the results of this election could take longer than what the American public and the media are used to. This roundup will prepare you to cover this period of uncertainty with integrity and confidence.
Covering Results Responsibly
- Explain that confusion can be exploited to undermine the election’s integrity and fight it with clear facts.
- Know the key dates after November 3rd to structure your reporting around these deadlines. Make sure you know your state’s dates too, as they vary in each state.
- Be wary of ratcheting up the public’s anxiety by calling races too early and focusing on every play by play in competitive states. Consider taking these steps once the polls close.
- Make sure you understand the difference between how elections are formally decided and how races are called by media elections are called and how best to communicate that to audiences. Nobody wants a repeat of the 2000 Election’s multiple retractions by networks.
- Normalize that this election’s vote count will take longer. Explain why results may appear to change during the counting process and that this is NOT an indication of foul play, but of the system working.
Be Thoughtful of your Language
- Avoid terms like “battleground” that convey war and instead use direct descriptive terms like “competitive state”.
- Consider the recommendations of the Election Coverage and Democracy Network.
- Think through carefully about what visuals you use to illustrate the races. Could they be giving a misleading impression?
- Don’t use the term “delay” if the vote is taking long to count but no legal deadlines have been missed and other tips on how to frame your coverage.
Vote Curing and Other Election Integrity Measures
- Learn the basics of the vote curing process to prepare your audiences to understand this somewhat obscure topic.
- Go behind the scenes of mail voting to understand how signatures are verified.
- Cover post-election audits to increase transparency and public confidence in the electoral process.
Covering Election Litigation
- Understand the potential impact of election litigation on determining results and track lawsuits. Remember, the electoral process is still underway.
- Familiarize yourself with which states are likely to experience lots of litigation. For example, some experts fear that Pennsylvania will be to the 2020 election what Florida was to the 2000 election.
- Similarly, get to know the key players in those states.
- Start by checking out these five resources for tackling misinformation.
- Read through Common Cause’s memo to the media to not amplify disinformation and PEN America’s guide for covering the election, which includes tips for dealing with misinformation.
- Know which states are targets of dis- and misinformation.
- Share resources with your readers so they can tackle misinformation themselves.
Covering Protests, Civil Unrest and Possible Violence
- Understand the basics of political violence, and learn how to track political violence in your coverage area.
- Read up on what the military cannot do in the United States during an election,
- Then, do a deep dive into how to report on election conflict and how to explain a contested election.
- Make sure not to amplify self-organized armed groups that call themselves “militias”. Avoid giving them the publicity they seek.
- Do not create false narratives when covering protests and be sure when reporting on violence to always give the context of the denominator of peaceful demonstrations.
- Connect with peace build and conflict mediation organizations in your area.
- Protect yourself if you’re covering protests and make sure you have the right PPE.