Electionland was the largest-ever journalistic collaboration around a single event, with some 1,100 journalists taking part in a nationwide effort to cover voting rights, election administration, and whether the 2016 election was “rigged.”
There is no more essential act in a democracy than voting. But making sure that balloting is open to all and efficiently administered has been, at best, a low priority for many state legislatures – a victim of misplaced priorities and political gamesmanship.
Historically, newsrooms have primarily focused reporting on the outcome of Election Day, relegating voting snafus to secondary coverage. And because election law varies drastically from state to state – and even county to county – no national newsroom was previously in a position to cover election administration with a wide lens.
ProPublica and a coalition of partner organizations launched Electionland to change this. The collaborative project empowered newsrooms across the country to cover voting problems faster and better than has ever been attempted. Local newsrooms were alerted to problems in real time, and national partners received an unprecedented and dynamic countrywide look at problems facing the vote.
The issue was particularly urgent this election year. This was the first presidential election following the invalidation of parts of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act by the Supreme Court. Between the time of the decision and the election, more than a dozen states passed laws that affected citizens’ access to the ballot box. Separately, Donald Trump claimed that voting would be “rigged” and called for his supporters to monitor polling places in swing states, sparking concern that minority voters might face intimidation across the country.
With over 1,100 people working on the project at dozens of newsrooms, Electionland became the largest journalism collaboration ever dedicated to covering a single breaking news event. The project yielded hundreds of stories nationwide. Real-world impact was significant. A few examples:
Electionland proved that social media can be a valuable reporting tool at a very large scale, and provided an immediate and authoritative rebuttal to suggestions that the vote was illegitimate or that there had been widespread intimidation of people going to the polls. In a hotly contentious election in which the facts themselves seemed to be in dispute, hard evidence was an extraordinary public service.
But, most importantly, it proved that voting problems don’t have to emerge only after the fact – that if news organizations work together, they can collectively serve as a watchdog for this crucial democratic process as it happens.