This Summer, multimedia journalism students in the esteemed Carnegie-Knight News21 program gathered at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication to create a multimedia journalism project on voting rights, which included an exhaustive nationwide analysis of 2,068 alleged election fraud cases since 2000.
The students compiled an online database of the alleged fraud cases, which is currently the most extensive collection of U.S. election fraud cases ever compiled. They sent thousands of requests to elections officers in all 50 states, asking for every case of fraudulent activity including registration fraud, absentee ballot fraud, vote buying, false election counts, campaign fraud, casting an ineligible vote, voting twice, voter impersonation fraud and intimidation.
The News21 organization published the results on Sunday, which show that there is more fraud in absentee ballots and voter registration than any other categories. The analysis shows 491 cases of absentee ballot fraud and 400 cases of registration fraud, many of which were allegedly unintentional (for example, felons or non-citizens who register to vote without realizing they are ineligible). In the case of voter-impersonation fraud, however, the News21 analysis shows the rate to be “infinitesimal,” meaning that in-person voter impersonation on Election Day is virtually non-existent.
There’s been a good deal of attention surrounding voter-impersonation fraud over the last several years, predominantly from groups like the Republican National Lawyers Association, who argue that strict voter ID laws are needed to prevent widespread fraud. So far these concerns have prompted 37 state legislatures to enact or consider tougher voter-ID laws, despite the fact that little evidence has been found to support the claims.
Critics of these strict voter ID laws include civil-rights and voting-rights activists, who see them as a way of disenfranchising minorities, students, senior citizens and the disabled. The lack of evidence on this hot-button issue is what prompted News21 reporters to launch their own investigation.
While much of the investigative work for this project required old-school journalism practices like mailing public records requests to government agencies, conducting extensive follow-up telephone calls/messages and organizing the responses in a giant document, it also gave the student reporters in News21 the opportunity to learn and apply new media skills to their work.
For example, the website and the searchable election fraud database were created in-house, and other stories in the overall voting rights project include multimedia elements created by the reporters such as videos, photo slideshows, interactive Secretary of State profiles and interactive mail-in/absentee voter maps and graphs.
Technology continues to play an important role in the evolution of investigative journalism. The increasing number of public records that are accessible online, the growing base of journalists learning Computer Aided Reporting (CAR) techniques, and the numerous free/cheap, easy-to-use data visualization tools available all allow journalists to increase the efficiency of their investigations and share findings with a global audience.
Phoenix may see more multimedia investigative journalism projects soon, as Andrew Long and Brandon Quester, both of whom worked on the News21 project, plan to launch a community-supported, data visualization-fueled, non-profit investigative reporting organization called the Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting in the near future.