July 19, 2019

Best of the States

AP Exclusive: Outdated software makes even new election systems vulnerable to hackers

The source’s text said there was something “really troubling” to pass along.

Tami Abdollah, Washington national security reporter, had just returned to covering cybersecurity – a topic she has followed off-and-on since 2015. What the source told her was big: New election systems purchased across the United States were running on outdated Windows 7 systems, making them vulnerable to hackers.

It was a great tip, but it required a lot of work to determine the scope of the problem. The result was an exclusive text and video package that received huge play and raised alarm among state and national lawmakers. Abdollah revealed that the vast majority of 10,000 election jurisdictions nationwide use Windows 7 or an older operating system to create ballots, program voting machines, tally votes and report counts.

For combining source reporting with meticulous research to break major news on one of the biggest issues ahead of the 2020 election, Abdollah wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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Oct. 19, 2018

Best of the States

High-profile Georgia race focuses national attention on voter ID requirements

In the current political and media environment, it’s not often that a state politics story without President Donald Trump’s name in it drives a national political conversation for almost a week.

But that’s what happened when Atlanta-based newsperson Ben Nadler published a look at Georgia’s “exact match” voter registration verification process and other policies backed by Secretary of State Brian Kemp. Kemp, the Republican gubernatorial candidate, faces Democrat Stacey Abrams, vying to become the first black female governor of any state.

According to records obtained by Nadler from Kemps office through a public records request, 53,000 registrations – 70 percent of them from black applicants – were on hold with less than a month before the Nov. 6 election. Nadler also found that Kemp’s office has cancelled more than 1.4 million inactive voter registrations since 2012 – nearly 670,000 registrations in 2017 alone.

The story got tremendous play with AP customers over multiple news cycles and lit up social media.

For his deep look at a critical issue in Georgia’s high-stakes gubernatorial election and driving a national political discussion for days, Nadler wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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Nov. 03, 2017

Best of the States

Georgia election server wiped clean – days after lawsuit against officials

Georgia's centralized and aging election system has been the subject of several controversies – most recently in June, when a whistleblower revealed that state contractors had failed to secure an important election server. Hackers could potentially have affected the results of both 2016 races and a special congressional election last June that drew national attention.

The Houston bureau’s Frank Bajak wrote up the initial news of Georgia’s server problem. But that didn't answer the larger question of whether the vulnerable server had actually been hacked, so Bajak developed new sources and kept pressing for more information.

His efforts paid off when a source provided him with an email disclosing that the troubled server had been wiped clean of all data. Even more interesting, this destruction of evidence happened just a few days after a lawsuit was filed seeking a forensic examination of the server in an effort invalidate the state's vulnerable election technology.

For his enterprise and dogged pursuit of the story behind the story, Bajak wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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Oct. 06, 2017

Best of the Week

AP photo team produces unparalleled coverage of Catalonia referendum

The days leading up to Catalonia’s independence referendum pointed toward trouble on the day of the vote. The autonomous region in northeast Spain was pushing ahead with the election despite the country’s constitutional court ordering it to be stopped. In the weeks leading up to the vote, thousands took to the streets, demonstrating for and against independence. The election, set for Oct. 1, was sure to be a defining moment for the region and the country.

It also posed a challenge to those planning AP’s visual report: How best to capture the expected chaos? How to navigate its major city, Barcelona, which would be flooded with demonstrators and police? How to get photographers and video journalists in the right positions, knowing they might be stuck there for hours?

These decisions fell to Emilio Morenatti, AP’s chief photographer for Spain and Portugal. A longtime Barcelona resident, he anticipated those obstacles as he deployed AP’s staff and freelance photographers.

The result was some 200 photographs that captured the violence and passion of a remarkable moment in Spanish history. For planning creatively, making smart in-the-moment decisions and risking personal safety, Morenatti and his team of photographers win this week’s Beat of the Week.

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June 29, 2017

Best of the Week

AP analysis: How gerrymandering benefited GOP in 2016

How is it that Republicans and Democrats can split the vote about equally in races for Congress and state legislatures, yet the GOP wins significant majorities in the House of Representatives and in statehouses across the country? Partisan gerrymandering, which manipulates legislative districts for one party’s benefit, has been suspected, but there has been no way to actually quantify it – until now.

An Associated Press team of David Lieb, Meghan Hoyer and Maureen Linke, applying a new statistical method that calculates partisan advantage, analyzed U.S. House and state legislative races across the country last year and found that redistricting controlled by Republicans had given their party a distinct advantage and one that will be hard for Democrats to overcome in upcoming election cycles.

Their multi-format report – including easy-to-grasp interactives and a trove of localized data – is the Beat of the Week.

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May 19, 2017

Best of the States

Eligible Wisconsin voters turned away by strict voter ID law

Republicans in Wisconsin had pledged that no eligible voter would be disenfranchised when they passed a strict voter ID law in 2011. After it was used for the first time last year in a presidential election, a group of AP reporters sought to put that promise to the test.

Weeks of research and source work led them to a retired Milwaukee resident who had voted for years and brought to the polls her Social Security card, Medicare card and county-issued bus pass with photo ID; a Navy veteran whose Illinois driver's license was good enough to board a plane and open checking account; an 85-year-old man who had voted in the same small town for years; and a recent college graduate who went to the polls with her three forms of identification – her student ID, copies of her lease and utility bill, and her ID from her home state of Ohio.

In the end, all were turned away or had to cast provisional ballots that were never counted.

For exposing the practical effects of the ID law on Wisconsin citizens, the team of Cassidy, Moreno and Antlfinger wins this week's Best of the States award.

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Nov. 17, 2016

Best of the Week

Historic presidential race call followed months of prep, hours of analysis

When Election Day arrived, just about everyone in politics had assumed for weeks that Hillary Clinton would soon be the next president. All it would take was California's trove of 55 electoral votes and a series of easy wins elsewhere to push her past the 270 she would need.

Not David Pace, Stephen Ohlemacher and AP's team of race callers and decision analysts.

They had prepared for months for all contingencies _ including a race that wasn't a blowout but a collection of close races that would demand deep analysis of AP's vote count, exit polls and the history of voting patterns state by state. To call the race for president before all others, and to do so with the unfailing accuracy the world expects from the AP on Election Day, would require excellence at calling those tight races that go deep into the night.

They did just that. And their call of the assumption-shattering result earns the Beat of the Week.

Ap Politics Snapshot