The AP spent months contacting hundreds of local election offices, putting a number to potential cases of voter fraud. Spoiler alert: The 2020 election wasn’t stolen.
Former President Donald Trump’s refusal to concede defeat in the 2020 presidential election and his efforts to spread the false claim that widespread voter fraud cost him a second term raised a critical question: How much voter fraud occurred, specifically in the six crucial battleground states where the Republican disputed his loss to Democrat Joe Biden?
Turns out, just fewer than 475 potential cases of fraud, or 0.15% of Biden’s total margin of victory in the pivotal states.
The finding was the result of an exhaustive AP investigation led by state government team leader Tom Verdin and elections reporter Christina Cassidy, backed by a team of reporters, data journalists and others — and earns top honors in this week’s Best of the Week.
Trump spread the false voter fraud claim for months, had his allies file lawsuits in the battleground states seeking to overturn the results, pressured state lawmakers to decertify their states’ Electoral College votes and encouraged an insurrection against the government he led.
Cassidy, along with Verdin, mapped out a reporting strategy, focusing on the six states — Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. In the spring, once most local election offices had completed their official reviews of the November election, a team of reporters went to work. Teaming with Cassidy on the state reporting were Scott Bauer, Bob Christie, David Eggert, Anthony Izaguirre, Shawn Marsh, Anna Nichols, Michelle Price, Ed White and Corey Williams. They contacted more than 340 local election offices, plus various state offices, and finished gathering data in the fall.
Finally, working with data journalist Camille Fassett on detailed fact checks of the entries for every county in each of the states, the AP had its number: 473 potential cases of voter fraud. The details of the cases revealed even more: Virtually every one was an individual acting alone to cast an extra ballot, showing there was no coordinated fraud or conspiracy to rig the voting. Many of the prosecuted fraud cases involved Republicans, some of whom acknowledged that they were trying to cast a second ballot for Trump.
Cassidy, the lead reporter, brought the findings to Trump with the help of political reporter Jill Colvin, expecting a statement. Instead, she got an exceptionally rare phone interview with the former president that lasted 42 minutes. Recorded, the interview was used in the embedded video by video journalist Carrie Antlfinger and Tracy Brown, and in the broadcast package created by producer Ron Vample and audio reporter Jennifer King, with additional excerpts distributed for the AP’s broadcast customers.
Trump’s response: “I just don’t think you should make a fool out of yourself by saying 400 votes.” Aside from repeating his unfounded conspiracy theories, he could find no fault with AP’s reporting. And Washington reporter Colleen Long got a statement on the AP’s reporting from the White House.
The package also included an embedded graphic from the data team’s Linda Gorman, comparing the potential voter fraud cases with the Biden victory margin in each of the six states. Also providing significant contributions were editor Jerry Schwartz, digital news deputy director Shawn Chen, photo editor Pablo Salinas, as well as Washington’s Mike Tackett, Steven Sloan and Kathleen Hennessey.
In its first 24 hours the story had 125,000 views on apnews.com and more than 40,000 Facebook interactions, readership driven in large part by a detailed social promotion plan from the Nerve Center’s Elisa Ryan and Alina Hartounian. At least 360 AP customers used the piece online and it landed on about two dozen front pages. Not one, but two New York Times columnists referenced the AP story in op-eds calling out Trump and other Republicans for peddling the false voter fraud narrative.
For meticulous reporting and analysis that revealed the actual attention-grabbing sliver of voter fraud cases, the team of Cassidy, Bauer, Christie, Eggert, Fassett, Izaguirre, Marsh, Nichols, Price, White and Williams is AP’s Best of the Week — First Winner.