Sept. 11, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP analysis: Absentee ballot rejections could soar in battlegrounds

analyzed voter turnout and ballot rejection data, finding that the number of absentee ballot rejections is likely to soar in key presidential battleground states this fall – enough that it could tip the balance in a close race. They also found the problem is more pronounced in some urban areas where Democratic votes are concentrated and rejections trended higher during this year’s primaries.

Cassidy and Bajak looked at how many people voted by mail in this year’s post-Covid primaries, the percentage of those ballots that were rejected and the state’s turnout during the 2016 presidential election to project how many absentee ballots could get rejected in the coming election if those numbers remained stable. Their analysis found between 185,000 and 292,000 voters in the seven key states they examined could be disenfranchised. https://bit.ly/3hfnXyP

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Oct. 02, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP: Surge of mail-in voting could mean surge of ballot-marking errors

used her deep expertise on voting procedures, along with strong source work, to report that poorly marked ovals or boxes on mail-in ballots could become this year”s version of the hanging chads from the disputed 2000 presidential election.With tens of millions of Americans filling out their ballots at home and voting by mail for the first time this year, experts anticipate that many of those voters will make mistakes marking ballots, forcing election workers to try to discern their intent. As Cassidy noted, states with a long history of voting by mail have detailed guidelines for processing and interpreting such ballots. But states that ramped up their vote-by-mail efforts this year in response to the coronavirus pandemic do not have that experience, potentially leading to confusion and disputed vote counts. https://bit.ly/3jii45V

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Oct. 02, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP pauses to get story of ‘discarded’ Trump ballots right

resisted competitive pressure, holding off on a Department of Justice press release on an investigation into “discarded” military ballots for President Donald Trump, instead taking the time to do a more deeply reported story.Most media rushed to publish when a U.S. attorney in the battleground state of Pennsylvania took the unusual step of announcing the ongoing investigation, saying nine mail-in ballots for the president had been “cast aside” in a county elections office. The county manager later blamed the incident on confusion over the appearance of the envelopes, but conservative social media quickly seized on the initial announcement while the Trump campaign blamed Democrats for “trying to steal the election.”The original press release, however, was short on details and no one, federal or local, was talking. Pennsylvania news editor Christina Paciolla brought the story to the attention of AP’s voting team, and a deeper examination began.The AP drew on expertise across the organization to produce a far more well-informed story the following day, providing essential context and new information, including the U.S. attorney defending his announcement of the votes for Trump, and that Attorney General William Barr had previously briefed the president on the case. https://bit.ly/3if2LJZ

July 24, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP Exclusive: California rejected 100,000 botched mail-in ballots

obtained state data showing 102,000 mail ballots for California’s March presidential primary were rejected for lateness or other mistakes. In his exclusive report, Blood showed that mail-in voting can be fraught with problems at a time when the pandemic is driving many states to gear up for near-universal vote-by-mail in November, and as President Trump casts doubt on the system’s validity. The story played widely online and The New York Times flagged the story on its live election briefing. https://bit.ly/2BmTfoF

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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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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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Jan. 04, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP ahead with two scoops on NC election investigation

for putting AP ahead on two major stories related to the investigation of ballot fraud in a 2018 congressional race in North Carolina – first with news that election officials had pressed prosecutors after the 2016 election to charge the man at the center of fraud allegations in 2018, and then obtaining a January 2017 letter predicting that ballot fraud would happen again unless the administration pursued a criminal case.https://bit.ly/2BXS8Inhttps://bit.ly/2R3LaMe

Oct. 02, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP data analysis finds poor mail delivery in battleground states

revealed that Postal Service districts across the nation are missing the agency’s own standards for on-time delivery as tens of millions of Americans prepare to vote by mail – and the lag times are especially pronounced in key regions of some battleground states.Postal Service delivery times, some of them obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, indicate that the district covering Detroit and the eastern third of Michigan, the part of the state that is being most heavily contested politically, has the worst on-time delivery in the nation. Regions of Ohio and Pennsylvania show similar underperformance. In fact, the data showed that no Postal Service region is meeting the agency’s target of delivering more than 95% of first-class mail within five days. https://bit.ly/2GecGlX

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Jan. 31, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Strong Weinstein trial coverage despite judge’s restrictions

overcame a judge’s strict rules for journalists covering Harvey Weinstein’s trial – including a ban on electronic communication from the courtroom, limited seating and no remote access to trial proceedings – to deliver standout coverage of Harvey Weinstein’s New York trial on charges of sexual abuse. AP’s coverage got wide play and frequent citations by news organizations unable to get their own reporter into the room.https://bit.ly/36zXRBnhttps://bit.ly/2uF9f1Dhttps://bit.ly/2Uerk14https://bit.ly/2GyI3Er

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Aug. 07, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Black voters voice skepticism of voting by mail

found that even as more states are promoting vote-by-mail during the coronavirus pandemic, the process is viewed skeptically by Black voters, one of the Democratic Party’s most important voting groups, largely because of historical disenfranchisement and distrust of government institutions. Williams found voters in Detroit and Atlanta who said they would rather stand in line for hours – and potentially risk getting the virus – just so they can submit their ballot personally and be assured it will be counted. https://bit.ly/2DC7aYO

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Feb. 26, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Kosovo team delivers strong all-formats election coverage

delivered textbook coverage with timely and complete all-formats reporting of Kosovo’s election held amid the pandemic, freezing temperatures, an economic downturn and stalled negotiations with wartime foe Serbia.After weeks of planning for Sunday’s election, video journalist Zhinipotoku offered live coverage of the early vote while Kllokoqi and Bajrami had shots of the top candidates casting their ballots at other polling stations. After the polls closed, the video crew and photographer Kryeziu ran from the city’s main square to the headquarters and offered shots of the winners’ celebration. The following day, correspondent Semini and team were rewarded for weeks of contact building, landing an interview with incoming Prime Minister Albin Kurti, which was carried live by AP.https://bit.ly/3aRQbQphttps://bit.ly/3qRXIUJhttps://bit.ly/3sltZULhttps://bit.ly/2O1rHuQ

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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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Aug. 06, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP takes a revealing look at fallout for Jan. 6 defendants

spent weeks gaining the trust of a U.S. Capitol riot defendant, resulting in an exclusive look at how the aftermath of Jan. 6 has affected her and her business.Kunzelman is an integral part of the AP team across the country reporting on the Capitol riot criminal cases, looking thematic stories beyond the daily court proceedings. He arranged to meet Pauline Bauer after a court hearing in Washington, and after a brief interview she agreed to meet him at her restaurant in Kane, Pennsylvania, a town of fewer than 4,000 residents in a county where nearly three-quarters of voters cast ballots for Trump in November. In Kane he interviewed Bauer and a fellow Capitol riot defendant, the mayor and residents both loyal and hostile to Bauer. Bauer’s arrest and that of a longtime friend have rekindled partisan bickering, mostly on social media some residents say, as many in Kane struggle to comprehend how two of their neighbors could be among the hundreds of Trump loyalists bent on overturning the election that day.Kunzelman also delivered photos with the piece, which was the second most-read story of the week on AP News, second only to Simone Biles sitting out Olympic competition. https://aplink.news/be9

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Feb. 26, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP’s Texas staff steps up for coverage of historic storm

pushed through last week’s winter storm coverage with top-notch storytelling even as many suffered hardship of their own.When deadly subfreezing temperatures, snow and ice smacked much of the southern U.S., it knocked out the power grid in Texas, the nation’s energy capital — and that was only the beginning. The bursting pipes, boil water advisories and accusations of price gouging that followed would only exacerbate the suffering for millions left shivering while nearly 80 people died.AP reporters showed in spot and enterprise stories that everything came down to a failure of government, particularly in Texas and neighboring Deep South states where infrastructure breakdowns revealed how unprepared much of the nation is for extreme weather.All this happened as many Texas staffers suffered along with their neighbors, with no power, heat or water. But they got creative and kept up the effort for a fully multiformat report, writing stories on phones when WiFi didn’t work, calling in feeds or charging electronics at colleagues’ homes. One Dallas reporter relocated to the home of an AP retiree when her own power was knocked out.https://bit.ly/2ZMQANFhttps://bit.ly/3dIKS7Dhttps://bit.ly/3r4YEWhhttps://bit.ly/3bAFQHBhttps://bit.ly/3bFHasKhttps://bit.ly/3uuAarl

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Nov. 20, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP breaks news on Justice Department election investigations

both delivered scoops on the U.S. Department of Justice and election investigations.Balsamo kept hearing rumors of the DOJ looking into election cases, but he knew there were rules prohibiting such investigations during an ongoing election. He kept asking until a source revealed a memo Attorney General William Barr had sent to prosecutors nationwide authorizing federal prosecutors across the U.S. to pursue any “substantial allegations” of voting irregularities before the election is certified, despite the fact there was no evidence of widespread fraud giving prosecutors the ability to go around the longstanding policy. The scoop reverberated nationwide, especially as concerns grew over Trump’s ability to use the levers of government to hang on to power. The story was widely used, with Politico, Axios and NBC citing AP in their coverage of Barr’s memo. AP’s alert and a full story were on the wire more than 40 minutes before other major news organizations obtained a copy of the memo.Meanwhile, Las Vegas reporter Michelle Price was digging into how the DOJ was pursuing allegations from the Trump campaign that voters may have cast improper ballots in Nevada. Price and Balsamo teamed up with voting reporter Anthony Izaguirre to report out two ongoing investigations, and how they may not hold up to scrutiny. Price used her contacts to get exclusive first-person accounts from U.S. military members who thought they’d been wrongly accused of fraud for voting by mail from out of state by Nevada authorities and DOJ officials.https://bit.ly/2Kqu09ehttps://bit.ly/3lOlxKR

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May 24, 2018

Best of the States

AP Exclusive: Interview with judge facing recall over Stanford sex assault sentence

When a California judge chose the most lenient sentence for a Stanford swimmer convicted of sexually assaulting an unconscious woman on campus, the outrage made national headlines for weeks. Anger at the judge turned into a recall effort on the June 5 primary ballot and more widespread media coverage.

Despite the glare, Judge Aaron Persky has been mostly silent for nearly two years. San Francisco reporter Paul Elias has spent nearly that entire time asking for an interview, over and over.

Those efforts paid off with an exclusive, three-hour all formats interview at the judge’s home. The judge said he had no regrets, even though the sentence may cost him his judgeship. The resulting story was featured prominently in local and national media.

For his persistence in getting AP a fascinating interview on a competitive story, Elias wins this week's Best of the States award.

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