The Sanford School of Public Policy welcomed Jessica Huseman, ProPublica journalist and director of their Electionland Project, to speak at Duke on October 1, 2020, for the first Stand For Democracy event called Voting During a Pandemic, a Postal Crisis and Presidential Misinformation.
The fireside chat, which was co-sponsored by the DeWitt Wallace Center for Media and Democracy and Polis: Duke’s Center for Politics, was hosted by Knight Professor of the Practice of Journalism and Public Policy and Director of the DeWitt Wallace Center, Bill Adair.
Electionland, a nationwide initiative of the nonprofit investigative journalism organization ProPublica, is a collaboration of 30 freelance journalists who are assigned to different regions in the country and deployed to cover stories that aim to interrupt everyday problems with voting in local elections for any number of reasons.
“I don't think that it's going to be a countrywide disaster. I have spoken in the last four years to upwards of 300 county clerks. And I can count on less than one hand the number of county clerks who I thought did not want to do their job well. And so as long as those people are doing their job well and doing their job competently then November 4 will come and the sun will rise and we will all be fine.” – ProPublica’s Jessica Huseman
Huseman thinks that Americans are prepared to help election administrators pull this election off in unprecedented times. In the talk, she had just learned about situation in Texas, where she lives. “There are counties in Texas that take up more square mileage than the state of New Hampshire and Delaware combined and they will only have one drop box. I cannot imagine the hysterics that would come down if Delaware to were to announce that they only have one drop box in the entire state.” The discrepancy with how each state conducts the election and the lack of understanding how states work is inherent to American democracy.
When asked about the fear generated by the President’s call for poll watchers, Huseman countered the concern with facts about the law, and she is not worried about this occurring. Like concerns over mail-in ballots, she believes that fear is being stoked unnecessarily. She has confidence that the postal service, for a variety of reasons that are in place to preserve democracy, will be able to handle the increase in mail-in ballots. Huseman and Adair talked in depth about the various election concerns regarding the postal service and main-in ballots.
They also discussed the role of journalism in sustaining democracy and how local reporters must get smarter at “the disinformation game.” On the other hand, Huseman noted, it can be the opposite. “The way that the very bizarre press release from the DOJ about nine ballots thrown in the trash and Pennsylvania was covered by the national media was way more breathless than the local media there. That took a step back and tried to figure out what really happened.”