Have a plan for your election day coverage

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The upcoming election has become clouded due to claims of potential fraud repeatedly made by President Donald Trump. The President also has called upon supporters to watch the polls closely, which may spark some to man the polls in some fashion.

This makes the job of journalists that much more crucial, either to dispel any false claims or reveal any actual issues. Here’s information I shared earlier, but bears repeating with the election looming.

Media watchers
Newspapers can have media watchers present at any polling place and the canvassing location (where the county counts votes from all the precincts). If the newspaper is assigning watchers who are not regular newsroom reporters, you need to submit a list of these media watchers to the county clerk. HSPA suggests each newspaper also let the county clerk know which of its regular staff will be likely to visit polling places on election day so the clerk can advise their poll workers.

The statute says by the day before, but HSPA recommends you submit the list earlier to give the clerk more time to circulate to those who statutorily have a right to the list to lessen chances of your watchers being challenged on election day. If your coverage area includes more than one county, you should make your media watcher request with the state Election Division, which is a branch of Indiana’s Secretary of State.

You can take photos of the election process, but you must have the permission of any voter you want to photograph in the polling place and you cannot take a photo that would show the voter’s ballot results.
You are entitled to copies of the precinct results after 6 p.m. – when the results are tallied.

Exit polling
If you want reporters to talk to voters leaving the precinct, instruct them to not approach the voters unless they are 50 feet away from the door to the polling location.

Absentee ballots
Absentee ballots are not sent out to the individual precincts. They will be counted at the county’s central location where all the precinct results are collected.

Canvassing location
After 6 p.m., the county election board can start to tally the results collected from the precincts. The location must be open to the public per the Open Door Law, although they may restrict access to part of the room to protect election documents [I.C. 3-12-4-6]. Note: there may be limited seating in the location where the results are tallied.

While the tallying may begin at 6 p.m., there is no deadline for the completion of the tally. Absentee ballots may or may not be counted before 6 p.m. on election day depending upon what resolution the county election board approved. I recommend you check on this before election day to determine whether you need to have someone present at the canvassing location during the day, rather than waiting until after 6 p.m.

As of Sept. 20, the state had received more applications for absentee ballots for this election than the combined number of requests it received for both the primary and general election in 2016. This means it will take longer to count the absentee ballots in each county. I recommend you remind your readers that the vote process will likely take longer this year prior to the election to dispel rumors that fraud must be present if results aren’t available on election night.

The winners of the 1960 and 1968 presidential election (Kennedy in ’60 and Nixon in ’68) were not known until Wednesday after the election. Of course, the 2000 election went to the U.S. Supreme Court before a winner was determined in December (Bush v. Gore).

Provisional ballots
There is a 10-day window for rulings on provisional ballots by each county election board. Provisional ballots include those that have been challenged or ballots filed, but the voter didn’t have an ID and is required to come before the election board with a valid ID to verify his/her ballot.

Any hearings by the election board on provisional ballots must be completed by 3 p.m. on the second Friday following the election (Nov. 13). The General Assembly will be convening the following Tuesday (Nov. 17) to determine who they will be seating based on election results – some may be seated provisionally while any recounts are resolved.

Pre-plan
I recommend you have a discussion with the county clerk prior to election day to determine when absentee ballots will be counted, where will the canvassing take place and how the room will be set up for the media to observe (will there be any issues based on the seating available). You may want to exchange cell phone numbers in case there is an issue that develops between a poll worker and media watcher that needs to be quickly resolved.

Good luck on Election Day.

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