The National Press Club Journalism Institute offered a “what if” workshop examining the top threats facing the 2020 election on Thursday featuring four election experts in contested election results, election interference, mail-in ballots and voter suppression. FEC commissioner Ellen Weintraub delivered the opening remarks.
Among her insights:
Weintraub: We’re nine weeks out from the election and there are about 200 lawsuits that have been filed around the country, some seeking to expand the opportunities to vote, some seeking apparently to contract them.
On big picture concerns
Weintraub: I worry about our democracy. I worry that we are jeopardizing the American people’s faith in our democratic process, in our entire system of governance. This is a faith and a system of trust that has been built up over hundreds of years. And I fear that we’re about to blow it, and if we destroy faith in our institutions, if we destroy faith in our very democracy, in our very system of how we choose our leaders and our and our government, that trust is going to be exceedingly difficult to build back up again.
On the role of journalism
Weintraub: Facts matter. Truth matters. Facts are not partisan. And the media again needs to play a strong role in holding people to account when they are not truthful. I’m not talking about, you know, standard puffery that all politicians engage in. But if there is disinformation out there from foreign or domestic sources, we rely on the media to do fact checks. And to create a system where, at the end of the day, people will trust the results, people will understand that we need the time to count the votes. And once we count the votes, we will know the results.
Rick Hasen, Chancellor’s Professor of Law and Political Science at the University of California at Irvine, said that journalists today can push for transparency in coverage by reporting on what systems are in place now to ensure integrity.
On election interference
Maria Barsallo Lynch, executive director of the Defending Digital Democracy Project, said that we may not know if it is disinformation or misinformation or whether the coverage is intentionally false or unintentionally shared but it is still journalists’ responsibility to address it.
On mail-in ballots and US Postal Service readiness
David Becker, executive director and founder of the Center for Election Innovation & Research, said that journalists can help push back against the narrative that you can have your vote or have your health. For a lot of people, voting in person is going to be the best option, and votes that are made in person before and on Election Day are the first ones counted.
On voter suppression, polling access and Election Day pandemonium
Sylvia Albert, director of voting and elections at Common Cause, said that journalists are part of the process, so as they report, there is an effect. Provide context and perspective on polling problems and suppression efforts so that people understand their vote has value.