While most national media outlets covered the Democratic and Republican National Conventions over the last two weeks, the Washington Post decided to go to war with a little-known website called Protect My Vote. While the Post labeled the site and its corresponding advertisements a “disinformation campaign,” ironically, the paper’s own news coverage supports the site’s message around a key piece of voter education: Your vote is more likely to be counted when it is cast in person.
In an added twist, Protect My Vote directs visitors from every state to their specific government agencies to register to vote, to request an absentee ballot, or to find their polling place. Bizarrely, a site underscoring official government resources is now categorized by the Washington Post as disinformation.
In the initial article, Post reporter Isaac Stanley-Becker wrote that Protect My Vote “claims to present evidence showing that . . . widespread disenfranchisement result[s] from mail balloting, which is not borne out by facts.”
Two days later, the Post provided the needed facts. “More than 500,000 mail ballots were rejected in the primaries,” rang the headline. “That could make the difference in battleground states this fall.”
The Washington Post is not the only national news outlet to highlight the procedural problems facing mail ballots, or how the influx could overwhelm the United States Postal Service and elections offices across the country.
In June, NBC News interviewed Washington Secretary of State Kim Wyman, where all-mail elections have been the norm for almost a decade. She warned that with just a few months before a major presidential election, engineering an entire system to accommodate an all-mail or primarily-mail election would overwhelm most states, which typically see fewer than 10 percent of ballots cast by mail. Ultimately, Wyman warns that trying to do so would be “a disservice to our voters.”
CBS News “reveal[ed] potential problems within [the] postal voting system” with their own mail-voting simulation. They found that regardless of budget or staff, the United States Postal Service can only guarantee on-time and accurate mail delivery 97 percent of the time, leaving 3 percent of mail lost or left behind. We all remember the nail-biter 2016 election, when the victor in eight states, with more than 125 electoral votes at stake, was decided by fewer than 3 percent of ballots.
ABC News and NPR have reported on the multitude of rejected ballots leading to uncounted votes. Late ballot arrivals or other problems with it, such as a missing signature, are the main reasons for rejection.
Often, the late arrival is due to voter error, but sometimes the system is at fault: NPR highlighted one voter in Florida who put his ballot in the mail eight days before Election Day, but it did not arrive at the clerk’s office until eight days after its due date. ABC’s headline emphasized that more ballots were rejected in Wisconsin’s 2020 primary than separated Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton in the state’s 2016 election when turnout was much higher.
Reports from the Post and other national outlets are highlighted on Protect My Vote’s website because they bear out the facts: millions of voters have never voted by mail before, and the systems involved have never had to accommodate such an influx of mailed ballots over in-person ones. These facts equip voters to consider carefully and deliberately the method of voting—by mail, early and in-person, or in-person on Election Day—that will give them the greatest sense of confidence they have made their voice heard. Far from the voter suppression claimed by the Washington Post, this is voter education and empowerment.
The lack of internal consistency from the Washington Post highlights the media’s race for the most sensational headline, which unfortunately distracts from needed attention on the integrity of the vote for the most important presidential election of our lifetime—regardless of your political persuasion.
What strikes me is that the Washington Post, along with other national outlets that have covered this issue, are essentially broadcasting the same message as Protect My Vote: the American people deserve the full story on the best way to make their votes count. It’s unfortunate that the Post continues to pressure tech companies to take down this entirely inoffensive message.
Then again, when reporters are only looking for the specter of voter suppression, they are likely to find it—even when their own outlets provide ample evidence to the contrary.