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Politics

How NHPR Plans To Cover Election Day 2020

In an effort to be more transparent with our listeners, NHPR has been answering your questions about how we cover the news. NHPR's news director Dan Barrick spoke with Morning Edition Host Rick Ganley about our plans for Election Day coverage and beyond.

Click here for all of NHPR's coverage plans and 2020 Election resources.  

Note: This transcript was machine-generated and has been lightly edited for clarity

Rick Ganley: Dan, will reporters be at the polls on Election Day? I mean, how is NHPR deciding which polls are worth covering, which ones aren't?

Dan Barrick: We certainly will have reporters at various polling places across the state throughout Election Day and into the evening. It's something we always do. You know, to get reporters out to kind of see what's happening on the ground as voters actually get out to the polling places, cast their ballots. But we decided it's even more important this year, given the potential irregularities and big changes to the voting process brought on by COVID-19.

So we're going to have, obviously, a much higher number of absentee ballots being cast this year. They will be processed by local clerks at the close of the polls, at the end of the day in the evening. So we'll be keeping an eye on that process, having our reporters observing that. We'll be looking for disputes, confusion on the part of voters, or observers or poll workers. Our goal here is to try to understand how well the administration of this election is actually being carried off.

Rick Ganley: And Dan, how do you decide where to deploy, reporters say, to one town over another or one ward as opposed to another?

Dan Barrick: Well, we look at that as an opportunity to understand different dynamics, different questions that have come up during this election. So how will college students be casting their ballots? Many of them are living off campus, working, studying off campus. So we'll be going to college towns to observe the process. You know, trying to get to cities, more rural communities, places where maybe more newly registered voters will be showing up to try and understand how that process is being handled. It's a way to really continue our coverage of the campaign on Election Day by trying to get more specific there.

Rick Ganley: And Dan, we've heard from a few listeners asking about the practicality of how you cover something like this safely. You know, if you're talking to poll workers, you're talking to voters, how do you keep them safe? You're putting a microphone in their face.

Dan Barrick: Sure. This is something we have been dealing with for months since the pandemic hit. We've had safety guidelines in place, much of it guided by research into public health, some of it guided by tips from other news outlets. So that means ensuring that our reporters are always wearing masks. It means equipping them with tools to allow them -- we call them boom poles -- they can stick their microphone at the end of a long pole that they can hold and have a microphone close to a member of the public. They can capture their voice, but be at a safe distance from them.

It includes protocol for wiping down and cleaning their mic between talking to members of the public to keep them safe. And bottom line, really encouraging reporters to avoid situations that appear unsafe, either for them or for the public. So, it's something we've been doing for months and kind of have down pat, but it is definitely something we're reviewing heading into Election Day for sure.

Rick Ganley: Yeah, and don't be surprised if you do see a reporter now and then with a broomstick, with a microphone duct taped to the end of it. We're trying to keep everybody safe. You know, a lot of people have voiced concerns about potential voter suppression and misinformation, or even intimidation come Election Day. What are your plans, if need be, to cover that?

Dan Barrick: You're right. That is certainly something that we are focusing on and trying to incorporate into our coverage. A big way is really just asking the public to let us know what they see. Are they getting strange emails or texts heading into Election Day? Is their social media full of stuff that just seems off? They can emails at elections@nhpr.org. It's also something we'll be looking for at the polls. As I said, we'll be out in polling places looking for challenges brought to ballots being cast and just understand what that process is like.

And we'll also have reporters assigned to keep in touch with groups who are also doing this work, who are also watching out for potential irregularities. The attorney general's office has a voter information hotline. Both political parties obviously will be out looking for what they perceive to be irregularities. So we'll be keeping in touch with all those groups to really try and keep our eyes and ears as far afield as we can.

Rick Ganley: But generally as a news organization, we want to be able to report on facts on the ground, things that we see. So we don't want to just rebroadcast rumors and hearsay. We really want to be able to verify things, don't we?

Dan Barrick: Yes, exactly. We want to get as close as we can to people who who have the information, who are eyewitnesses to the events.

Rick Ganley: What does NHPR plan to do if the results of any local races or the presidential race are unclear?

Dan Barrick: Well, that is also something we are definitely planning for. And I guess the first thing I'd say is we know it's okay to tell listeners when we don't know anything, that speculating or trying to project is in many ways a disservice to the public. But when it comes to calling races or trying to determine winners in a race, we have several protocols. One is we rely on several trusted sources, the AP, the Associated Press really being the main one. They are our arbiter for final race calls. We rely on them, rather than exit polls or other sources, because they have a a track record. They employ a rigorous method to gather returns. We don't rely on claims of victory by individual candidates. You know, the classic scene of a candidate on election night in front of a room full of supporters saying we won. That's a great moment. It's not an official result.

Click here to learn more about how the Associated Press provides election results.

We also are careful to follow the source of any uncertainty. So that's something we'll also be looking out for. Are there legal disputes being raised on election night or beyond? Are there going to be recalls? What are local officials telling us about what returns they've counted? And relying on on those folks, rather than individuals who might have a partisan interest in the outcome. We'll really look at eyewitnesses who share our goal, which is to bring clarity to what could be a potentially confusing or uncertain moment.

Rick Ganley: So, Dan, how do we plan to broadcast and publish online results as we get them and see them?

Dan Barrick: So we'll be reporting live, both on air and online Tuesday night, starting at 7 p.m. We'll be having a live broadcast. Laura Knoy will host. That will be also paired with live coverage from NPR. They obviously are who we rely on for the national results, national races. But we'll have on NHPR journalists through the evening to give us updates on what's happening in the field as results and races are called. We'll have full results from the AP online updated in real time as they come in.

Wednesday morning after election night, it's really going to depend on what is certain and what results are still not yet clear. But The Exchange will be dedicated to kind of a recap of the election and what's still unknown. And then Wednesday evening, we'll be having a live call-in show hosted by Peter Biello to really focus on reaction, asking people what they made of the results or the process. And it's important to point out too, not having an immediate result in a race or delay in the results coming in is not a bad sign. In many cases, that means the process is working. It means that the folks who are in charge of our elections are taking the time to count the votes and ensure that we have a result that folks can have confidence in.

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