By Anna Pesetski
In a Twitter thread on October 1, Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold encouraged news outlets to abstain from reporting the results of the presidential election on the night of the election. In her tweets, Griswold stated that this is an “unprecedented election” and “call[ed] on national media networks to pledge to #PressPause for democracy” by refraining from making projections or reporting results on election night. She quickly received backlash for these statements from both sides of the political spectrum. Fox News host Laura Ingraham, a conservative, stated that “[i]t’s not up to her to say what the media or anyone else says on election night.” Colorado state senator Steve Fenberg, the Democratic majority leader, tweeted “[t]his will only cause mass confusion and creates an opening for reckless behavior from the President. Demanding journalists to withhold verifiable facts or rational projections is counter to how a free democracy works.”
Griswold has since deleted her tweets and issued an apology for her statements. She posted a new tweet that now asks journalist to refrain from reporting the winner of the election on election night. It may not be the best idea to encourage news outlets not to report projections or election results, but declaring a winner on election night may be premature because it will take some time to count the large number of votes that will be mailed in. States differ in their processes for counting mail-in ballots, and the high volume of mail-in ballots will present challenges to states that do not have much experience counting them. The concern is what is referred to as the “blue shift” or a “red mirage,” where President Trump could declare victory based on election night results, when Joe Biden may have actually won after the mail ballots have been included in the total number of votes.
In Colorado, counties must upload election results to the Secretary of State’s Election Night Reporting (ENR) system. Colorado’s Election Rule 11.9.5 states that “a county must produce preliminary election results and upload them to the ENR system after counting is completed on election night, indicate in the ENR system that election night counting is completed, and notify the voting systems team by email that election night counting is completed.” For mail ballots, before the envelope can even be opened, judges must look at the self-affirmation on the return envelope and verify that the voter’s signature matches the one saved in the voter registration system. The process for counting mail ballots varies by the type of ballots that a county uses. Counties that use paper ballots, for example, would follow Election Rule 18.2, which requires the judge counting ballots to take the intent of the voter into account and pay close attention to the markings for each ballot measure. Understandably, scrutinizing each mail-in ballot can be a lengthy process. If media outlets announce a winner in Colorado on election night, they will be basing that news on only partial results.
Griswold’s assertion that the country is about to experience an “unprecedented election” is accurate based on the record number of projected mail-in votes alone. Preliminary results and projections on election night have been recognized as an important part of the election process, but perhaps they should be reported with a disclaimer that the final results could be much different. The pandemic’s far reach has been felt in many aspects of life this year, which now extends to election night reporting.