On Monday, October 19, Votebeat published its very first story, the culmination of a frenzied sprint to do our part to ensure a trusted and well-run election. Created by Chalkbeat, Votebeat is a nonpartisan reporting project covering local election integrity and voting access. So far, we’ve hired 13 local reporters in eight key states to provide on-the-ground coverage of one of the most consequential and challenging elections of our lifetime.
The idea for Votebeat is stupidly simple.
If you’re worried about the integrity of the election, the solution lies in the 10,000-plus election jurisdictions that each run their voting process a little differently. In an ideal world, each of these jurisdictions would have access to its own local news coverage — journalism that creates accountability, that acknowledges and shares best practices, and that builds authentic conversations with citizens. But our reality is far from ideal, and so the next best thing is to find the funds to put as many additional reporters on the ground as possible.
To the untrained eye, Chalkbeat is an unlikely candidate to bring an election reporting project into existence. Chalkbeat is a nonprofit news organization covering public education in eight states. Our expertise lies in school board meetings and classroom instruction, not election law or mail-in voting.
But under a different lens, Chalkbeat is exactly the organization you’d expect to bring this to life. Chalkbeat is a pioneer in finding dedicated beat reporters who know and love their communities and setting them loose to drive impact at their own front door. And Chalkbeat has developed a parallel success — our ability to raise millions of philanthropic dollars each year to employ dozens of journalists to produce civically important local news every day.
At the start of this project, we at Chalkbeat were armed with just two things: an idea for a pop-up election newsroom and confidence in our playbook for bringing more local news to the world. Two months later, we raised close to $1 million from major donors, individual donors, and local foundations to hire a corps of local reporters to cover the election in multiple states across the country.
As of today, Votebeat will provide three months of reporting in eight states: California, Georgia, Michigan, New Jersey, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Wisconsin. In each of these states, we have 1-2 newsroom partners who have taken the lead on hiring veteran reporters and rising talent in their communities, and who drive the process of assigning stories, editing, publishing, and distribution.
Our newsroom partners include CalMatters, WABE, Bridge Michigan, NJ Spotlight, WFAE, Spotlight PA, WURD, and Wisconsin Watch. These local newsrooms own the story and directly drive local impact. Meanwhile, Votebeat (through Chalkbeat) is in charge of fundraising and provides centralized resources for high-level editorial direction, national distribution opportunities, and logistical support connecting to other partners like the American Press Institute, ProPublica’s Electionland, HealthCheck via Kaiser Health News, and PolitiFact.
Our first story is a prime example of what we consider our strong public-interest brand of journalism: breaking news on a U.S. Supreme Court decision to enable more mail-in ballots to be counted in Pennsylvania. Through deep context and relatable perspectives, our articles will help readers become more-informed voters and better community members.
What’s next for Votebeat?
First, we must all survive this election, both Nov. 3 and likely the many weeks that will follow as votes are counted and lawsuits are litigated. But after many have moved on to the next sexy national news item, we must then decide whether Votebeat and its focus on local election mechanics lives on beyond this cycle.
The decision is not completely in our hands — the financial support that allowed this pop-up to exist must continue well beyond three months. But as deep believers in the power of sustained local accountability, we can also imagine Votebeat becoming a permanent, year-round affair. Our great hope is that many others agree.
Alison Go is Chalkbeat’s chief strategy officer.