How Votebeat’s reporting impacted elections in our first year

We’re celebrating our anniversary by looking back at what we’ve accomplished so far.

Votebeat is a nonprofit news organization reporting on voting access and election administration across the U.S. Sign up for our free newsletters here.

After experimenting with a new kind of niche election coverage as a “pop-up” newsroom in 2020 — focused on the voting process and the system itself rather than candidates or campaigns — Votebeat officially launched one year ago as a permanent news organization. 

Votebeat’s staff of eight ramped up quickly during a time of tension and uncertainty leading up to the midterms. Far-right candidates who rejected the 2020 election outcome and spread conspiracy theories were seeking positions as their state’s chief election officials. Voter fraud activists were still demanding recounts of 2020 and abolishment of voting machines, and some local election systems had been breached by insiders. New voting restrictions were going into effect after 2021’s contentious legislative sessions.

This was the climate in which we set out on our mission: to help voters understand our system of democracy so they can participate in strengthening it. We’re proud that in our first year of producing a new kind of journalism, we’ve helped reshape the debate over voting access and the running of elections.

Reporters never know what they’re going to find when they start exploring their local election landscape, on the lookout for the problems in voting and threats to democracy. The more locally they look, the more the storylines differ from place to place — often revealing surprising opportunities to draw public attention to issues readers can act on.

Here are five examples of Votebeat stories that made a difference in elections during our first year — impact that would have been impossible without the people who support our work.

Texas averts $100 million consequences of law requiring nonexistent election tech

Reporter Natalia Contreras learned that election officials were panicking over a 2021 law requiring all counties to replace their vote-counting machines by 2026 with technology that doesn’t exist. 

Her reporting in February found the law, which banned all reusable storage for voting data, would cost the state $116 million and require counties to keep replacing their equipment after every election. Lawmakers had been unaware of the consequences of the provision, which was tucked into a massive election bill and passed on a voice vote with no debate. The law was proposed by a conservative senator to prevent “cheating” and the “manipulation” of vote data stored in USB flash drives — although there’s no evidence any such thing has ever happened.

As one county election official noted, “that article lit a fire under people’s butts,” and legislators in May unanimously voted to roll back the requirement.

Uncovering an Arizona election skeptic’s agenda as he seeks more control over voting

After reporter Jen Fifield closely followed controversial attempts by Cochise County leaders to hand-count their midterm ballots and to resist certifying their election results — both in violation of state laws — she took a close look at one official in particular, County Recorder David Stevens. He had been instrumental to his colleagues’ election-disrupting agenda but had remained behind the scenes. 

“He has close connections with GOP state leaders who have worked to upend voting … and a keen willingness to spread doubts about election security, experiment with proven processes, and test the boundaries of state law,” Jen’s story reads.

Shortly after our story ran, the Republican county supervisors pursued a plan to give Stevens more election responsibilities by moving duties from the county election director, who had abruptly resigned citing a hostile work environment. At one pivotal meeting, residents who had read our coverage voiced their objections to giving Stevens more power. Local media cited Jen’s reporting and brought her on the air to explain the conflict. Even state officials told us the reporting kept them up to date as they decried the situation and prepared to step in with legal action.

A project to map Pennsylvania’s unequal voting access generates debate

The most persistent issue in Pennsylvania elections is how ambiguity in the state’s 2019 mail-voting law leads to different voting policies from county to county. Some provide convenient ballot drop boxes while others do not. Some counties allow voters to fix disqualifying mistakes on their mail ballot envelope and even contact voters to alert them to the errors; other counties simply reject those ballots, leaving voters disenfranchised. 

Pennsylvania reporter Carter Walker, in a joint project with Spotlight PA, took a deep dive into the state’s patchwork of unequal local voting practices, showing that how easily you can vote depends on where you live.

The project, featuring data-rich interactive maps, inspired spin-off coverage, editorials, and op-eds in local news outlets. In a live panel discussion about the project, voting experts called on the Legislature to bring consistency and clarity to the law and provide more support to county election officials.

Raising concerns about how to expand voting access successfully in Michigan

Oralandar Brand-Williams has been reporting on barriers to voting and the quickly changing landscape in voting access in Michigan, most recently driven by the voters’ approval in November of Proposal 2, a package of constitutional voting reforms. The biggest of those changes will provide Michigan voters with nine days of early in-person voting. Oralandar amplified the concerns of clerks that said administering the new option made them “kind of nervous” because it would heavily depend on costs and logistics, much of which are still up in the air. 

Amid election rancor in Texas, one county’s official stands out for keeping the peace

Before she took on the legislative session, Natalia reported last summer about conservative election activists’ effort to find evidence of voter fraud in Tarrant County, home to Fort Worth. After breaking multiple stories about extremists’ grassroots campaigns, she realized there was an even more powerful story to tell — about the county election official who has managed to keep the peace with them. By shadowing Heider Garcia during the November election, Natalia learned he engages these extremists using “tactical patience,” a method that other election officials hold up as an example. We then partnered with This American Life to adapt her portrait of his unique leadership style into a radio segment. The story has been applauded by the Solutions Journalism Network and won Natalia the Election Verification Network’s Pacesetter Journalism Award.

Thank you, readers

It’s an honor to produce this journalism for an audience that appreciates our work and who, increasingly, takes that information out into the world to further our mission of making elections stronger and more accessible. 

Support our work today with a donation that will enable us to keep doing this reporting and help strengthen democracy.

Chad Lorenz is Votebeat’s editor-in-chief and is based in Denver. Contact Chad at