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My lifelong curiosity and my reverence for democracy made me a reporter

Journalism taught me that local government has a profound impact on voters’ lives. That’s why I’m pursuing the crucial but misunderstood facts about Pennsylvania elections.

Portrait of a young man in a dark shirt and red tie
Votebeat Pennsylvania reporter Carter Walker (Courtesy of Carter Walker)

Votebeat is a nonprofit news organization reporting on voting access and election administration across the U.S.

Something piqued my curiosity when I spotted two teachers leaving the school grounds and crossing the street to an empty field.

I was a third-grader out on the playground, and I wanted to know exactly what was going on. I questioned nearby recess aides and took notes on the napkin in my pocket from lunch.

I couldn’t get answers that day, so unfortunately the story never went to print. But I do like to think of this as my first venture into investigative journalism. I later learned the school district was purchasing the field for a new baseball diamond.

This early need to understand what’s happening around me — and why things are the way they are — is what drove me into journalism. Then, as I got older, my experience in Boy Scouts kindled my passion for civic engagement, democracy, and the noble work of building strong communities — the themes Scouting reinforces in all its activities and teachings.

I found myself on a path that eventually led to covering voting and elections.

In my first job covering the government and judicial system of a small town in West Virginia, I was surprised by how much I didn’t know about the mechanics of government, like how a budget goes from proposal to implementation. Covering local government is like a Schoolhouse Rock education on steroids.

One thing that a candidate for local office told me has stuck with me ever since: “Your local government will often have much more of an impact on your day-to-day life than the federal government.”

He was right.

When I returned to my home state five years ago to cover county government and politics in Lancaster County, I saw just how valuable providing accurate, well-researched information can be for a community. Like the time I was able to use data from Audit the Vote PA, a group that promotes conspiracy theories about elections, to retrace their steps on a door-to-door canvassing effort in search of 2020 fraud and found significant flaws in their attempt. That story drew praise from community members on the left and the right.

I also found out that unfortunately, not everyone shared this same commitment to convey factual information about our electoral process.

During my time in Lancaster, I covered several election cycles. I found that since 2020, some partisan actors have become willing to repeat, or unwilling to refute, misleading or outright false information about voting, even when they are warned that it is false.

This was particularly dismaying to me as a local government reporter. I had come to view the county elections staff as among the nicest, most professional, and most dedicated staff in all of county government. These workers have the keys to our democracy in their hands, sometimes literally. I saw that they understood and took that responsibility very seriously, so it was upsetting to me to see the harassment and misinformation they had to face, often with little or no defense.

That is why I was excited to join the Votebeat team. Like nowhere else, this group of passionate individuals is committed to helping people understand the vastly misunderstood but critically important process that is voting and administering our elections. Hopefully, with their help, my reporting can convey to Pennsylvanians what I learned about local government’s impact years ago.

The team here has already proven itself to be an incredibly valuable resource not only to the communities they report for, but to democracy itself, such as with Natalia’s expertly done investigation of one county’s loss of its entire election staff. That not only helped inform that community, but added nuance to the conversation on an issue happening around the country.

I hope I can live up to the standard they have set and do the same for Pennsylvania.

Carter Walker is a reporter for Votebeat in partnership with Spotlight PA. Contact Carter at cwalker@votebeat.org.

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