Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold on Friday denied spreading misinformation in a series of since-deleted statements posted to Twitter, tweets in which she called on national media to pledge not to announce any results on election night.
In the tweets sent Thursday night, she warned national media executives that “our democracy cannot be held hostage to a ratings race.”
In an interview Friday with The Colorado Sun, she sought to clarify the meaning of her tweets and said they did not amount to misinformation, even though the thread left out key details of how media outlets call elections.
“My concern is that it became very obvious quickly that I was unclear, and I want to make sure that I am communicating in a very clear way,” Griswold said in the interview. “I understand why there was confusion around the tweet, so I think when you make a mistake, you have to own it and try to fix it as quickly as possible. That’s why I deleted it and put out a statement.”
It’s the second time Colorado’s self-described chief election officer came under fire this week for actions related to the integrity of the election. Earlier in the week, she defended her decision to send postcards to 750,000 people saying they “may be eligible to vote” but are not registered. The mailing, CBS4 first reported, went to more than a dozen people who were not eligible to vote, including people who are not citizens and those who are deceased.
Griswold’s tweets drew attention across the state Friday and came as she has been criticizing President Donald Trump over his monthslong disinformation campaign to discredit the election.
Griswold’s tweets reflect an outlook she’s discussed for weeks. In a recent virtual town hall on election security, Griswold emphasized that we may not know the winner on election night, in part because ballots will still be coming in from military voters. “Election night results are never final,” she said. “If they were, we would be disenfranchising all the men and women who serve overseas.”
The sentiment is being echoed by election experts, who say whether we know the outcome depends on the margin of the election. “Although it is possible that we will be going into overtime in this election, and we have to prepare for that possibility, it’s certainly not guaranteed and it is possible we will know very soon after the election who won and who lost,” said Nate Persily, a Stanford Law professor and election observer.
Many political observers believe it is unlikely that election results, particularly for the presidency, will be finalized on election night, as states that typically vote primarily in person will likely have to count a deluge of absentee ballots due to the pandemic. Courts have ruled that election judges can continue to count mail-in ballots days after the election in critical battleground states Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and North Carolina.
“I wanted to draw attention to how other states across the nation are adopting new voting procedures,” Griswold said. “It’s critically important that these changes be taken into account in election-night reporting. And by election-night reporting I mean calling winners and losers in the presidential election. And unlike Colorado, some states may not be able to process ballots until Election Day or after.”
Griwsold said her concerns did not apply to Colorado, which has successfully conducted elections primarily by mail for years. She said Colorado’s journalists know how to handle election night results in the state.
Many news outlets across the country, including The Colorado Sun, will rely on the Associated Press to call the outcome of the election. AP officials say they never speculate and only call an election once its results are certain — they make declarations, not predictions. The organization says it is prepared for a drawn-out counting process caused by the surge in mail-in ballots.
Whenl contacted by The Colorado Sun, AP officials pointed to information on the company’s website.
“In 2020, the AP and the world should expect extended vote counts in more states.” Election Decision Editor Stephen Ohlemacher said in a Q&A on the AP’s website.
“Unless counties can start processing mail ballots well before Election Day, the count can drag on for days and weeks,” he continued. In Colorado, officials can start processing ballots 15 days before Election Day.
In another post, AP’s Deputy Managing Editor for Operations David Scott said the company will “need to account for when election officials start counting advance votes, and if they’re counted separately or alongside ballots cast on Election Day.” He said they have “always had to take these factors into account when deciding when to call a race.”
“To be sure, not knowing who wins before midnight doesn’t mean something is wrong or that anything nefarious is taking place,” Scott added. “It may mean only that the race is close, or that election officials are taking more time than our impatient minds might like to count the boom in advance votes.”
The major television outlets, which millions of Americans typically turn to for major election results, have their own teams to call elections. Some prominent media-watchers, including Ben Smith of The New York Times and the Washington Post’s Margaret Sullivan, have warned this election could be headed for trouble if the news media get overly anxious to declare a result too soon.
“There’s not much reason for confidence” in the national news media to handle the situation correctly, Sullivan wrote.
Smith wrote he “was struck by the blithe confidence among some top managers and hosts” who downplayed the possible challenges of this election. “These are hard challenges,” he added.
National networks infamously botched coverage of the 2000 presidential election results between George W. Bush and Al Gore. Early in the night, TV networks incorrectly called the critical state of Florida for Gore, and later switched it to Bush. The Florida results prompted the networks to declare the national election for Bush, prompting a concession from Gore. Still later in the night, networks rescinded their Florida-for-Bush call, largely because the AP said the race was too close to call, and Gore rescinded his concession.
The Florida results, and the election, were ultimately decided by the Supreme Court.
In 2016, the AP didn’t declare Trump the victor in his race against Democrat Hillary Clinton until 2:29 a.m. EST the day after Election Day.
In 2018, some pundits understated the results for Democrats when early results showed less-than promising results for the party. But in the following days, it became clear the blue wave did, in fact, arrive. In Arizona’s Senate race that year, Republican Martha McSally led Democrat Kyrsten Sinema by more than 13,000 votes when the state paused its count on election night. The AP ultimately called the race for Sinema six days later, after an additional 700,000 votes were counted.
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