BLOG: Ground truthing the midterms

November 6, 11:53 p.m.

Hard rain, voter suppression and long lines didn’t stop America from showing up in an historic voter turnout.

By Charles M. Sennott

BOSTON – Despite a hard rain across the East Coast, despite voter suppression efforts not seen in more than a generation and despite long lines made worse by under-staffed and vulnerable polling places, America showed up yesterday with historic voter turnout in a fateful election.

As the polls closed on the West Coast, the 2018 Midterm Election Day was coming to an end with many key battlegrounds — particularly the gubernatorial races in Florida and Georgia — still too close to call. But a consensus formed that the day was a referendum on Donald Trump’s politics of fear and division. And in that referendum, early returns were indicating a split decision.

The Republicans took at least one additional seat in the U.S. Senate, bolstering their majority as of late tonight and, as the New York Times described the victory, clearly “embraced the racially inflammatory brand of politics that Mr. Trump unleashed in 2016.” The Democrats were making considerable gains in the House of Representatives and were poised to take a majority, according to late night projections by CNN’s John King.


One of the most dramatic ballot questions in the country was Amendment 4 in Florida which passed by the necessary 60 percent majority, restoring rights to some 1.5 million voters who were convicted of felonies but completed their sentences. It was the most sweeping restoration of voting rights since the 1964 Voting Rights Act.

And despite that victory for Florida, voter suppression efforts were underway in many other corners of the country, including restrictive voter ID laws that directly impacted the disenfranchised, such as Native American voters in rural North Dakota.

Meanwhile, in Georgia, a tightly contested gubernatorial race brought voter suppression into full view. Democrat Stacey Abrams and her Republican opponent, Georgia’s Secretary of State Brian Kemp, were locked in a dead heat last night which some analysts were predicting may result in a runoff election next month. No matter which way the vote cuts, it is clear that voter suppression was a key issue in Georgia, and it’s not going away any time soon.

Kemp was not only a player in the race but also the referee, overseeing the election in his role as Secretary of State. Since 2010, his office has boasted of purging some 1.4 million voters from the polls, including 53,000 voters this year whose status was shifted to “pending” in this election due to a failure to comply with Kemp’s “exact match law,” which appears to be specifically designed to thwart the vote of disenfranchised and minority voters. Of the 53,000 voters impacted by the “exact match” more than 70 percent were black voters.

As the rain fades and the skies clear on this election, what is becoming undeniable is that voter suppression is a concerted effort by the Republican party to undercut voting rights in a way that has not been since the days before the 1964 Voting Rights Act.

The GroundTruth Project deployed teams of reporters into the field today to assess voter suppression across the country, and particularly in Georgia, Florida and North Dakota. You can see the video clips of these voices on our YouTube channel.

We appreciate you following our work today, and we do not plan to stop our effort. Indeed, we will be continuing our reporting in the coming days and sharing more videos and more written reports from the field. We  hope you will continue to follow them.

For now, we are closing out today’s Live Blog with this final post. Our team is going to rest up to get started all over again tomorrow on what we hope will be a journalistic movement to turn a collective spotlight on the dark corners where efforts are underway to undermine our American democracy.

Charles M. Sennott is the Founder, CEO and Editor-in-Chief of The GroundTruth Project.

November 6, 09:40 p.m.

One Precinct in Florida,  tells “A Tale of Two Voters”

The Florida governor’s race was too close to call late tonight, but a controversial amendment passed, restoring voting rights to some 1.5 million residents who were denied the vote because they had a past felony conviction for which they had paid their debt to society.

Amendment Four, which passed by the required  60 percent majority, is seen by voting rights’ advocates as an historic victory and one that will restore voting rights to people, largely people of color, in numbers that have not been seen since the 1964 Voting Rights Act.

The GroundTruth Project set out today to hear from Florida voters on the attempts to suppress the vote and specifically on Article Four. Our team in Florida captured the sharply differing points of view and feelings about the electoral process that exist between white and African-American voters. The video segment is titled: Precinct 120, St. Petersburg, Florida: ‘A Tale of Two Voters.”

A Tale of Two Voters from GroundTruth on Vimeo.

November 6, 09:35 p.m.

“Dónde Votar?” Latinos put “Where to Vote?” at the top of Google Trends

By Emily Rose Dionne

As election returns started to come in late tonight, it seems voter turnout will hit record-breaking numbers. And within that wave of voting not seen in a Midterm election since 1966  was another historic success— the Latino community is likely to have its highest voter turnout ever.

Google Trending has some data to prove it.

Around 6:30 AM this morning, Google Trending released a tweet: “Donde Votar (or “Where to Vote?” [in Spanish])is the top trending search in the US today- spiking 3,350%.”

The news came not only as a pleasant surprise to many, but as a sliver of hope that American democracy and voter turnout is improving. Latinos had the lowest voter turnout among American demographic cohorts at 47.6% in the 2016 presidential election. A study examining low Latino political engagement at the University of Texas, Austin attributed this rate to the fact that since the 1970’s, politicians have been too focused on targeting frequent voters through air-time and expensive campaigns, rather than focusing on personal outreach which has been proven to increase Latino attendance at the polls.

Ruben Betancourt, one of GroundTruth’s student reporters on the ground on Election Day discovered this while interviewing a voter leaving a polling place in San Antonio, Texas.

Christopher John Gonzalez, a Latino who came out to vote at the local community center,told Betancourt, “Latinos, for the most part, are very important because our voice— our turnout is never really great. It’s been my experience that a lot of Latinos just don’t know or [are] unsure and they’re just like, ‘You know what I may not want to even do this.”

When Betancourt pushed for his reasoning behind the statement, Gonzalez said exactly what the UT study suggested: “Before, with prior candidates, they weren’t getting their message out. They weren’t reaching out to just all different races. They were just geared more to certain, specific races. This year has been totally different. I feel that this year will be very tremendous time for the Latino voters.”

An example of this outreach has been seen through Democratic candidate for U.S. Senator, Beto O’Rourke, who visited all 254 counties in Texas, and Democrat Lupe Valdez who is the first Latina, as well as openly lesbian Texas candidate, to be nominated for governor.

At the San Antonio polling center today, GroundTruth reporter Ruben Betancourt encountered Sylvia Lozano, a 74-year-old Texan, who had some inspiring words for her Latino peers, “Do you want to belong? Vote. Do you want to be an American? Vote. So you can feel within yourself that you’re not being discriminated. They ask for the Latin vote because we mean something to [the politicians].” Lozano speaks into existence the widespread sentiment that many Latinos have felt this Election Day— that their voice finally matters and their candidates want them to be heard.

GroundTruth student reporter, Emily Rose Dionne, a sophomore at Wheaton College, is an intern at The GroundTruth Project as part of the College for Social Innovation.

November 6, 09:40 p.m.

Apart from the rain, voters in one Dorchester precinct report few problems at the polls

By Mira Craig-Morse, Sophia Eakins and Claire Whitaker

A driving rain had voters rushing in to the polls in the Dorchester neighborhood of Boston, but other than arriving soaked there there was very little that got in the way of those who came to cast their ballot at Dr. William W. Henderson inclusion Elementary School.

The voting booth was quiet apart from the low murmur caused by the comings and goings of children being picked up from school. Voters in this diverse community largely expressed contentment and satisfaction at performing what they saw as their civic duty. There were, however, a few cases of voters struggling to know where they should vote. One voter Margaret Dyer, was a pit put off by the fact that she had to travel to her previous voting place due to her address not being updated on her voter registration.

But for Sabrina Nunez, 22, showing up at the polls was about more than casting just her vote. She wanted to be part of a blue wave against President Trump’s politics of division. She said, “The turnout says more about our voices than anything. I thought it was disrespectful not to vote.”

Jamar Coleman, 24, didn’t see any voter suppression but he is concerned about insignificant details preventing people from voting in the South: “Hopefully we can try to change America around for the better.”

To avoid the rain, activists stood on the porch of the school, handing out fliers asking people to vote yes for the ballot questions 1 and 5.

Beth Huang, 27, a nurse, was working in support of Question 1, which would introduce nurse-staffing quotas in Massachusetts’ hospitals.

One older gentleman told the women they should not campaign so close to the polling station and the tension rose until the man left, calling the activists names over his shoulder. The policeman on duty told the activists that, technically, they should not be within 100 feet of the station but, since it was raining, he would allow them to stay.

Eventually, the activists were asked to leave the porch. And so were reporters.

GroundTruth student reporters Mira Craig-Morse, Sophia Eakins and Claire Whitaker attend Wellesley College in Wellsley, Massachusetts.

November 6, 08:50 p.m.

Rhode Island’s voting conditions improve, but problems linger

By Jake Friedman

PAWTUCKET, Rhode Island — On the American political landscape, this state is a blue island in New England’s blue waters. Dominated by the Democratic party at both the national and state level, Rhode Island is uncharacteristically similar to several red states trying to suppress the minority vote in that it does have a voter ID law.

Rhode Island’s voter ID law had substantial bipartisan support when it first passed in 2011. But it eventually ran up against the state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. During the 2016 presidential race, the ACLU reported that some voters in Warwick and Providence were turned away without provisional ballots or sent to the wrong polling location.

The city of Pawtucket was reported to have the most peculiarities and violations of voting rights, in addition to  long lines and broken machines which compounded the suppression of voters particularly in a population with a large percentage of Spanish and Portuguese speakers, and a sizable community of Cape Verdean immigrants.

Pawtucket Candidate for Mayor interview from GroundTruth on Vimeo.

Passed under the former Governor Lincoln Chafee, it is significantly tamer than the similar laws passed by Republican state legislatures. Rhode Islanders without photo ID have the right to fill out a provisional ballot, which is counted so long as the voter’s signature matches the voter rolls.

A small city just north of Providence, Pawtucket was once an industrial center, and old factories and railroads dot the landscape.

At four polling places, the consensus among voters was that voting was easier, faster, and more fair in 2018. The ACLU reported fewer irregularities than in previous years.

“I thought it was really nice considering the years past,” explained April, a 53 year old African-American woman, who also experienced a smooth voting process.

But there were some complaints from the Burns Manor public housing facility, which served as a polling place. Residents said polling machines arrived late and some voters online for the scheduled opening of the polls at 7 AM were delayed until 8 AM, and some voters left to go to work. David Norton, a candidate for mayor, showed up at Burns Manor to speak out against the impact of this delay on voting for residents in this heavily Latino, working class neighborhood.

“They got to go to work and they’ve got to go to work early and they come home late. So some people only had the opportunity to vote from 7 to 8 today and it is a shame that those people couldn’t vote. I’m really upset about this and as a mayoral candidate I want to call on the secretary of state and specifically the Pawtucket Board of Canvassers that is making everything look suspicious to the people here,” Norton told GroundTruth.

Alina Kulman contributed with reporting for this article.

GroundTruth student reporter Jake Friedman is an intern at The GroundTruth Project.

November 6, 08:16 p.m.

“I don’t know if my vote was complete”

When Cora Fisher was voting this morning at Ditmas Park, Brooklyn, at about 8:30 a.m., her voting machine broke, leaving her and dozens of other voters confused and worried that their vote wasn’t counted. She told her story to student journalists Anastassia Gliadkovskaya and Morgan Chittum.

November 6, 07:49 p.m.

For some, long lines are a good sign

“People are more aware now of what their rights are than, I think, even the last election,” said Conor Leslie, 27, a voter in Brooklyn that believes that one of the benefits of social media has been to allow people in her city to get information about how to vote and where, which has led to longer lines than ever at the polling places.

November 6, 07:19 p.m.

In one Florida precinct, voting is not only a right, but an inheritance

By Katie Garwood

JACKSONVILLE, Florida — For Kenneth Thomas Sr. the right to vote is a cherished inheritance from his grandmother and then his mother and one that he now passes on to his children.

Thomas, 55, said he had a relatively smooth experience at the polls today, aside from a minor technical difficulty with the ballot reading machine which was quickly resolved.

He said he’s been coming to this precinct at the Westside Church of Christ for the past four elections he’s voted in. The necessity of voting has been instilled in Thomas since the 60s, when he went with his mother and grandmother to the polls. He said he now instills the same values in his daughter and two sons.

GroundTruth student reporter, Katie Garwood is a senior at Flagler College in St. Augustine, Florida majoring in journalism and media production. 

November 6, 07:00 p.m.

The view from volunteers helping people in Georgia

“We will need to wait and see what happens when the results come in, but I have a lot of hope that we’re seeing people coming out despite all the efforts to suppress the vote.” Beyazmin Jimenez travelled from Boston to Atlanta to help people having trouble at voting locations, as part of her work with the non-partisan organization Election Protection (866-Our-Vote.)

Melissa Koller, another volunteer with Election Protection explained to student reporter Amber Spradley how their organization deployed in Atlanta and what issues they have encountered:

November 6, 06:31 p.m.

Voters on campus lacking direction? Yes, but a well-posted sign would help

By Jenny Rollins There was driving rain to deal with and in some places like Georgia and North Dakota outright attempts at voter suppression, but on the campus of Boston University the only thing that seemed to deter a few voters was a clearly posted sign on where they needed to go to cast their ballot.

Local voters were seen meandering through the halls of 111 Cummington Mall, the Math and Computer Science building on Boston University campus, turning to the people around them to ask where the polling station is.

Multiple sources confirmed that they did not see the sign on one of the outside doors of the building and wandered through the halls searching for the room, tucked around a corner near the exit.

Although they did eventually locate the room, some expressed that they were frustrated that there were not clearer directions. “I’m a BU student, so I knew where Cummington was, and I walked in and there were no signs anywhere, so I was wandering around for quite a bit trying to find the poll,” Caroline Vigna, 22, said.

However, some voters had no problem finding the room at all using the room number, like 20-year-old Layth Hert. Despite the difficulty in finding the room, the warden precinct election supervisor Mark D. Trachtenberg said that this particular polling station has been extraordinarily active, citing 178 votes around 1:30 p.m. “This is as busy as it’s ever been,” he said.

GroundTruth student reporter Jenny Rollins attends Boston University’s Graduate School of Communication.

November 6, 06:25 p.m.

How was the experience at the voting booth in Georgia?

Chelley Thompson, 42, explained to student reporter Cardine Johnson how the interface of the voting machine and the discrepancies between the way referendum questions were worded online and in the ballot forced her to take more time inside the voting booth than she expected.

Other voters in Decatur, Georgia, like Kenya Burnette, 42, mentioned the complex language of the referendum questions as an obstacle to their voting experience.

November 6, 06:10 p.m.

Understaffed locations lead to long lines in Georgia

Aside from the reports of faulty machines, voters in Gwinnett County, Georgia have complained about long lines and understaffed polling locations. Student reporter Clay Voytek spoke with Danielle Watson, 33, who waited a total of three hours to vote today.

Voters came out in force

Even in states with traditionally strong voter turnouts, like Massachusetts, the number of people showing up at the polls today has been high. Marian Hazzard, 73, of Amherst, Ma, told student reporter Will Catcher that she had never seen such a turnout.

November 6, 05:22 p.m.

Some voters reported an easy experience at the voting booth

For some voters, the lines were short and the registration easy, despite the reports of problems in other locations. Jaylen Veal, 23, from Suffolk Virginia told us more about his voting experience:

November 6, 02:53 p.m.

A North Dakota voter says the ID law is aimed at suppressing Native American vote

Robert Kuntz, who lives on the Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota, was among those Native Americans forced to comply with a voter ID law that he said too often disregards a way of life on the reservation which often means they have no fixed address.

Kuntz said that he was indeed able to vote today, but that many in his Native American community are frustrated by “the nonsense” of the state’s newly imposed voter ID law and see it as a concerted effort to try to suppress their vote.

Robert Kuntz Standing Rock ND from GroundTruth on Vimeo.

The legal background to the voter ID issue is complex and has been unfolding over the last two years. Most recently, a federal judge denied the tribe’s request for a temporary restraining order to stop the law in advance of this election because the plaintiffs said it poses an obstacle for many Native Americans living in rural communities on or near reservations where postal addresses are not always available.

From our GroundTruth reporting team in North Dakota, including Bismarck State University students Bailey Schmidt, Jacob Irving and Daniel Burbank.

November 6, 02:24 p.m.

How the political message has changed in Texas

“Prior candidates weren’t getting their message out. They weren’t reaching out to all different races. [Their message] was geared more towards certain specific races. This year has been totally different,” said Christopher John Gonzalez, a voter in San Antonio that feels a shift in the way Latino voters are behaving in Texas. Reporting by GroundTruth reporter Ruben Betancourt.

November 6, 01:42 p.m.

A registered voter in Jacksonville discovers he’s not on the voting roll

Reporting by Ground Truth student reporter Katie Garwood:

JACKSONVILLE, Florida — In the state’s too-close-to-call election for governor, every single vote will count.

And that’s why Derrick Thomas of Jacksonville is so frustrated with his local polling officials.

Thomas said he arrived at his precinct at Regency Square Public Library in Jacksonville this morning to find he wasn’t on the voting roll. He said he was registered to vote, and never had an issue voting before. He was denied the ability to vote this morning in the midterm election.

“They said you’ll have to wait until next time to vote,” he said.

 He said he hadn’t heard of this issue happening to anyone else in the area, but said “I’m sure it’s more than just me.”

 “It’s disrespect,” Thomas added.

In speaking to campaign volunteers at a precinct in the Springfield neighborhood of Jacksonville, similar issues to Thomas’ were reported in the primary election in Springfield. He said some voters who came to the precinct didn’t appear on the voting roll.

GroundTruth student reporter, Katie Garwood is a senior at Flagler College in St. Augustine, Florida majoring in journalism and media production. 

November 6, 01:30 p.m.

Native Americans confront Republican poll workers over voter IDs

IMG_0919 The Sioux Tribe in North Dakota is scrambling today to print voter IDs for Native Americans whose efforts to cast their ballots have been thwarted by the state’s newly imposed voter ID law.

A federal judge recently denied the tribe’s request for a temporary restraining order to stop the law in advance of this election because it poses an obstacle for many Native Americans living in rural communities on or near reservations where postal addresses are not always available.

Just after polls opened today, the issue flared at the Sioux County Courthouse in Fort Yates, North Dakota, where a GroundTruth team of student reporters from Bismarck State College documented a confrontation between Native American community activists and Republican polling officials who challenged the validity of a letter from the tribe to support an address on a voter’s ID.

Attempts at voter suppression on Native American lands has been a persistent problem for tribes, particularly in North Dakota. The new voter ID laws have been debated for more than two years, and the US Supreme Court allowed a stay of an earlier ruling that sided with the state officials back in October. Since then, the tribes have had to scramble to put together more than 3,000 voter IDs for Native Americans and have complained that state officials have not given clear direction on how best to undertake the process.

Our outstanding reporting team in North Dakota — Bailey Schmidt, Jacob Irving, and Daniel Burbank — is all over this today. Led by GroundTruth producer and videographer Jody Santos, the team is interviewing all sides of the issue, and documenting concerns among Native American voters that their rights are being thwarted if not denied.

November 6, 01:12 p.m.

A change of location for a Missouri voter

When Alma Betts, 37, arrived to vote at Johnson Wabash Elementary School in Ferguson, Missouri, she was told that she had to go to a different location. She knows she’ll “get it done,” even with the polling place confusion. GroundTruth reporter Kassidy Arena interviewed her.

November 6, 12:45 p.m.

“What else is that, if not suppressing the vote?”

“You have native Americans who live on reservations and they have post office boxes, they don’t have physical addresses, but they are required to have a physical address to vote. What else is that if not suppressing the vote,” said Sheila Jackson a voter in Jacksonville Florida who has followed the issue of voter suppression.

November 6, 12:01 p.m.

Reports of machines not working and long lines in Georgia

We are hearing about persistent problems with voting in Gwinnett County, Georgia and have a team out there ‘ground truthing’ these polling places. So far the Atlanta Journal-Constitution is reporting long lines for voting and glitches with voting machines that are forcing poll workers to resort to using paper ballots in some precincts.

November 6, 11:48 a.m.

The importance of the Latino vote

“Do you want to belong? Vote. Do you want to be an American? Vote. So you can feel within yourself that you’re not being discriminated. They ask for the Latin vote because we mean something to [the politicians],” said Sylvia Lozano, a voter in San Antonio interviewed by Ruben Betancourt.

November 6, 11:34 a.m.

Long lines and faulty machines in Brooklyn

Lei Lah, a Staten Island, NY voter, recalled how her friends had issues registering to vote this cycle and how technical issues with voting machines are increasing the wait times and the lines for voting in downtown Brooklyn.

November 6, 11:02 a.m.

November 6, 10:58 a.m.

Election Day starts

Our student reporters are out on the ground interviewing voters. This dispatch comes from Blacksburg, Virginia:

A tight race in Georgia, and a battle for the right to vote

November 5, 7:15 p.m.

By Amber Spradley

ATLANTA – Georgia has been divided in a very close gubernatorial race between Democratic candidate, Stacey Abrams, and the Republican, Brian Kemp.

And not only has the gubernatorial race been a hard contest between the two parties, the citizens of Georgia have also been fighting their own battle just to vote with a backdrop of allegations of voter suppression.

The campaign rallies leading up to tomorrow have brought a few big names to the state including President Barack Obama who campaigned in Atlanta for Abrams at a rousing rally where his message was loud and clear: “Vote!”

At another rally in Macon, Georgia, President Donald Trump sharply criticized Abrams and stoked the crowd with incendiary language about the threat posed by the caravan of immigrants coming through Mexico which he has vowed to stop at the southern border by amassing more than 5,000 troops.

And even Oprah Winfrey and Will Ferrell were in town in one of the most closely watched and hotly contested races in the country.

The issue of voter suppression has resonated throughout the election in Georgia.

The “no match, no vote” bill passed and signed in Georgia has kept more than 53,000 people on a “pending” status because their names entered on voter registration did not exactly match their names on other state records.

This could have been caused by simply putting an unnecessary space behind their name during online registration, according to experts. And the Associated Press found that about 80 percent of people flagged were African American and Latino.

Kemp, the republican candidate for governor, is also the current Georgia’s Secretary of State and so he presides over the election laws. Kemp has been sued by several civil rights groups for voter suppression. The judge ruled against Kemp and said if people marked as “non-citizens” could prove their citizenship at the polls, then they are free to vote.

Voting rights advocates have feared the move will still confuse voters about whether they are allowed to vote and ultimately discourage those without photo IDs.

In addition, Georgia law has required that the signatures on absentee ballots and applications visually match the signatures kept on file with county elections officials. But a couple weeks ago, a judge issued a restraining order that barred county officials from rejecting ballots due to perceived signature mismatches.

Voter registration under Kemp was hacked just days ago, and without supporting evidence, the democratic party was under investigation for the alleged failed attempt.

Despite all of the controversy, Channel 2 Action News’s and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s polling shows Abrams with 46.9 percent of the vote and Kemp at 46.7 percent.

The race could end up being too close to call, and if neither candidate wins by at least 50 percent, they will face off again in a Dec. 4 runoff.

Amber Spradley is a student reporter for GroundTruth’s election day project titled “Ground Truthing the Midterms.” Aa senior at Georgia State University, she is majoring in journalism, minoring in film and graduating magna cum laude in December. She is a correspondent for GSU-TV and a news intern for CBS46. 

Welcome to the Ground Truth the Midterms live blog

November 5, 6:00 p.m.

Approximately 60 student reporters from 25 journalism programs at colleges and universities representing 16 states across the country will deploy this Election Day to conduct on-the-ground interviews near polling stations.

The goal is to document reactions to a concerted effort in several states to foster voter suppression designed to thwart citizens, particularly from poor and disenfranchised communities, from casting their ballots. GroundTruth has committed extra resources to covering Georgia, North Dakota and Florida, but we will have reporters from a dozen other states including Virginia, North Carolina, Missouri, Wisconsin, Texas and California.

Come back here to follow our coverage of Election Day and see highlights of the students reporting. Follow us on YouTube to see all the videos recorded during the day and follow the conversation in social media with the hashtag #GTthemidterms.