Mail-in Ballots Change Election Coverage

Mail-in Ballots Change Election Coverage

On a much lesser scale, it was our “Dewey Defeats Truman” moment.

This famous headline from the Chicago Tribune in 1948 wrongly declared Dewey the winner too early, as Truman ultimately ended up winning by 114 electoral votes. The headline turned out to be more of an assumption because Dewey was the favorite over Truman, who was technically the incumbent after President Franklin Roosevelt’s death in office.

On the local front, we wrongly stated on election night on social media the District 1 Board of Education seat was won by John Abbott over incumbent Bill Buchanan. After early voting and election day tallies, Abbott had 968 votes (52%) to Buchanan’s 877 (47%), which was a sizable lead. A print article also reported the results with the comments from Abbott, the presumptive winner.

Though we knew there were many mail-in ballots and provisionals (more than 4,800 across the county) to be counted, history has shown the results follow the trend of the election day tallies. This was absolutely not the case in this school board race. There were other elections that tightened while others saw the margin grow more as non-election day votes were counted, but the District 1 Board of Education race flipped dramatically with Buchanan receiving 226 mail-in votes compared to Abbott’s 86, providing Buchanan with a 49-vote lead with some ballots left to be counted as of last Thursday. With more counting taking place this week, as of yesterday, Buchanan had grown his lead to 59. There are 736 more ballots to count Friday countywide.

Buchanan’s lead would appear to be safe, but we have learned our lesson. In fact, we will not report on this race until it’s official. With the rising popularity of the mail-in concept, it’s clear we will have to adjust our philosophy. We will resist the urge to make calls on elections, particularly those where the outstanding ballots to be counted could sway the result. In our defense, historically, and even in July’s primary, the mail-in ballots and provisionals typically mirror the trends to date in the respective races. Those assumptions are now void with the increased number of voters utilizing the mail-in process, and we will change our mindset. We do regret the misrepresentation but did find some comfort in some online research showing other misjudgments by media outlets with this new popularity of voting alternatives. It would seem mail-in balloting will continue to grow in future elections as it certainly offers the ease and convenience many humans seek nowadays.

In the future, there will be many uses of “unofficial,” “as of …” and “with more votes to be counted” in future articles. Thanks for bearing with us as we adopt our new approach in these changing times. A lesson was learned.

About The Author: Steven Green

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The writer has been with The Dispatch in various capacities since 1995, including serving as editor and publisher since 2004. His previous titles were managing editor, staff writer, sports editor, sales account manager and copy editor. Growing up in Salisbury before moving to Berlin, Green graduated from Worcester Preparatory School in 1993 and graduated from Loyola University Baltimore in 1997 with degrees in Communications (journalism concentration) and Political Science.