AP State News Reports: Good old-fashioned shoe-leather reporting

Oct. 4, 2012
Email Print Text
This photo taken Sept. 21, 2012, shows Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler in his office in Denver. Republican election officials who were swept into office on promises to root out voting fraud say they're doing just that.  But they're not finding much so far. After some digging, state officials in key presidential battleground states have found only a tiny fraction of the illegal voters they initially suspected. Searches in Colorado and Florida have yielded numbers that are less than one-tenth of 1 percent of all registered voters in either state.  (AP Photo/Ed Andrieski)
This photo taken Sept. 21, 2012, shows Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler in his office in Denver. Republican election officials who were swept into office on promises to root out voting fraud say they're doing just that. But they're not finding much so far. After some digging, state officials in key presidential battleground states have found only a tiny fraction of the illegal voters they initially suspected. Searches in Colorado and Florida have yielded numbers that are less than one-tenth of 1 percent of all registered voters in either state. (AP Photo/Ed Andrieski)
In this memo to AP staff, Managing Editor for State News, Financial News and Global Training Kristin Gazlay describes how one reporter cut through a state’s stonewalling to produce a high-impact account of questionable efforts to combat voter fraud.

In politics, investigative stories often stem from Freedom of Information requests.  But, just as often, it’s from good old-fashioned shoe-leather reporting.

Denver’s Ivan Moreno started pursuing the issue of voter fraud in Colorado after nearly 4,000 voters received letters from the secretary of state challenging their citizenship and, therefore, their right to cast ballots. He filed an open records request for the 4,000 names but was stymied by the government saying they were part of an ongoing investigation and should not be made public. But he didn’t stop there.

He pressed the secretary of state’s office, calling repeatedly. If they couldn’t release the names of the voters, he asked, could they release a breakdown of those who got letters by party registration? The state agreed to compile that breakdown for Moreno, who learned that most of the targeted voters were Democrats or independents. His resulting story – an APNewsbreak – was cited by the Denver Post in a front-page article.

As weeks passed, Moreno was the only reporter checking in daily for progress on the secretary of state’s investigation. The list of potential noncitizens kept getting smaller and smaller, shrinking from 4,000 to 1,400 to just 141 – and Moreno was the first to report that the authenticity of only 141 voters was being challenged.

He kept asking for the identities of those on the list, and finally got the names of 35 people suspected of being noncitizens who had voted in past elections. Moreno called every one he could find, confirming independently that they were citizens. As a result, the Denver Clerk and Recorder’s office, which had seen the many stories Moreno produced on the issue, sent him their list of voters and said all of them had checked a box swearing under oath that they were citizens. 

All of Moreno’s reporting came together in a comprehensive piece that looked at the efforts of Republican officials to purge voter rolls in Colorado and other states. In each case, officials found almost no voter fraud, despite heavily publicized investigations and the use of a federal immigration database. It was the first national look at GOP efforts to attribute voter fraud to non-citizens in key election states.

For diligent, determined and deft accountability reporting on a key political issue, Moreno wins this week’s $300 Best of the States prize.


© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. Terms and conditions apply. See AP.org for details.
All contents © copyright 2014 Associated Press. All rights reserved.