Helping Foreign Journalists Explain U.S. Elections to Their International Audiences

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An early voting sign is displayed at a polling place in Miami-Dade, Florida.
An early voting sign is displayed at a polling place in Miami-Dade, Florida.

Helping Foreign Journalists Explain U.S. Elections to Their International Audiences

Having led Foreign Press Center (FPC) reporting tours for several election cycles, I have come to appreciate the tremendous interest the world has in our elections. By showcasing this process, we demonstrate the role that free, fair, and transparent elections play in a democratic society.

We designed this year's slate of programs to help journalists understand why these mid-term elections were drawing so much more attention from Americans.

We kicked things off in May with a reporting tour for D.C.-based foreign media to observe primary voting in Fairfax Country, Virginia. We then brought journalists to Arizona for a preview of one of the country’s most competitive Senate races. When absentee and provisional ballots were counted in Maricopa County to decide the final tally in November, our journalists were well supplied with images and background from their visit earlier in August. We also tried to explain the growing use of early and absentee voting by bringing journalists to observe these processes and interview voters.

Inernational journalists interview candidates during the Arizona primaries.

As important as the visits to elections and campaigns was a series of informational briefings to educate the journalists about election mechanics. To better understand terms used in U.S. media like "Blue Wave" and "Pink Wave," our journalists had the chance to question renowned pollster John Zogby and Rutgers University Center for Women and Politics' Dr. Kelly Dittmar. They also learned about how redistricting has been used for political advantage by both parties at various times from America University Professor David Lublin. Briefing on campaign finance compliance, the Vice Chair of the Federal Election Commission also drew laughs by pointing out that Americans in 2016 spent $6.4 billion on campaigns and $8.4 billion on Halloween. 

Finally, we mobilized journalists from across the globe for Election Day coverage. 

In the perennial battleground state of Florida, 25 U.S.-based foreign journalists covered the hotly contested races for Senate and Governor.

International journalists meet with the mayor of Miami-Dade.

For the 24 journalists nominated by Embassies and Consulates overseas traveling to Nevada and California to interview experts, candidates, party organizations, and civil society groups in November, seeing the first votes coming into the Clark County Nevada Office of Elections was most exciting. The participant from Nigeria commented that the trust Americans have in ordinary fellow citizens serving as elections volunteers was something extraordinary to observe. 

One common theme from everyone who spoke to our participants, which we hope journalists took home with them, is that Americans have a strong faith in our election process, and a determination to continue our democracy as a government reflecting the will of its citizens.

About the Author: Jean Foschetti serves as a Media Relations Officer in the Foreign Press Centers in the Bureau of Public Affairs at the U.S. Department of State.

Editor's Note: This entry also appears in the U.S. Department of State's publication on Medium.

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