Credit: Jess Suttner for Reveal

Reporter Ese Olumhense has been named the winner of the November 2022 Sidney Award for her investigation uncovering the most intense voter suppression threat in decades. 

Ese Olumhense

The project found that election-denying state lawmakers across the country have been trying to increase law enforcement involvement in elections. Since the 2020 election, lawmakers in all but eight states have attempted to pass laws that would create new election investigation agencies, establish criminal penalties for election offenses or further empower law enforcement officials to investigate such crimes, according to an analysis by Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting. 

Most of the legislation was introduced by Republican lawmakers and appeared in direct response to former President Donald Trump’s lie that the 2020 election was fraudulent. While some of those efforts have so far failed, they show no sign of relenting, as the myth of voter fraud has become a central GOP platform.

“This story makes the critical links between conspiracy theories, criminalization and voter suppression,” said Sidney judge Lindsay Beyerstein. “Olumhense shows how Republicans are reviving Jim Crow-like voter suppression tactics under the guise of fighting fraud.”

The danger of expanding election crimes laws is not hypothetical. The story examines the case of Guillermina Fuentes, a 66-year-old Latina who was the first person to be prosecuted under a 2016 Arizona law that makes it a felony to return another person’s ballot, with limited exceptions. Fuentes is now serving 30 days in jail, and her case has become central to unproven Republican claims about rampant voter fraud. Since the 2020 election, another six states have passed laws that would add criminal penalties to ballot collection, and lawmakers in another 13 states introduced such legislation. 

The investigation is part of Reveal’s multiplatform project, The New Front in Voter Suppression. It includes a radio and podcast episode, a first-of-its-kind database of election crimes bills, a voter guide on laws around ballot collection, and a call for readers to share how new voter suppression rules are affecting their ability to vote. 

Reveal used records from LegiScan, which catalogs virtually every bill introduced by state-level lawmakers in all 50 states, to identify and classify every proposal related to election crimes following the 2020 election. 

Presented by The Sidney Hillman Foundation, the Sidney Award is a monthly prize for outstanding investigative journalism that exposes social and economic injustices.

Reporters Melissa Lewis, Cassandra Jaramillo and Jessica Pishko contributed to the story. It was edited by Investigative Editor Maryam Saleh and Executive Editor Andrew Donohue. Additional help came from Soo Oh, enterprise editor for data; Farah Eltohamy, Reveal’s 2022-23 Roy W. Howard investigative reporting fellow; Nikki Frick, associate editor for research and copy; and Sarah Mirk, digital producer.

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