Steve Blewett Working to Expand AP Election Reporting Program

April 8, 2024

Retired faculty member and alumnus Steve Blewett ’69 is working to expand an Associated Press election results reporting program he initiated at Eastern in 2000 into a nationwide system.

Blewett, who worked more than 30 years as a journalism professor and program director at Eastern, collaborated with AP, those two decades ago, to create a Cheney-based election reporting center. The center hired students to work as vote entry operators, directly processing live election returns and reporting them to AP’s network worldwide.

At the time, the center was staffed by 250 Eastern students, as well as 15 AP staff, and was the largest of three centers across the country. The center handled election returns from all counties in as many as a fourth to a third of the states in the country. Nine general elections later, the success at Eastern has set a high standard with students continuously earning “great reviews” for their enthusiasm, accuracy, efficiency, and professionalism.

“Eastern’s administration, the Associated Students officers, faculty all across the school and the tremendous support we had from the facilities departments were essential to making the Center work,” Blewett said. “It genuinely was a team effort. And a lot of fun!

“I think Eastern can take a great deal of pride in the more than 4,000 students who have participated—from virtually every college and program in the university—who represented the university tremendously well in this program,” Blewett says.

Jeff Stafford, emeritus professor, communication studies, started a fund in honor of Blewett, several years ago. The Steve Blewett Student Internship Endowment opens doors for students to participate in unpaid internships, which provide career-building experiences but no income.

A Giving Joy Day gift from Bill Youngs, longtime history professor, provided the last piece to help the fund reach the $25,000 benchmark to become fully endowed and begin providing awards this fall.

“I’ve known Steve Blewett for many years at Eastern and always admired him. I love what he has done in journalism and particularly admire this amazing thing he has done where we play our role in elections by counting up the votes, Youngs says. “I love bragging anywhere about how ‘Well, when you hear the results on ABC – they are out of Cheney, Washington – out of Eastern.'”

At age 82, Blewett’s contributions continue. He was hired by AP to act as a consultant, recruiting colleges and universities from around the country to promote the program to students and help increase the nationwide voter operator pool to 1,000 people, mainly students.

AP—the only news organization that covers election returns across the entire United States—was forced to shift from center-based return staffing to remote operations to cover the more than 100 primaries and primary run-off elections every two years as well as the November general election. The expanded system is remote-based with students receiving results from some 3,300 stringers, located in communities throughout the nation, who get information directly from election officials. The students then enter the results into AP’s reporting system.

Blewett, emeritus professor of journalism, says the work to expand the program began in 2020 when AP realized that, although the election reporting system was reliable, more could be done to improve the process and further instill voter confidence. AP has consistently refined its system to flag anonymous returns, Blewett says. So, if something doesn’t look right, immediate procedures track anomalous information to ensure accuracy.

Recently, Blewett was a guest speaker at the College Media Association’s spring conference, in New York, connecting with 200 students and faculty advisors for newspaper, television and radio programs at colleges and universities. Blewett received commitments from faculty at 15 institutions to promote the AP program within their schools. He also is working with the Center for Community News, sited at the University of Vermont, which houses the Statehouse Cohort, which facilitates students doing actual reporting and newswriting at state capitals for publication in community newspapers.

The AP jobs pay $17 an hour and students are compensated for training and the actual election work. Students can typically work five or ten events a year, at their own discretion, Blewett says, with the option to work for AP into the future.

As Blewett reflects on the big picture, he hopes students will remain an integral part of AP’s election reporting – and that the system will bolster voter confidence and overall democracy.

“That’s all the legacy I can honestly say that I want – and it’s not a bad thing if it gets remembered that it all started at Eastern. That’s pretty cool, too.”