The source’s text said there was something “really troubling” to pass along.

Tami Abdollah, Washington national security reporter, had just returned to covering cybersecurity – a topic she has followed off-and-on since 2015 – and had been meeting up with old sources, finding new ones and catching up on developments in the field. What the source told her was big: New election systems purchased across the United States were running on outdated Windows 7 systems, making them vulnerable to hackers.

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A paper ballot prints out beside a touchscreen during a demonstration of the ExpressVote XL voting machine, produced by Election Systems and Software, during a demonstration in Philadelphia, June 13, 2019.

AP Photo / Matt Rourke

It was a great tip, but it required a lot of work to determine the scope of the problem. Abdollah scoured hundreds of pages of technical documents. She contacted sources to rigorously fact check the details. She also reached out to every state, the territories and Washington, D.C., to determine what election systems they had and whether they were replacing them. She learned that the vast majority of 10,000 election jurisdictions nationwide use Windows 7 or an older operating system to create ballots, program voting machines, tally votes and report counts.

The result was an exclusive text and video package that received huge play and raised alarm among state and national lawmakers. The story was broadly cited and detailed by major news organizations including The Washington Post, PBS NewsHour and techie sites like Gizmodo. It also appeared in major Beltway newsletters by Politico Playbook and Axios. The story was discussed at a Netroots Nation conference panel and Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., read directly from the story on the Senate floor Monday. The National Conference on State Legislatures sent it out as the headliner for its top news email.

For combining source reporting with meticulous research to break major news on one of the biggest issues ahead of the 2020 election, Abdollah wins this week’s Best of the States award.