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VOTING DURING THE PANDEMIC

September 2020 in , ,

COVID-19 has posed incredible barriers to equitable voter participation and election administration. To meet these challenges, states must ensure that voting and registration systems are safe, resilient, and flexible; that election administrators are supported; and that voters understand how to participate and have confidence their votes will count.

Lessons from the Pandemic Primaries

This year’s primary elections–held amid widespread uprisings for racial justice–taught us crucial lessons for November. For a roundup of lessons and recommendations, check out SiX’s webinar with the National Taskforce on Election Crises: What the Pandemic Primaries Can Teach us for November and read the Taskforce’s full report: Lessons Learned from the Primaries: Recommendations for Avoiding a Crisis in November. In sum:

  1. We saw unprecedented rates of mail voting but real problems with administration in certain places. Some voters who requested mail ballots never received them, some ballots arrived too late for voters to return, and other ballots were received by election officials too late to count. Voters in some places were not given the chance to correct problems with their mail ballots (e.g. a signature mismatch) and their votes were not counted. In states like New York and Pennsylvania, election officials were prevented from processing mail ballots until Election Day, causing major delays in the results.
  • FIX: We need mail voting to be easy and accessible so voters aren’t disenfranchised. This should include widespread public education, ballot drop boxes, prepaid postage, ballot tracking and cure options, acceptance of ballots postmarked by November 3, and mail ballot processing before Election Day.
  1. Many areas also struggled with unacceptable hours-long lines on Election Day because of reduced polling locations, restrictions on early voting, poll worker shortages, poorly trained staff, and technical malfunctions. These challenges were most acutely experienced in urban, Black, and Brown communities.
  • FIX: We need expansive early voting options, equitably distributed and well-organized polling locations, robust poll worker recruitment and training, strong safety and sanitation protocols, contingency plans for technical failures, and clear public communication of any polling location changes.
  1. In DC and Pennsylvania, voters of color contended with intimidation by law enforcement including heightened police presences, a polling location located in the same building as the police department, and police who unjustly sent voters home before they had voted due to curfew orders.
  • FIX: We need clear guidance from state and local governments to prevent voter intimidation and harassment by law enforcement.
  1. Last-minute changes to voting processes, coupled with fear-mongering rhetoric from right-wing conservatives, also fueled voter confusion and damaged public confidence.
  • FIX: We need widespread public education encouraging voters to make a plan to vote early on and proactive messaging to manage public expectations about the timing of election results. We also must not engage with or repeat misinformation and disinformation–even to debunk it. 

COVID Election Administration Resources

Legislators should actively support local election offices with poll worker recruitment, polling place planning, PPE procurement, fundraising, and other COVID preparations. Center for Tech & Civic Life, Center for Civic Design, National Vote at Home Institute, The Elections Group, and other groups offer in-depth technical support for election administrators. Check out these sample resources and make sure your local election office is aware of these supports.

COVID Voting Court Battles

The pandemic has sparked an unprecedented wave of voting litigation from political parties and advocates. Many cases center around state expansions of mail voting, challenging issues like ballot return deadlines, witness or notary requirements, voter assistance, and excuse requirements. To look up active election litigation in your state, check out this COVID-Related Election Litigation Tracker from the Stanford-MIT Healthy Elections Project.

Talking About Voting During the Pandemic

Sound and accurate messaging from trusted figures–like legislators–will be critical as voters navigate new voting processes and relentless disinformation to damage their confidence. Email us for guidance on how to talk about vote-by-mail and safe in-person voting and how to pivot away from voter fraud and mis/disinformation.

Additional Resources on Safe and Accessible Elections

Additional policy resources on voting and election preparations during and beyond the pandemic are below. If you need policy, communications, or technical support on voting and elections from SiX, email our Democracy Team.