VOTING DURING THE PANDEMIC
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Center for Tech & Civic Life is issuing grants to directly help election offices administer safe and secure elections in November. Encourage your local election officials to apply for funds by October 1!
- Healthy Polling Places Guidebook
- Free Vote at Home Webinars for Election Officials
- 50 Ideas for Recruiting and Retaining Election Workers
- 39 Ways Election Offices are Responding to COVID-19
- Scaling-up voting by mail for the 2020 elections
- Election Officials Communications Toolkit
- Election Officials Operations Toolkit
- Guide to Ballot Drop Boxes and Ballot Drop Box Security
- Managing Expectations for Slower Elections Results in 2020
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.
- To assess your state’s election laws and practices against expert recommendations in light of COVID-19, check out resources from Brennan Center for Justice, Voting Rights Lab, and Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights.
- Democracy Docket: Election Security Grants Under the CARES Act
- Demos: Universally Accessible and Racially Equitable Vote By Mail
- Demos: 3 Ways to Build a Racially Inclusive Democracy During COVID-19 and Beyond and accompanying policy brief.
- Brennan Center for Justice: Voters Need Safe and Sanitary In-Person Voting Options
- Brennan Center for Justice: Waiting to Vote
- National Vote at Home Institute: This 50-State Policy Analysis reviews vote by mail policies and recommendations to help every state in the nation improve mail voting. Also, see NVAHI’s report on safeguarding equity in vote-by-mail systems.