National Task Force on Election Crises Releases Guidance on How to Protect Elections in the Age of COVID-19

Issues

Cross-Partisan Team of Experts Has Assembled to Help Ensure a Free and Fair 2020 Election Despite Unexpected Disruptions and Disasters, Including COVID-19 Pandemic

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, the National Task Force on Election Crises released the first of several planned guides for how to respond to potential disruptions of the 2020 general election. The COVID-19 Election Guide, available here, addresses how state and local officials can protect eligible voters’ ability to cast ballots without undue risk to their own health or to the broader community. The Task Force was formed in 2019 to be prepared to respond to a wide range of potential threats to a free and fair 2020 election in a collaborative, cross-partisan, and multidisciplinary fashion. More information about the Task Force is available here.

“In a critical election year, steps can and must be taken to ensure that the democratic process proceeds on schedule through the November election, while protecting the health of both voters and poll workers,“ said Trevor Potter, President of the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center and a former Republican Chairman of the Federal Election Commission. “Our election processes and infrastructure will continue to be tested by the coronavirus. Policymakers and election officials must ensure that every eligible American has access to the ballot box because the essence of democracy is that every eligible voter must have the opportunity to participate. Elections have endured in other times of crisis, and they will in 2020.”

“Elections are the foundation of our democracy, but there are many ways in which regular electoral procedure could be disrupted,” said Trey Grayson, a member of the Task Force and former Secretary of State of Kentucky and former President of the National Association of Secretaries of State. “The coronavirus pandemic is a perfect example of how elections can be impacted, but it’s far from the only threat, and many election administrators are already starting from a place where they don’t have sufficient resources. We need to plan and prepare to ensure our elections are resilient.”

The COVID-19 Election Guide offers recommendations to help legislators and election officials conduct a successful 2020 general election, despite the many challenges that the coronavirus is likely to pose, with the goal of ensuring that the election is conducted on time as required by law and that public confidence in the integrity of the electoral process and the legitimacy of the outcome is preserved. Recommendations for helping to achieve these goals include:

  • Expanding no-excuse absentee vote-by-mail
  • Maximizing early voting days and hours
  • Increasing the number of polling places and other voting options
  • Proactive, transparent communication with voters

The guide also provides recommendations on the use of emergency powers by governors and other state officials to respond to the crisis. Any departure from the ordinary rules governing the electoral process, it states, should be made pursuant to state and federal law using objective criteria that guides official discretion and minimizes partisan bias.

“Our nation has overcome crises before and we will overcome this one,” said Task Force member Michael Chertoff, former U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security under President George W. Bush. “But doing so requires well thought out contingency plans, advance preparations, broad coalitions working together, and support for those on the front lines of making our elections work—election administrators, local officials, poll workers, the media, and especially the voters. I know there are so many dedicated public servants around the country already working to ensure the success of our elections and hope by joining this Task Force I can do my small part to support them.”

Task Force member Vanita Gupta, President and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, added, “In 2020, further unexpected events are bound to take place, but the right to vote must be protected and preserved. Already, we are seeing the impact of COVID-19 on primary elections—and officials are obligated right now to take steps, like the ones outlined in our guide, to ensure the general election proceeds on schedule as required under federal law. The National Task Force on Election Crises was formed to ensure that all eligible voters are able to make their voices heard when the ballots are counted. No voter should have to choose between their health and the right to vote, and voters of color and other historically disenfranchised communities must be able to make their voices heard. The right to vote is one of our most basic rights as Americans, and it is our collective task to make sure it can be fully realized—even under the most difficult circumstances.”

“As a nation, we have a long history of unequal access to the ballot box. We have been preparing to meet voter suppression challenges for this year’s election for some time. Now we must also respond to a public health crisis and prepare for a wide range of other potential election disruptions, such as a major cyber-attack, online foreign interference or fights over contested election results,” said Task Force memberSherrilyn Ifill, President and Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. “As we’ve seen with other election challenges, those who will be most impacted are voters in African American, Latino and other traditionally marginalized communities. That’s why we need to rapidly prepare at the federal, state, and local levels to protect the 2020 election. This will require a massive effort, but it’s critical to safeguard our democracy.”

For more information about the National Task Force on Election Crises, visitElectionTaskForce.org.

To read the COVID-19 Election Guide, visit ElectionTaskForce.org/news.