Is Your State Ready for an Election Emergency?

Voter walking into polling place

On December 15, the Minnesota Elections Emergency Task Force released a report detailing the measures that the state should take to clarify how elections are conducted in case of an emergency.

The Minnesota report is a serious effort to address how officials should conduct elections under emergency situations and should be studied by everyone interested in helping address similar conflicts where they live. Having these measures in place preserves the integrity of elections and prevents unnecessary financial costs of new elections. Otherwise, officials have no guidance and may operate under vague legal authority during crises.

Elections in New Jersey after Hurricane Sandy highlight why these measures are needed. New Jersey was forced to relocate 250 polling places in the wake of the storm, relying solely on executive orders for legal support. It also designated those affected by the storm as overseas voters, permitting the state to accept absentee ballots submitted electronically. Such measures allowed the state to count the votes of numerous people who would otherwise have been locked out of the political process. However, these measures were also largely improvised, which exposed them to attacks on their legitimacy.

The Minnesota Task Force based its findings on six public hearings held over five months with election experts from across the country. The experts discussed existing Minnesota state laws and comparable laws in other states. The report recommends that state, county and local officials create election emergency plans that are kept on file with the Secretary of State. These plans would allow election officials to relocate polling booths in the case of emergencies, extend election hours and expand absentee ballot deadlines.

The report also includes model legislation for implementing its findings.