Below, you will find all of the Healthy Election Project final reports, organized by section. You can also find the report in full at the link below:
The 2020 Primaries
The 2020 Primary Elections
The first state primaries and caucuses of the 2020 elections cycle were held at around the same time as a new coronavirus was beginning to spread through the United States. The pandemic did not threaten to derail the Republican presidential nomination process, because Donald Trump faced no realistic challenger. The same was not true on the Democratic side, which began with more than two dozen potential candidates. If the pandemic had hit most severely about a month earlier than it did, the Democratic nomination process might have fallen into disarray. As it happened, Joe Biden had all but sewed up the nomination by the time the pandemic posed serious threats to the voting process. Many other races were on the primary ballots, though, and the experience of election administrators over the spring and summer of 2020 running those primaries became invaluable for developing best practices for the general election in the fall.
2020 Election State Profiles
Arizona 2020: Election Administration in the Coronavirus Pandemic
Arizona was the most competitive state in the 2020 presidential election. Joseph Biden beat Donald Trump in the state by only 10,457 votes. As a result, the state’s administration of the election came under great scrutiny and produced considerable litigation. This chapter explores how Arizona prepared for, administered, and certified the 2020 general election in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. The state has a long history of mail voting and was able to expand and modify existing voting infrastructure to ensure a smooth and safe election. Lawsuits in the months leading up to the general election challenged deadlines for voter registration, for receipt of mail-in ballots, and for fixing ballots with missing signatures. Because of the narrow margin of victory, many aspects of Arizona’s election administration were challenged in court. None of these lawsuits challenging the count succeeded, however. In the end, Republican and Democratic election officials in Arizona vouched for the security and accuracy of the election, and the courts validated their assessments. As this volume went to press, however, Arizona was conducting a controversial and unprecedented audit of the ballots in Maricopa County, which further stoked unjustified fears of fraud and a lack of confidence in the election outcome
Florida 2020: Election Administration in the Coronavirus Pandemic
Overall, the 2020 general election went smoothly in Florida and administrators successfully overcame the hurdles the pandemic erected. Canvassing boards counted absentee ballots earlier than in previous years, ensuring that election results were promptly available on election night. Both absentee voting and in-person voting went well, with comparatively low absentee ballot rejection rates, few lines at polling places (except at the start of early voting), sufficient poll workers, and high compliance with mask-wearing requirements for in-person voting. The state experienced challenges, as well, including a last-minute crash of the voter registration website, confusion surrounding a state law that permits former felons to vote after paying court fines and fees, ambiguity regarding the interpretation of rules pertaining to absentee ballot drop boxes, instances of voter intimidation and polling place disturbances, and misinformation regarding voting processes.
Georgia 2020: Election Administration in the Coronavirus Pandemic
Georgia’s state and local election officials administered a successful election in November 2020, with record turnout despite the coronavirus pandemic. The state already had experience with no-excuse absentee voting and an extended window of early in-person voting, although like many states, it experienced a record level of mail-balloting in 2020. Georgia also launched several adaptations, including drop boxes, ballot pre-processing, advanced ballot tracking, and a new absentee ballot request portal. After November 3, Georgia officials also oversaw a statewide hand audit, a machine-based recount, and prepared for the January 5 senate runoff races.
Georgia 2021: Election Administration in the Senate Runoff
During the 2020 general election, Georgia held two U.S. Senate elections: a regularly scheduled Senate race between incumbent Republican Senator David Perdue and several challengers, including Democratic candidate Jon Ossoff; and a special election between incumbent Republican Senator Kelly Loeffler (who had been appointed by Georgia governor Brian Kemp following the 2019 vacancy left by the resignation of Senator Johnny Isakson) and several challengers, including Reverend Raphael Warnock. In November, no candidate in either Senate race reached a required 50% threshold to secure a victory, requiring both races to be resolved by runoff elections held January 5, 2021. Because Republicans held on to a 50-48 split in the U.S. Senate after November, the runoffs would also determine which party held control of the Senate. Like the general election, the runoff elections experienced high turnout with few problems and winners were declared shortly after Election Day.
Michigan 2020: Election Administration in the Coronavirus Pandemic
Election officials maintain that the administration of the November 2020 general election in Michigan was “the smoothest it has ever been.” The state reached record levels in overall and absentee turnout, rejected record low rates of absentee ballots, and counted most of its ballots earlier than expected. Moreover, fears of voter intimidation, grounded in Michigan’s recent history of right-wing militia violence, did not materialize. In the words of Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, “polling locations were islands of calm.” Despite these successes, controversy about the fairness of the election abounded. Even before the election, partisans warned of pervasive mail ballot fraud. These charges gained greater ammunition after Election Day, as President Donald Trump’s Election Night lead faded with the counting of absentee ballots (a phenomenon known as the “red mirage” followed by a “blue shift”). Despite ten failed lawsuits and days of politicized legislative hearings, though, no reliable evidence of substantial fraud emerged. Nevertheless, the post-election environment spawned conspiracy theories that persisted well past the certification of the vote. As a result, despite the well-run election, confidence in the election system, especially among Michigan Republicans, eroded significantly.
Nevada 2020: Election Administration in the Coronavirus Pandemic
As early as March 2020, Nevada officials decided to conduct their June primary election mostly by mail. The state sent mail-in ballots to all registered voters, while also maintaining in-person voting options. By August, the Nevada Legislature passed Assembly Bill 4, which provided for special election procedures as long as a state of emergency was in effect. Although always seen as competitive, Nevada was not expected to be the state that could determine the presidential election. As results around the country trickled in with unexpected or uncertain results in Arizona and Georgia, the outcome of the election in Nevada became very important to the final result. After the election, multiple lawsuits challenged the availability of universal vote-by-mail, alleged a lack of “meaningful observation,” and cast doubt on the reliability of the Agilis signature verification system. The Nevada Supreme Court unanimously certified the state’s presidential election results for Democrat Joe Biden, but misinformation as to the voting process spread long after the certification.
North Carolina 2020: Election Administration in the Coronavirus Pandemic
This memorandum briefly summarizes the 2020 general election in North Carolina. North Carolina saw a significant increase in voters choosing to vote by mail in the 2020 election and saw increased voter turnout overall. The state’s rules regarding the notice-and-cure process for mail voting and the mail ballot receipt deadline were the subject of numerous lawsuits in both state and federal court. Despite litigation-driven changes to these rules during the voting period, the state saw an increase in the number of mail ballots counted and a decrease in the percentage of ballots rejected. This memo details what steps the state took to ensure that North Carolina conducted an accessible and safe election amidst the coronavirus pandemic.
Pennsylvania 2020: Election Administration in the Coronavirus Pandemic
Pennsylvania was one of the pivotal states that determined the outcome of the 2020 presidential race. It also served as a microcosm for widespread controversies concerning how election officials, political parties, and the courts would interact (and sometimes clash) in the process leading to certification. Although Pennsylvania’s 2020 election was far from perfect, overall the state’s election administration should serve as an encouraging example of a difficult task accomplished with competence and leadership.
Wisconsin 2020: Election Administration in the Coronavirus Pandemic
Wisconsin managed its administration of the November 2020 general election effectively despite a surging pandemic. After a presidential primary that made national headlines because of its dysfunction, Wisconsin invested millions of dollars to ensure safe and accessible voting in November. The state reported no major issues during the November election. Nonetheless, the Wisconsin Elections Commission (WEC) and cities across the state faced a deluge of lawsuits and accusations of fraud, as the Trump campaign and its allies attempted to discredit the administration of the election. However, despite the close margin of victory in the state, the courts easily resolved these suits and the election results, showing Democrat Joe Biden the winner, were promptly certified.
In-Person Voting in the 2020 Election
Supply Chain Performance in the 2020 Election
The coronavirus pandemic prompted concerns regarding the material and products necessary to ensure a safe and accessible election. In response, election officials and other stakeholders coordinated efforts to prevent large-scale supply chain issues with respect to personal protective equipment for poll workers and mail ballot supplies for absentee voters. Although many states addressed these concerns before Election Day, supply chain issues exacerbated by the pandemic placed unique stresses on election administrators throughout the country.
Early In-Person Voting in the 2020 General Election
Early voting in the 2020 general election shattered records, driven in part by strong enthusiasm for the presidential candidates and by pandemic-driven fears of crowded Election Day polling places. Much of the attention surrounding early voting focused on mail ballots, as many states increased their mail voting capacity to reduce the need for person-to-person contact that could further spread the coronavirus. In-person voting, however, also played a major role in the early vote, particularly among states and voters concerned that mail voting could be unreliable. This memorandum explores the various approaches that states took in providing early voting options to better understand early in-person voting trends.
Poll Worker Recruitment in the 2020 General Election
Poll worker recruitment and retention were among the main concerns facing election officials in advance of the 2020 general election. As the coronavirus pandemic arrived in the United States in the spring of 2020, many poll workers, who historically have skewed older, declined to staff in-person voting locations. This led to major staffing shortages in the early 2020 spring primaries. However, herculean recruitment efforts and creative partnerships mobilized by election officials and organizations across the country produced a sufficient number of volunteers in most jurisdictions for the November election. As a result, most in-person voting locations were able to stay open and process ballots efficiently, contributing to a smoothly run general election.
Polling Place Management in the 2020 Election
During the spring and summer primaries, many election officials and voters faced challenges as coronavirus cases surged: long voter lines, closed polling places, and increased demand for mail and early voting. But administrators were largely able to scale election infrastructure quickly, find suitable locations for voting, and ensure that the November general election proceeded safely and securely. Despite the potential for catastrophe, polling places largely exceeded safety expectations and in-person voting proceeded smoothly in most jurisdictions.
Election Observer Rules and Litigation in the 2020 General Election
Election observers were a focal point of much of the litigation and misinformation surrounding the 2020 election. Election observers, sometimes called poll watchers, are people who watch over the U.S. voting process to report inconsistencies, flag legal or procedural violations, and challenge the eligibility or identity of voters. Poll watchers have important roles and responsibilities in election operations. Many post-election lawsuits alleged that election observers affiliated with the Republican Party were improperly denied access to the areas where votes were being counted. These claims were typically accompanied by implications of improper activities behind closed doors. This memorandum details the specific allegations laid out in battleground state litigation concerning the role of election observers in the 2020 election and the alleged issues regarding access throughout the vote tabulation process.
Violence and the 2020 Election
The 2020 U.S. presidential election was the most acrimonious in recent memory, with rising political animosity threatening to erupt into partisan violence. But widespread fears that voting would be violently disrupted did not materialize. While scattered incidents of violence and voter intimidation did occur throughout the early voting period and on Election Day, voting was generally orderly and safe. After Election Day, protests and agitation by supporters of losing candidate Donald Trump did not translate into broad instability or widespread partisan violence. The shocking and deadly attack on the U.S. Capitol by a pro-Trump mob on January 6 did not prevent President-Elect Joe Biden from taking office on January 20. This memo analyzes the role of violence before, during, and immediately after the 2020 election, provides a catalog of the isolated occurrences of voter intimidation and violence, and considers several explanations for why the U.S. escaped widespread election violence.
Mail Voting in the 2020 Election
Ballot Collection in the 2020 Elections
The coronavirus pandemic heightened the importance of ballot collection in 2020, as a record number of people voted absentee and many were unable or uncomfortable with the risk posed by leaving their home to return their ballots. Ballot collection refers to the practice of third-party individuals gathering and submitting completed absentee ballots for other voters. Ballot collection can provide a convenience for all voters who cast mail ballots, and it can provide a solution for mail voters with disabilities or other challenges that make going to a post office, mail box, or election site particularly difficult. This memo surveys the debate about ballot collection, the state laws regulating it, and the litigation regarding ballot collection laws and practices in the 2020 general election.
Ballot Drop Boxes in the 2020 Elections
During the 2020 general election, the absentee ballot drop box became an increasingly popular option for voters to submit completed mail ballots to election officials without using the mail. While some states had successfully used ballot drop boxes for years, the coronavirus pandemic jump-started the practice for much of the rest of the country, particularly after questions emerged about the U.S. Postal Service’s capacity to deliver absentee ballots reliably on time. Although a few states, such as Tennessee and Missouri, prohibited the use of ballot drop boxes, citing the risk of voter fraud, nearly 40 states had ballot drop boxes available during the 2020 general election, and voters’ use of ballot drop boxes was the highest of any election in American history.
The U.S. Postal Service and the 2020 Elections
In the months leading up to the 2020 general election, many Americans expressed growing fears about the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) and its ability to deliver mail-in ballots in a timely manner. Despite an increased use of vote-by-mail during the coronavirus pandemic and public concerns about Postmaster General Louis DeJoy’s decision-making, more than 97% of ballots were delivered without delay throughout the final weeks of the election, and the agency administered the largest vote-by-mail election in American history. There were, however, significant regional variations in on-time delivery.
Secrecy Sleeves and the “Naked Ballot” in the 2020 General Election
Less than two months before the 2020 general election, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that election officials must reject mail-in ballots received without the “secrecy sleeve,” the inner envelope that holds the ballot and protects the voter’s privacy while their personal identifying information and signature is being examined. Philadelphia City Commissioner Lisa Deeley warned that the state supreme court’s ruling could lead to the rejection of around 100,000 additional absentee votes in the 2020 general election—a staggering number that could potentially impact the outcome of the presidential election. Ultimately, perhaps due to greater awareness brought to the issue by Deeley’s warning and public education campaigns, only 7,411 absentee votes were rejected in Pennsylvania for any reason, including for lack of a secrecy sleeve. The following analysis summarizes the secrecy sleeve rules in Pennsylvania and 16 other states that used secrecy sleeves in the 2020 general election, as well as a few states that left the use of secrecy sleeves up to counties. It also examines the impact of those rules on ballot rejection rates in the 2020 general election.
Pre-Election Mail Voting Litigation in the Coronavirus Pandemic
Facing projections that 80 million Americans or more might choose to vote by mail in the November 2020 general election, stakeholders turned to the courts to clarify the appropriate ways for election officials to adapt, apply, and administer the rules of mail voting in the highly competitive elections taking place during the coronavirus pandemic. Plaintiffs across the country filed over 340 lawsuits between March 4, 2020, and November 3, 2020 (Election Day), challenging election procedures affected by the coronavirus pandemic, including nearly every aspect of the absentee balloting process. They asserted claims under a variety of state and federal laws and constitutional provisions. This report outlines the many legal challenges to absentee and mail voting systems brought from the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic in March up to Election Day, largely in response to the pandemic.
Behind the Scenes of Mail Voting: Signature Verification and Witness Requirements in the 2020 Elections
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, more than 92 million voters requested or were sent a mail ballot for the 2020 general election. In the months leading up to the election, some experts estimated that up to 80 million Americans would submit a mail ballot in the 2020 general election. In the end, approximately 73 million votes—or 46% of all votes cast—were cast by mail, more than double the number cast by mail in 2016. Many of these voters were using absentee ballots for the first time and not aware of the procedures used by their state to confirm their identity on their mail ballots. While rules differed by state, they typically included requirements that the voter sign the return ballot envelope and, often, that the voter’s signature on the return envelope match the voter’s signature on file with election officials. Experts predicted that the increase in mail ballots for the 2020 general election would likely result in a higher number and a higher percentage of ballots being rejected—a prediction driven by the high number of expected first-time users of mail ballots—voters more likely to make mistakes when completing their ballots. Observers also expressed concerns about how election officials would determine whether voter signatures on their return envelopes matched their signatures on file. The early data available regarding mail voting in the 2020 general election suggests that election officials rejected a lower percentage of mail ballots than in previous years but, due to the increase of mail voting, a higher absolute number of mail ballots. This report examines the signature verification landscape across the United States during the 2020 elections, with a particular emphasis on the battleground states of Arizona, Florida, North Carolina, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.
Vote Counts and Election Challenges
Counting and Certifying the Vote in the 2020 Election
As protestors shouted “Stop the count!” outside counting operations in some states and “Count the votes!” in others, the counting of votes in the 2020 U.S. presidential contest engendered all the controversy one would expect given the narrow margin of victory in the Electoral College and the polarized political environment in which the vote counting took place. This memo addresses what happened during the vote count in the days after the November 3 election. It focuses on the six states whose electoral votes decided the next president of the United States: Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, with addendums on Florida and North Carolina.
Post-Election Litigation Analysis and Summaries
The 2020 general election was the most litigious in modern history, including its post-election period. In the two-month period between November 3, 2020, (Election Day) and January 6, 2021, (the date on which Congress counted the Electoral College votes), plaintiffs filed 82 lawsuits in 10 states and the District of Columbia (excluding 13 lawsuits related to the U.S. Senate runoff election in Georgia). Of these 82 complaints, Republican plaintiffs filed 80—of which 76 pertained to the presidential race. An additional thirteen lawsuits were filed regarding the Georgia U.S. Senate run-off elections. This article summarizes the major arc of the post-election litigation, its trends, and possible long-standing repercussions. The Appendix briefly summarizes each of these post-election lawsuits.
Vote Recounts and Election Contests in Battleground States
Because the 2020 presidential election results in several states were quite close, stakeholders took advantage of various state laws and procedures to allege incorrect vote counts and request recounts. The Trump campaign challenged the vote counts in some states and sought recounts in others. Georgia conducted a risk-limiting audit and two statewide recounts. Wisconsin, at the request of the Trump campaign, recounted votes in Milwaukee and Dane counties. Arizona, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania all faced lawsuits that alleged vote-count fraud and sought recounts. Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson agreed to conduct a statewide election audit. The Trump campaign and various Republican organizations, candidates, and voters filed 10 “election contests” in Arizona, Georgia, and Nevada. None of these lawsuits or contests succeeded, and none of the recounts or audits changed the results of the election. This report surveys the vote recounts and election contests in seven battleground states. State laws differ regarding who can request and challenge vote counts and file election contests, and when and why they can be requested and filed. The Appendix details the canopy of specific laws under which states can order and candidates can request a vote recount or an election challenge.
Information Policies, Social Media Misinformation and Administration in the 2020 General Election
Technology Platforms and Misinformation
Social Media Misinformation and Administration in the 2020 General Election
Following the conclusion of the 2020 general election, the perception of fairness in American elections became increasingly politically polarized. The attack on the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, was driven in part by high profile political figures promoting unproven claims of widespread election fraud. Many of these claims had originated on or had been spread through viral social media posts created on or shortly after Election Day. This report traces many of the narratives and viral falsehoods that focused on election administration in eight key states, as well as analyzes national patterns in election-related disinformation.
Civic Engagement and Internet Platforms
The 2016 election represented a turning point in the public’s view of social media companies and the role they play in elections. After experiencing four years of unrelenting criticism for their mistakes related to disinformation and foreign interference in 2016, these companies looked to the 2020 election as an opportunity for redemption. In addition to adopting new policies regarding disinformation and other content violations, they also took proactive steps to help facilitate voter registration, poll worker recruitment, voter education, and other forms of civic participation. This chapter examines election-related policy changes and initiatives designed by Facebook/Instagram, Google/YouTube, Snapchat, Twitter, and TikTok. This chapter relies largely on the policies and accomplishments as stated by the companies themselves, given that the firms provide very limited data to outsiders relating to the success of their policies. Their efforts to provide accurate information and tools for voters to navigate the election may not have been able to compete with self-serving propagation of disinformation from the Trump campaign and its supporters. Nevertheless, the role that the platforms played in facilitating participation and informing the public about voting-related changes codified their position as key players in the administration of the election.