Other Reports

Memos

Ballot collection is the practice of allowing trusted third-party individuals to gather and submit completed ballots on another voter’s behalf. The pandemic has heightened the importance of ballot collection as a record number of people will vote absentee and many will be unable or unwilling to leave their house to return their ballots on their own.

Memo / October 13, 2020
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With greater reliance on absentee ballots in light of COVID-19, states and voters are increasingly turning to ballot tracking tools—especially more advanced commercial options— to provide greater confidence in mail ballots. This memo provides an overview of how ballot tracking works, and provides a comprehensive table cataloging the different ballot tracking alternatives available to voters.

Memo / October 09, 2020
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“Election observers,” sometimes called “poll watchers,” are  a cohort of people who watch over the voting process and report on inconsistencies and election violations, and challenge the authenticity of voters. This memorandum details the requirements for election observation in battleground states, analyzes national patterns, examines the types of oversight election observers conduct, and surveys the type of processes states have created for electoral oversight.

Memo / October 09, 2020
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The threat of election-related violence is not new to the United States, but the 2020 election has provoked greater concern and attention to the problem than any election in recent memory. This memo surveys state-level policies for addressing Election Day violence in eleven swing states.

Memo / October 08, 2020
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Given the renewed attention and the greater likelihood that voter intimidation may be a bigger problem in 2020 than in recent elections, clarifying the concept of voter intimidation has become more important than in past elections. This memo sheds light on the rules and guidance aimed at preventing voter intimidation in six battleground states: Arizona, Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.

Memo / October 08, 2020
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Based on a recent Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling, Pennsylvania’s election officials will reject any absentee ballots received without a secrecy sleeve, sometimes known as a “naked ballot.” In light of this decision, this analysis summarizes the current secrecy sleeve rules in Pennsylvania and also describes the rules of sixteen states that also use or require secrecy sleeves.

Memo / October 07, 2020
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Social media has become an increasingly popular form of communication, and also plays a significant role in the spread of misinformation. Prior to the 2020 election, several platforms have taken steps to promote voter registration and civic engagement. This memo examines election-related policy changes and initiatives designed by Facebook, Google, Snapchat, Twitter, and TikTok.

Memo / September 30, 2020
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With changes in voting procedures due to the COVID-19 pandemic, communication between election officials and voters is especially crucial this year. This memo provides illustrative examples of voter education and recommendations for outreach.

Memo / September 26, 2020
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The results of a survey conducted of registered voters in seven battleground states suggest that although the U.S. will see historic levels of mail voting in November, the levels are below what similar studies showed just a couple of months ago.  While the results cannot directly address the issue of causality, the pattern of results unsurprisingly suggests that the partisan differences that have emerged over mail balloting explain the reduced ardor over voting by mail.

Memo / September 24, 2020
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This document summarizes contributions that companies are making to ensure that the general election goes smoothly in November.

Resources / September 23, 2020
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The COVID-19 pandemic has spawned an avalanche of litigation regarding the appropriate ways to adapt, apply, and administer election rules amid the pandemic. Plaintiffs in more 43 states across the country have filed more than 200 cases challenging nearly every aspect of the absentee balloting process, asserting claims under a variety of state and federal laws. This report outlines the many legal challenges to absentee and mail voting systems brought against states since March, largely in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Memo / September 12, 2020
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This white paper focuses on managing the volume of traffic through a polling place while accommodating the realities of voting amid the pandemic. It discusses how queuing theory can be harnessed to provide guidance about questions such as:

  • How many voting booths, check-in stations, and scanners do I need to handle anticipated turnout?
  • How long are the lines I should anticipate during the day?
  • If I have to limit the number of people in the room where voting occurs, how many people are likely to be waiting outside to vote?
White Paper / August 26, 2020
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In seventeen states with primary and runoff elections in August, the process went much more smoothly than in the earlier presidential primaries. Although the ground continues to shift and much may change between now and November, the August state competitions provide important lessons for administering the general election. 

Memo / August 26, 2020
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While some states have successfully used ballot drop boxes for years, the COVID-19 pandemic has expanded the practice throughout the country, particularly as election officials have expressed concern about the U.S. Postal Service’s capacity to reliably deliver absentee ballots on time. Overall at least 35 states have used or plan on using ballot drop boxes this year, and their use in the upcoming election will likely be the largest of any election in American history.

Memo / August 23, 2020
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In March, President Trump signed into law the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. Included in this legislation was $400 million in emergency election administration funds distributed to states. This report examines state usage of the CARES Act election funds by reviewing documentation submitted to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC) by state election officials.

Memo / August 17, 2020
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This memo evaluates the risks of providing online voting to mitigate the risk of transmitting COVID-19 while conducting the November 2020 general election. We provide a brief history of online voting, evaluate recent attempts to implement online voting, highlight the potential benefits and risks, and ultimately discourage the use of online voting in this election.

Memo / August 13, 2020
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As jurisdictions across the country look to expand voting by mail and equip polling places for COVID-19, election officials, industry suppliers, and experts have made it clear that jurisdictions must plan ahead and procure the necessary supplies as soon as possible to avoid bottlenecks in the supply chain. This memorandum details the supplies jurisdictions should consider purchasing for polling sites and for the various steps in the vote-by-mail process. It also lists some vendors offering those supplies.

Memo / July 16, 2020
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Other Resources

How can the United States safely and securely hold its elections during this ongoing pandemic?

Importantly, states are not locked into their voting processes for the general election. Many still have time to make policy changes that minimize personal contact, reduce crowds, and limit common access to high-touch surfaces. In making such changes, state officials must consider not only public health and safety, but also how any new voting processes affect election access, integrity, and logistics.

Part of RAND's Countering Truth Decay initiative, new research aims to answer these questions and help states plan for November. After all, safe and legitimate elections are essential to building and maintaining a government that people trust. And while there are always threats to U.S. elections, such as disinformation campaigns and cyber threats, COVID-19 presents a whole new set of risks and considerations.

While the Stanford-MIT Project on a Healthy Election is focused solely on elections in the United States, it can be helpful to learn from other countries' responses to the COVID-19 pandemic as they administer their own elections. Although by Election Day South Korea had recorded over 10,000 cases and 200 deaths from COVID-19, the country enacted several precautionary measures to minimize the risk of community spread at the polls. As a result, over 40% of voters cast their ballot early – the highest early voting rate ever – and the country saw an overall turnout of 66.2% (over 29 million voters in total), the highest turnout of a parliamentary election since 1992. Yonhap; Associated Press. Since the election, there have been 0 confirmed COVID-19 cases related to exposure at the polls. NBC.

Comparative Case Study – South Korea Legislative Elections During COVID-19

Last updated: June 16, 2020

Commentary

Useful commentary from the directors and partners of the Healthy Elections Project:

Persily, Nathaniel and Charles Stewart III. How to Survive Election Night. Slate. (October 21, 2020).

Persily, Nathaniel and Charles Stewart III. Most voters confident their vote will be counted, poll finds. But partisans disagree on election threats. Monkey Cage. (October 7, 2020).

Persily, Nathaniel and Charles Stewart III. Actually, We Will Know a Lot on Election Night. Wall Street Journal. (September 24, 2020).

Persily, Nathaniel and Charles Stewart III. With Six Weeks to the Election, Six Ways to Protect It. New York Times. (September 20, 2020).

McCarthy, Bill, and Amy Sherman. Trump's bad advice on going to polls to verify if your mail ballot was counted. Politifact. (September 3, 2020).

Corasaniti, Nick, and Stephanie Saul. How a Smooth Election in Massachusetts Could Be a Cautionary Tale. The New York Times. (September 2, 2020).

Hufford, Axel. What's Going On With the Postal Service? Lawfare. (September 1, 2020).

Burnley, Malcolm, and Rachel Dissell. COVID-19 Evictions Could Leave More Women Without A Vote. IdeaStream. (September 1, 2020).

Bloomberg Law. Legal Assault on the Post Office Changes. (August 29, 2020). *audio podcast*

Hufford, Axel. The Rise of Ballot Drop Boxes Due to the Coronavirus. Lawfare. (August 27, 2020).

Radio Times. The political battle over over the postal service. PBS. (August 19, 2020). *audio podcast*

Corse, Alexa. Biden Supporters More Likely Than Trump's to Vote by Mail, Poll Shows. The Wall Street Journal. (August 17, 2020).

Garcia, Joaquin, Zahavah Levine, Bea Phi, Peter Prindiville, Jeff Rodriguez, Lexi Rubow, and Grace Scullion. Wisconsin's 2020 Primary in the Wake of COVID-19. Lawfare. (August 10, 2020).

Gupta, Devin. Stanford Professors Present Research On Holding A COVID-19 Election. The Stanford Daily. (August 2, 2020).

Connelly, Aidan. Charles Stewart III Addresses Concerns Around Mail-In Voting. WGBH News. (July 21, 2020).

Persily, Nathaniel and Charles Stewart III. The Looming Threat to Voting in Person. The Atlantic. (June 27, 2020).

Free and Fair with Franita and Foley. Voting in the time of the virus . (March 31, 2020). *audio podcast*

Democracy Works. Free and fair elections during a pandemic . (March 30, 2020).  *audio podcast*

Persily, Nathaniel and Charles Stewart III. Ten Recommendations to Ensure a Healthy and Trustworthy 2020 Election . Lawfare. (March 19, 2020).