The League of Women Voters applauds the thousands of elections officials who are working overtime to help make voting accessible and safe for voters. While local elections officials are facing great uncertainty around the rules state officials may approve in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, they are in a unique position to take steps—right now—to protect voters’ rights and address voters’ safety concerns in the remaining primary elections and in November.
Elections officials can empower voters right now.
1. Tell the public what to expect for your primary elections—early and often.
With all the confusion and changing information surrounding primary elections, use every tool available to get the word out to voters about how they can best participate in upcoming elections. Has in-person, absentee, or mail-in voting changed? Have voter registration and ballot request deadlines been extended? Have polling places moved?
Ask your counterparts in local government agencies, service organizations, and civic groups (like your Local League of Women Voters) to get the word out to their networks. The League of Women Voters is committed to helping with this through our VOTE411.org website, where we’ve collected each state’s rules and are highlighting special alerts related to changes in each state.
Send local media outlets clear, simple bullet points—or better yet, graphics—detailing the new process. Ask them to put it on their websites and broadcasts.
Communicate poll location changes. Post on your website any polling location changes within 3 hours of the changes being made and indicate the changes, including a map to the new location, at the original polling place.
Leverage the power of social media. Create graphics and other content to be shared via social media and post your official information regularly so members of your community can help you spread the word.
2. Ensure the safety of your polling places and tell the public what you’re doing.
Designate a poll worker(s) at every in-person voting location to take the lead on ensuring cleanliness standards and strict social distancing, including demarking places for voters to stand when in line with a least 6 feet between voters.
Integrate government-recommended hygiene protocol into every poll worker training, including uniform procedures to limit the number of items multiple people are touching. For example: in states that require voter ID, let the voter hold on to their ID instead of passing it over to the poll worker. Switch out pens or privacy sleeves between every single voter (then sanitize them), or consider other protocol to limit personal contact.
Designate a process, including a telephone number, for voters or poll workers to report issues with cleaning procedures or other COVID-19 related issues at polling places. And put a plan in place to respond to these reports.
Publicize your safety measures on your website and social media channels, and share them with your local partners and media.
3. Start aggressive poll worker recruitment now—it is more important than ever.
Use this opportunity to communicate with primary voters who are likely more active and engaged with voting—and ask them to help fill the gaps in your November Election Day workforce. Talk with leaders of service organizations and civic groups about your needs, especially those that represent or serve diverse communities, about the importance of recruiting poll workers that can effectively support their communities at the polling place. Make signing up simple, accessible (easy to find on your website), and widely publicize any perks, like pay and/or volunteer credit, that may attract younger and more diverse poll workers.
4. Connect with the Postal Service now to plan for an increase in mail-in ballots.
Whether the rules around absentee and mail-in voting are expanded in your state or not, it’s critical to start planning for a significant increase in absentee and mail-in voting now. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2016, 31 states had 10% or fewer voters in their state take advantage of opportunities to vote by mail. These numbers are going to increase, and potentially increase dramatically. Working through the logistics and opening the lines of communication with regional post offices now will help ensure the process is as smooth as possible for voters returning absentee ballot request forms and ballots themselves by mail. The Postal Service has dedicated an entire section of their website and created an “Election Mail Kit” to support you in these efforts.
Safeguards can be put in place with an eye toward November.
5. Expand the vote.
While you likely have little control over current law or constitutional requirements in your state, consider what you CAN do to expand early and absentee voting opportunities as much as possible. Some options to consider, where permittable under current law:
mail all voters a prepaid absentee ballot request form
eliminate the need for an excuse or add “health concerns” as an acceptable excuse for absentee voting,
increase the number of hours your early voting sites are open, and
evaluate where your early voting sites are located, with an emphasis on supporting those communities that don’t have equal access to mail-in voting opportunities.
6. Review and update your ballot acceptance procedures.
What can your office do to mitigate challenges NOW so that all votes are counted in November? Signature matching issues are a major reason mail-in and absentee ballots are rejected. With an expected uptick of mail-in ballots, now is the time to review the process for accepting these ballots and why some of these ballots are rejected. Individuals responsible for counting votes need the appropriate training as it relates to signature matching. When there are questions or concerns about a ballot, how is that voter notified? The public should be aware of the process and election administrators need an effective way to follow-up with voters whose ballots are not accepted.
7. Build up your workforce and workplace to anticipate the new reality.
You should expect a significantly larger percentage of voters to take advantage of mail-in or early voting this year. What changes need to be made to your current workflow to accommodate this? Do you have the space to store, count, and safeguard an influx of ballots? Can poll worker shifts be scheduled earlier to account for the change? Where would you locate ballot drop boxes? What does your plan for picking up ballots from drop boxes look like, especially on Election Day? What does your election observation process look like, in an effort to support transparency in the process? What do you need from local nonprofits, like the League of Women Voters, to account for the new ways of doing business?
General Election voters’ needs.
8. Consider the needs of first-time and infrequent voters.
Presidential year elections bring out first-time and infrequent voters at significantly higher rates than other elections. These voters are less familiar with the ins and outs of voting in your community. Are your voter education materials written in plain language so that people not as familiar with the voting process will understand? Have you avoided election jargon? Does your education plan use channels that will reach infrequent voters? Considering the needs of first-time and infrequent voters in every decision you make can help avoid problems, whatever systems are in place.
9. There’s never enough public education.
Provide clear and concise public information as soon as you know how the election will be managed and regularly communicate all updates to voters. Tap into partners in government, transit authorities, the nonprofit and business sectors to get the word out about how voters can best participate in November, including step-by-step instructions for how to take advantage of all early and absentee voting opportunities. If you feel like you’re repeating the same information over and over, you’re doing it right!
10. Train, train, train.
Whether it’s your regular workforce, your expanded election year workforce, or your Election Day workforce, election 2020 is going to be different than any election they’ve ever faced. Effective and ongoing training is always a critical element to running a free, fair, and accessible election, and 2020 is no different in that regard. However, with changing election rules, voters taking advantage of new or different voting methods, and the introduction of managing public health concerns, training is more critical than ever.
The League of Women Voters is committed to working with election officials in communities around the country to prepare for the unique challenges we face in 2020. Our nonpartisan volunteers in 750 Leagues in all 50 states are your partners in making sure voters have every opportunity to have their voice heard in this year’s elections. Thank you to all the elections officials who are working hard to protect our democracy in these unprecedented times.