Vote.org Election & Voting Policy
Election Policy Recommendations
Our democracy is an essential service. As we adjust to the danger posed by COVID-19, it is incumbent on Congress and state elections officials to urgently take steps to safeguard the 2020 primary and general elections. Ensuring this core tenet of our democracy will require a mix of legislative, operational, and educational tools, including those outlined in this document. Vote.org was founded to leverage technology to simplify political engagement, increase voter turnout, and strengthen American democracy . While this pandemic is unprecedented, it is amplifying the longstanding structural and legal barriers to voting that Vote.org and its partners work every day to address. Vote.org, in collaboration with over 200 public interest organizations, has outlined the following recommendations.
Voter Education and Combating Misinformation:
Ensuring a free and fair election in November will require changes to how and where people vote across the United States. None of the changes recommended below will have the intended impact without a significant investment in voter education and programs to combat misinformation. Doing so is essential to ensuring that American voters have confidence in their system, clarity on how to exercise their right to the ballot, and in many cases, convincing rationale for changing how they vote.
The recommendations below cut across multiple jurisdictions and apply uniquely state by state. Because the United States’ electoral system is decentralized, no one set of changes can be applied uniformly across the country. This dynamic adds to the potential for confusion and miscommunication and underscores the importance of clear, regular, and direct communication by state and local officials throughout the next seven months.
Many states currently rely on paper-only registration, requiring forms to be printed and mailed for submission. All states should take steps to expand the ways its citizens can register to vote and update existing registrations, including but not limited to: All states should make online voter registration (OVR) available. To do so, existing OVR systems must be assessed and bolstered now to ensure they can accommodate a surge and are fully accessible to all voters. The 11 states that don’t yet have an OVR system in place should start discussing any legislative requirements and otherwise start sourcing options to ensure any new system is secure and accessible. In addition to OVR, states should expand their voter registration options to include same-day voter registration. Due to likely curtailment of government services, and the potential for online disruptions, states should extend voter registration deadlines and allow same-day voter registration for all voters in this election. In states that have already announced primary election postponements, the voter registration deadline should be extended proportionately.
Voting at Home or by Mail:
Some states already offer vote by mail options, while others only provide the ability to vote remotely for those who meet specific criteria for absentee ballots. Every effort should be made to expand the number of people able to vote by mail, and establish it as the standard mode for voting (rather than in-person), when possible, to keep in-person voting safer for those unable to vote by mail. This can be achieved through a number of steps, including: States should adopt no-excuse absentee voting-by-mail. At the very least, all states should accept “COVID-19” as a valid criteria for any voter to request an absentee ballot, or suspend the requirement to have an excuse to request one. States should offer multiple methods of requesting mail-in ballots, including online, in person, by phone, and by mail, and should relax deadlines for doing so. The ideal practice is for states to mail a ballot to every registered voter, including those designated “inactive.” States should provide a range of secure options for casting completed ballots, including designated dropboxes and pre-paid postage. Voters should be able to seek assistance completing and returning their ballots by allowing community organizations and designated individuals to collect and return sealed ballots. States and jurisdictions that do not already use ballot tracking systems should use envelopes with an Intelligent Mail barcode (IMb) to allow voters to track their ballot for the 2020 and successive elections until they implement a balloting materials status update service. States should be prohibited from refusing to accept a ballot based on paper type and envelope In states where signature-match is required by state law, officials should implement a timely notification and cure process, or otherwise seek a suspension of the practice. Ballots postmarked by or on Election Day should be counted in all states. States should provide a mechanism for voters to confirm receipt of their ballot requests and submissions. The Federal Government should ensure the U.S. Postal Service has the resourcing and authority required to fulfill its role as essential infrastructure, and support an influx of requests and ballots by mail.
Many people (including Native American tribes living on tribal lands) do not have access to mail voting, and will require in-person voting options. In some circumstances, failing to provide in person voting could be interpreted as a violation of federal voting rights law. For these individuals, it is essential that states take every possible action to decrease the potential for COVID-19 spread by limiting lines and the clustering of individuals. This will require changing Election Day administration and practices, as well as in some cases, polling locations themselves. States should take action on the following: States should allow at least 20 days of early in-person voting to reduce long lines and administrative stress on Election Day. An early voting expansion will also require significant public outreach to inform voters of the option, and encourage them to vote early to keep others safe. State and local officials should identify appropriate polling locations that ensure equitable access to vulnerable communities, language minority voters, and voters with disabilities. States should prohibit polling place adjustments that disproportionately impact these populations. State and local officials must follow public health guidelines in the selection and operation of polling places. Sites should be configured to facilitate “social distancing” protocols such as metering the entry to enclosed voting spaces, and creating additional space between voting booths, poll workers, and voters standing in line. Polling locations should be adequately sanitized to prevent transmission of the virus, and should follow guidance issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention such as requiring sick poll workers to stay home, regularly cleaning frequently touched surfaces (including sanitization of voting machines after each voter), and frequent hand washing and sanitizing. Effort should be made to recruit poll-workers who are not from high risk demographics. States should consider further safety protocols, such as reserving specific polling hours for those most vulnerable to COVID-19. All jurisdictions should prepare for a surge in provisional voting due to delays in the processing of voter registration applications, voter confusion resulting from polling place closures and consolidations, and unfamiliarity with absentee voting.
Long Term Contingency Plans:
While our local and national government works to rapidly respond to this crisis, action should be taken now to ensure that voting rights are protected under any circumstance. The creation of a federal election contingency standard would help guide states in their current and future responses. As such, we recommend Congress require states and jurisdictions to establish publicly available contingency plans to enable eligible Americans to vote in the case of an emergency, and to update those plans every five years. Plans should include information on the equipment and resources required, mechanisms for remote or adapted voting, and legal recourse to enable the contingency to be enacted.
Our democracy is deserving of the resources required to safeguard it. Many of the recommendations in this document will require funding for things such as recruiting poll workers, creating online absentee ballot request systems, early vote expansion, widespread voter education, equipment to process vote by mail ballots, ballot marking systems for voters with disabilities, and sending and returning envelopes with prepaid postage in state-run primaries in 2020. For these changes to be made, the federal government, state and local governments, private industry, and civil society will all have to play a role. Taking steps to fund and initiate these changes now can protect our elections in November even amidst the realities of COVD-19.