Stanford-MIT Project on a Healthy Election
To address the unprecedented and ongoing threat that the COVID-19 pandemic poses to the 2020 elections, the Stanford-MIT Project on a Healthy Election will bring academics and election administration experts together to assess and promote best practices to ensure the election can proceed with integrity, safety, and equal access.
Nathaniel Persily, the James B. McClatchy Professor Law at Stanford and former Senior Research Director of the Presidential Commission on Election Administration; and Charles Stewart III, Kenan Sahin Distinguished Professor of Political Science at MIT, Director of the MIT Election Data and Science Lab, and Co-Director of the Caltech/MIT Voting Technology Project; will direct the new Stanford-MIT initiative.
This page will continue to update as the new project progresses, and will keep adding new resources of use to election officials and others involved in the administration of U.S. elections. Last update: May 19, 2020 at 3:53 p.m.
For more information about the Stanford-MIT Project on a Healthy Election, read the press release linked below:
A look at vote-at-home rules by state:
Articles that inventory the changes being made to elections and ballot measure campaigns in light of the COVID-19 outbreak:
- Changes to election dates, procedures, and administration
- Changes to ballot measure campaigns, procedures, and policies
Ballotpedia has also begun tracking the political responses to the pandemic:
The Brennan Center has a project on the response to the COVID-19 crisis and elections
Among the resources on the project’s website are the following:
Center for Civic Design
Materials to support states or counties scaling up their vote-by-mail program:
U.S. Centers for Disease Control
- CDC Situation Summary webpage – This page provides updated information and guidance on the novel coronavirus and COVID-19.
- CDC Coronavirus index webpage – This page provides links to all CDC resources on the novel coronavirus and COVID-19.
- CDC List of State and Territorial Health Department Websites – This page provides links to all websites of state and territory health departments, which the CDC recommends consulting for state-specific information on the novel coronavirus and COVID-19.
- CDC Recommended Precautions for Preventing Spread of COVID-19 in Election Polling Locations, including Cleaning and Disinfection - This guidance provides recommendations on the routine cleaning and disinfection of polling location areas and associated electronic equipment. It suggests actions that poll workers can take to reduce the risk of exposure to COVID-19 by limiting the survival of the virus in the environment. According to the CDC, this guidance will be updated if additional information becomes available. Note: election officials should consult their vendors regarding recommendations on cleaning and other matters specific to election technology used in their polling locations. Some vendor-provided guidance is below.
- CDC Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers to Plan and Respond to Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19), February 2020 - This interim guidance for businesses may be relevant to election offices. It seeks to help prevent workplace exposures to acute respiratory illnesses, including COVID-19, in non-healthcare settings. The guidance also provides planning considerations if there are more widespread, community outbreaks of COVID-19.
Center for Tech and Civic Life
- COVID-19 and Election Administration: Approaches for Election Officials, a set of 12 no-cost, 60-minute webinars highlighting top approaches to prepare for inclusive, safe, and secure elections.
Civil Rights Litigation Clearinghouse
- Special Collection of cases that address the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, social distancing, etc.
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY
- COVID-19 and Elections - A list of resources and up-to-date information on the ongoing efforts by government and industry organizations to assist election officials and voters prepare for possible impacts to election security and voter registration practices and procedures.
- CISA Coronavirus webpage - This page provides information on CISA’s efforts with federal partners concerning coronavirus and COVID-19 and links to other federal resources.
- CISA Insights: Risk Management for Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) – This brief provides recommendations on how to address physical supply chain and cyber security issues that may arise from the spread of the novel coronavirus. This resource is helpful for election officials to prepare for possible impacts of the novel coronavirus. Below is an excerpt from this CISA Insights brief:
Cybersecurity for Organizations
As organizations explore various alternate workplace options in response to COVID-19, CISA recommends examining the security of information technology systems by taking the following steps:
- Secure systems that enable remote access.
- Ensure Virtual Private Network and other remote access systems are fully patched.
- Enhance system monitoring to receive early detection and alerts on abnormal activity.
- Implement multi-factor authentication
- Ensure all machines have properly configured firewalls as well as anti-malware and intrusion prevention installed.
- Test remote access solutions capacity or increase capacity
- Ensure continuity of operations plans or business continuity plans are up-to-date.
- Increase awareness of information technology support mechanisms for employees who work remotely.
- Update incident response plans to consider workforce changes in a distributed environment.
The Joint CISA Coordinating Council Working Group is also developing resources for election officials to use as they navigate the COVID-19 challenge in relation to conducting elections. These include:
- Outbound Mail Ballots
- Ballot Applications
- Inbound Mail Ballot Process
- Signature Verification & Cure
- Electronic Ballot Delivery
- Ballot Drop Box
- Mail Voting List Maintenance
- Voter Education & Engagement About Mail Voting
U.S. ELECTION ASSISTANCE COMMISSION
The EAC is responsible for providing a clearinghouse for information about elections. Its website on coronavirus resources focuses on official sources of information about the COVID response.
- Preliminary Planning for Increased Vote By Mail – Video
- Presentation – Preliminary Planning for for Increase Vote By Mail, Interview 1: COVID 19 potential response
- EAC Disaster Preparedness and Recovery webpage – This page features presentations from election administrators about how they conducted elections in the face of a variety of natural disasters. Their examples of preparedness and recovery could be helpful for election officials as they address the novel coronavirus and COVID-19.
- EAC Contingency Plans Webpage – In preparation for the 2016 elections, the EAC collected continuity of operations plans (COOPs) and resources from election officials at the state and local levels. This includes state-specific examples for H1N1 flu preparedness.
- EAC Election Management Guidelines Chapter 11: Contingency Planning and Change Management - This 2008 resource was created to assist state and local election officials in effectively managing and administering elections. Each chapter explores a different aspect of election administration and provides examples and recommendations.
- Voting by Mail/ Absentee Voting - COVID-19 specific resources and other resources to help election officials identify procedures, strategies, and policies for ensuring mail ballots get cast and counted, and all election-related materials that help citizens cast these ballots are delivered in a timely manner.
FEDERAL EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT AGENCY (FEMA)
- Pandemic Influenza Continuity of Operations Annex Template - This template from FEMA provides guidance to assist organizations in developing a Pandemic Influenza Continuity of Operations plan or, if the organization already has a continuity plan, a Pandemic Influenza Annex. General guidance and sample information is provided for reference and organizations are encouraged to tailor Pandemic Influenza Continuity plans to meet specific organizational needs and requirements. The template contains elements of a viable continuity plan and allows organizations to insert information as deemed appropriate.
Note: The EAC is planning to establish a working group with election officials to help populate this template to better assist state election officials and others.
INTERNATIONAL FOUNDATION FOR ELECTION SYSTEMS (IFES)
A hub for essential information to safeguard democratic rights, elections and rule of law along with transparent, accountable and effective governance while also protecting the health of families and communities:
National Association of Secretaries of State
A new issue brief addressing some of the current measures taken by state officials. This page also contains links to the most recent state press releases regarding COVID-19 response:
National Conference of State Legislatures
- COVID-19 and Elections – NCSL does not recommend legislative changes or provide opinions on policy options, but instead gathered policy option ideas that have been considered in response to the COVID-19 pandemic on this page. The page includes information and links on election emergency statutes, contingency planning, options to cast a ballot in addition to polling places, provisional ballot laws, and other information.
- Election Emergencies — Statutes relating to election emergencies vary by state, and this NCSL resource offers a summary and further details on these state-specific statutes.
Released with the National Center for State Courts and the William & Mary Law School:
- Report of the Legal Landscape of Election Emergencies Collaboration Meeting, a collaborative effort that was an exploratory exercise examining how state-level state of emergency statutes would cope with various election disruption hypotheticals.
National Vote At Home Institute
A reference library for material on the topic of voting at home, with more resources available at their home page:
U.S. POSTAL SERVICE
This statement from the U.S. Postal Service released March 4, 2020 may be helpful to voters who participate by mail, including military and overseas voters:
State by state instructions on how to request a mail ballot:
State-by-state election information and state responses to COVID-19:
State and Local Resources + Information on Voting by Mail
- State Election Changes & Vote by Mail Information – A listing, by state, of state actions, resources, and proposed changes to election procedures in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. The second tab on the page also contains state-by-state information on voting by mail, including current guidelines and any updates or changes that have been made.
DENVER, COLORADO ELECTION DEPARTMENT
- Ballot Life Cycle – Life cycle of the mail ballot. This is a comprehensive account of what it takes to implement a vote-by-mail/vote-at-home system.
How To Vote
- Alerts – Updated resources on election information for voters.
Direct Links to State Websites:
The following links are starting places for academic research on topics related to the response to COVID-19, including voting by mail and emergency planning in elections. This is in addition to the large amount of research that can be found on the website of the Presidential Commission on Election Administration, archived here, and the National Vote at Home Institute reference library.
Voting by Mail
Kousser, Thad and Megan Mullin. 2007. "Does Voting by Mail Increase Participation? Using Matching to Analyze a Natural Experiment." Political Analysis 15(4): 428–445.
This study examines participation rates among people who vote by mail in California in places where they are randomly assigned how they vote. They find that voting by mail did not increase voter turnout, but actually reduced it by three percentage points overall. However, it increases participation in special elections and local elections.
McNulty, John, Conor Dowling, and Margaret Ariotti. 2009. "Driving Saints to Sin: How Increasing the Difficulty of Voting Dissuades Even the Most Motivated Voters." Political Analysis 17(4): 435–455.
- This study seeks to understand the impact of closing polling locations on turnout by examining polling location closures in the Vestal County School District in New York. It finds that it sharply lowers turnout (7 percentage points), even among those who vote regularly, when they are assigned to a new precinct
Menger, Andrew and Robert M. Stein and Greg Vonnahme. 2018. "Reducing the Undervote With Vote by Mail," American Politics Journal 36(6):1039-1064
This study analyzes ballot completion levels in Colorado after the adoption of vote by mail. They find that vote by mail provides others more time to become informed about the candidates and ballot choices, and leads them to complete their ballot at higher rates than elections with in-person voting. However, this result only holds for presidential elections.
Eric A. Fisher & Kevin J. Coleman, Congressional Research Service, R42808, "Hurricane Sandy and the 2012 Election: Fact Sheet," (2012).
- Since 1860, primary and local elections have been postponed due to catastrophic events several times. The response to such disasters has included the suspension and extension of early voting hours, the loss or movement of polling places, extensions to voter registration and absentee ballot submission deadlines, extending provisional ballot usage with e-mail and fax, and the usage of alternative polling places.
Kristen Clarke & Damon T. Hewitt, "Protecting Voting Rights in the Context of Mass Displacement," 51 How. L.J. 511 (2008).
The first post-Katrina election in New Orleans was marred by low turnout due to the difficulty displaced persons faced in voting. Minimal in-state satellite voting and onerous vote by mail requirements, including excuse requirements and the requirement that mail-registered voters show ID, helped depress turnout. The article suggests that more aggressive satellite voting, no excuse absentee or entirely vote by mail voting, removing photo ID requirements for all voters, online voting, ranked choice voting, compressing the extended election calendar, postponing purges or ignoring inactive lists, removing residency requirements, and introducing neutral monitors may all help elections go smoothly in the face of mass displacement.
Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, "Expecting the Unexpected: Election Planning for Emergencies" (2013).
Based on the experience of New York and New Jersey after Superstorm Sandy, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law recommends that states be proactive in their adoption of contingency plans, including adopting emergency provisional ballot laws, extending early and election day in-person voting hours, and creating relocation and resupply plans. Planning ahead can ensure that first responders, whom the article suggests expanding UOCAVA to, can vote, that poll workers are properly trained, and that e-mailing absentee ballots goes smoothly.
Morley, Michael T. 2017-2018. "Election Emergencies: voting in the Wake of Natural Disasters and Terrorist Attacks," Emory Law Journal. 67(3):545-618.
Most states are without laws that clearly delineate what should happen to elections in the case of emergency. Without a clearly defined statutory response, state electoral responses to disaster are open to political and constitutional challenge, which may require federal courts to determine appropriate emergency response mid emergency. The article recommends that states define three paradigms of disrupted elections: election modifications, election postponements, and election cancellations, in order to pre-empt the need for a response by federal courts, especially since neither the Due Process Clause nor the Equal Protection Clause empowers courts to extend deadlines for activities people were given substantial time to complete.
NASS Task Force on Emergency Preparedness for Elections, "Update on Task Force Findings and Activities" (2013).
- The NASS Task Force formed after Hurricane Sandy aimed to identify best practices for election officials in emergency situations. Their findings cover state laws authorizing emergency election postponement, election contingency plans and alternative procedures; voting by impacted individuals; involvement of election officials in state emergency preparedness planning; and federal government assistance for elections in state emergencies.
L. Paige Whitaker, Congressional Research Service, RS21942, "State Election Laws: Overview of Statutes Regarding Emergency Election Postponement Within the State" (2004).
- This report details seven state statutes (FL, GA, HI, LA, MD, NY, NC) that provide a mechanism for the postponement of certain elections, which appear to potentially provide for the postponement of presidential elections due to emergencies or disasters. Additionally included are statues from eight other states (AZ, CA, IL, IN, MI, TN, TX, WV) that grant the governor the power to suspend certain state laws during an emergency and might be relied on to support a presidential election delay in an emergency.
Stein, Robert M. 2012. "Election Administration During Natural Disasters and Emergencies: Hurricane Sandy and the 2012 Election," Election Law Journal 14(1):1-8.
- Using the case of the 2012 presidential election in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, this article examines potential correctives for the disruptive effect of emergencies and natural disasters on voter participation in elections. Many of these correctives (voting-by-mail, early voting, and additional Election Day vote centers) can only be provided by state legislatures, but local election officials may be able to readily adapt the number, staffing, and location of where voters ballot on or before Election Day in response to an emergency.
A number of academic experts have relevant areas of study that could be of help to election administrators or others trying to understand the pandemic and its impact on election management.
Professor Stein is an expert on urban politics and public policy. His current research examines the impact of the federal aid system on the electoral trajectories of office holders at both the subnational and congressional levels; he also studies collective action among metropolitan area governments and voting behavior.
Professor Morley teaches and writes in the areas of election law, constitutional law, remedies and the federal courts. Prior to his experience in academia, he held numerous positions in both private practice and government.