Elections and COVID-19
The spread of COVID-19 in the United States has raised a number of questions about how it might impact preparation for the 2020 primary and general elections. On this page, we have gathered resources from members of our network and beyond, to facilitate our collective efforts to address those questions.
We will continue to keep this page updated as we learn more, and as new resources are developed that would be of use to election officials and others involved in the administration of U.S. elections.
This page was last updated on April 1, 2020 at 10:08 a.m.
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:
U.S. Centers for Disease Control
General information and guidelines about the novel coronavirus:
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
A guide with policy options, legislative and executive actions, and additional resources:
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:
State by state instructions on how to request a mail ballot:
State-by-state election information and state responses to COVID-19:
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.
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.