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Research Questions

  1. What factors should be considered in analyzing options for registration and voting?
  2. What sort of voting options do states offer?
  3. What are the risks for implementing different voter options?
  4. How can state and local officials conduct the November election to ensure safety, the integrity of the election process, and access for eligible voters?

The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has presented a severe threat to state election plans in 2020 for primaries and for the general election. To conduct an election during a potentially continuing threat from COVID-19, states need to consider how to conduct voter registration and provide voting options. Several voting and registration options are available to states to ensure the safety of elections despite the pandemic. These options are outlined in this report, taking into account the factors that officials will have to examine in determining how to conduct the election safely; the advantages and challenges of each approach; and levels of risk regarding safety, integrity, access, and logistics. This report is part of RAND's Countering Truth Decay initiative, which is focused on restoring the role of facts, data, and analysis in U.S. political and civil discourse and the policymaking process.

Key Findings

Election officials, policymakers, and elected officials at the state and local level will need to determine how to balance risk across several factors

  • They will have to promote physical safety for the voting public and protect election workers from the health risks associated with COVID-19.
  • They will have to maintain the integrity of the registration and voting processes, addressing fraud and undue influence while ensuring privacy.
  • They will have to ensure fair and equitable access for all eligible voting populations without undue burden.
  • They will have to evaluate voting options in terms of planning, timelines, costs, and materials.

States have different voting options that pose different levels of risk

  • In-person voting poses higher safety risks and minimal to moderate other risks.
  • Absentee ballots and mail-in voting both pose relatively low risks across the board, although logistics could get tricky for states that have less experience with these options.
  • Online voting is not really a viable option: It is available in only limited circumstances and would be difficult to implement securely on a large scale by November.

Funding for RAND's Countering Truth Decay research initiative is provided by gifts from RAND supporters and income from operations. RAND would like to recognize the Joel and Joanne Mogy Truth Decay Fellowship, established by the Mogys in 2020 to support research on Truth Decay, civics, and democracy. The authors drew from the Mogys' generous gift to fund this project.

This report is part of the RAND research report series. RAND reports present research findings and objective analysis that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors. All RAND reports undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity.

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