Conducting Safe Elections During a Pandemic

What are states' voting policies? How can they prepare for a COVID-19 election? And what do voters think about safety, integrity, and preparedness?

A poll worker disinfects booths after every use during early voting in Knoxville, Tennessee, July 17, 2020, photo by Cavin Mattheis/News Sentinel

A poll worker disinfects booths after every use during early voting in Knoxville, Tennessee, July 17, 2020

Photo by Cavin Mattheis/News Sentinel

Many experts believe that there will be a continued need this fall for public health interventions—such as social distancing, reduced occupancy in indoor spaces, and aggressive sanitizing protocols—to limit the spread of COVID-19 and protect the public.

The question is: How can the United States safely and securely hold its elections during this ongoing pandemic?

Importantly, states are not locked into their voting processes for the general election. Many still have time to make policy changes that minimize personal contact, reduce crowds, and limit common access to high-touch surfaces. In making such changes, state officials must consider not only public health and safety, but also how any new voting processes affect election access, integrity, and logistics.

Part of RAND's Countering Truth Decay initiative, new research aims to answer these questions and help states plan for November. After all, safe and legitimate elections are essential to building and maintaining a government that people trust. And while there are always threats to U.S. elections, such as disinformation campaigns and cyber threats, COVID-19 presents a whole new set of risks and considerations.

Project Publications

  • A man wearing a protective mask due to COVID-19 pandemic holds a sign outside Madison Square Garden, which is used as a polling station, on the first day of early voting in Manhattan, New York, October 24, 2020, photo by Jeenah Moon/Reuters

    Report

    Do Americans Expect Safe and Secure Elections?

    The number of Americans who expect the election to be conducted safely declined slightly from May to August, from 62 to 60 percent. And the percentage of survey respondents expecting their vote to be accurately counted declined from 59 percent to 54 percent.

  • Voters wait in line to cast ballots on the first day of early voting in New City, a New York City suburb, New York, October 24, 2020, photo by Mike Segar/Reuters

    Report

    How Is the Pandemic Influencing Intention to Vote?

    Changes in intention to vote and intended voting method were modest from May to August but notable nonetheless. Those with low perceptions of safety were among the least likely to vote. And among those likely to vote, there was a continued shift toward mail-in voting.

  • A voter casts her ballot on the day of the primary election in Louisville, Kentucky, U.S. June 23, 2020, photo by Bryan Woolston/Reuters

    Report

    An Assessment of State Voting Processes: Preparing for Elections During a Pandemic

    To conduct elections safely this fall, states need registration and voting options that can happen remotely or can enable social distancing. Based on their policies, which states are most and least prepared to do this?

  • Map of U.S. showing voting process flexibility by state

    Content

    Are States Ready for a COVID-19 Election?

    Is there automatic voter registration? Can citizens vote by mail without an excuse? Are there options to cast ballots early? Answering questions such as these can help determine how prepared states are to conduct elections safely during the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • Maryland election judge Cassandra Campbell watches a voter place a ballot in a drop box, College Park, Maryland, June 2, 2020, photo by Jim Bourg/Reuters

    Report

    Options for Ensuring Safe Elections Amid COVID-19

    The pandemic poses a serious threat to state election plans in 2020. There is still time for states to make policy changes, but those changes come with potential risks to public safety, and to election integrity, access, and logistics.

  • A voter completes his ballot on the day of the primary election in Louisville, Kentucky, U.S. June 23, 2020, photo by Bryan Woolston/Reuters

    Report

    Voting in a Pandemic: What Americans Think About Safety, Election Integrity, and Preparedness

    As states prepare to conduct elections during the COVID-19 crisis, what are voters' perceptions about safety, election integrity, and the readiness of local officials? And how might these perceptions affect voter turnout in November?

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Funding for This Project

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.

RAND's research findings and recommendations are based on data and evidence and therefore do not necessarily reflect the policy preferences or interests of its clients, donors, or supporters.

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