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.

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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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