NCSL Resources on Coronavirus and the Election

COVID-19 and Elections –brand new.

Election Emergencies—from 2018, updated this week.

On that first page, some policy options:

Policy Options

As legislators work to ensure fair elections in times of public health emergencies, they may look for policy options. NCSL does not recommend legislative changes or provide opinions on policy options. Instead, we have gathered ideas that have surfaced in response to the COVID-19 threat:

§  Review your state’s existing election emergency statutes. NCSL has a webpage, Election Emergencies, which provides citations by state. In general, these laws either allow elections to be delayed or rescheduled, or for polling places to be relocated. Some explicitly give the governor the authority to change the election date. Most do not, and yet governors are likely to have broad authority under general emergency management declarations which could include changing dates.

§  Some states request, or require, that local election authorities provide contingency plans to the state. The chief election officer may provide guidance to the local authorities.

§  Many states are planning for an increase in the use of absentee, or mail, ballots. In preparation, they may want to clarify how absentee voting works: Are requirements for witness signatures (in addition to the voter’s signature) required? What is the deadline for requesting a ballot, and does it need to be extended? When must completed ballots be received? When can ballot processing begin? States could also review their capacity to tabulate larger numbers of absentee ballots, and more. See NCSL’s Voting Outside the Polling Place report, and particularly the section, Policy Decision Points.

§  In states where a voter must provide a reason to vote absentee, often there is a list of accepted reasons. This list could be expanded either through an interpretation of existing provisions that allow absentee voting for health reasons (Alabama’s secretary of state has made it clear that anyone who has self-quarantined can apply for an absentee ballot), or through a legislative change to add a public health risk as an acceptable reason. See NCSL’s Voting Outside the Polling Place report, and particularly the section, Qualifying for an Absentee Ballot, to review accepted reasons for requesting an absentee ballot.   

§  When polling places are located in long term care facilities, moving them to locations with fewer vulnerable people may make sense. State laws often require that notice of polling place changes be provided two or three months in advance. Does this require a change in law, or can a relocation be done with emergency authority?

§  Provisional ballot laws could be reviewed. It is possible that voters might not be able to get to their designated polling place but might turn up at an election office or polling place elsewhere in the state. Would a ballot voted for just the statewide or applicable races count?

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