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National Task Force on Election Crises Releases Guidance on How to Protect Elections in the Age of COVID-19

Cross-Partisan Team of Experts Has Assembled to Help Ensure a Free and Fair 2020 Election Despite Unexpected Disruptions and Disasters, Including COVID-19 Pandemic.

WASHINGTON, DC — On March 26, 2020, the National Task Force on Election Crises released the first of several planned guides for how to respond to potential disruptions of the 2020 general election. The COVID-19 Election Guide, available here, addresses how state and local officials can protect eligible voters’ ability to cast ballots without undue risk to their own health or to the broader community. The Task Force was formed in 2019 to be prepared to respond to a wide range of potential threats to a free and fair 2020 election in a collaborative, cross-partisan, and multidisciplinary fashion. More information about the Task Force is available here.

“Elections are the foundation of our democracy, but there are many ways in which regular electoral procedure could be disrupted,” said Trey Grayson, a member of the Task Force and former Secretary of State of Kentucky and former President of the National Association of Secretaries of State. “The coronavirus pandemic is a perfect example of how elections can be impacted, but it’s far from the only threat, and many election administrators are already starting from a place where they don’t have sufficient resources. We need to plan and prepare to ensure our elections are resilient.”

The COVID-19 Election Guide offers recommendations to help legislators and election officials conduct a successful 2020 general election, despite the many challenges that the coronavirus is likely to pose, with the goal of ensuring that the election is conducted on time as required by law and that public confidence in the integrity of the electoral process and the legitimacy of the outcome is preserved. Recommendations for helping to achieve these goals include:

  • Expanding no-excuse absentee vote-by-mail
  • Maximizing early voting days and hours
  • Increasing the number of polling places and other voting options
  • Proactive, transparent communication with voters

The guide also provides recommendations on the use of emergency powers by governors and other state officials to respond to the crisis. Any departure from the ordinary rules governing the electoral process, it states, should be made pursuant to state and federal law using objective criteria that guides official discretion and minimizes partisan bias.

“Our nation has overcome crises before and we will overcome this one,” said Task Force member Michael Chertoff, former U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security under President George W. Bush. “But doing so requires well thought out contingency plans, advance preparations, broad coalitions working together, and support for those on the front lines of making our elections work—election administrators, local officials, poll workers, the media, and especially the voters. I know there are so many dedicated public servants around the country already working to ensure the success of our elections and hope by joining this Task Force I can do my small part to support them.”

Task Force member Vanita Gupta, President and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, added, “In 2020, further unexpected events are bound to take place, but the right to vote must be protected and preserved. Already, we are seeing the impact of COVID-19 on primary elections—and officials are obligated right now to take steps, like the ones outlined in our guide, to ensure the general election proceeds on schedule as required under federal law. The National Task Force on Election Crises was formed to ensure that all eligible voters are able to make their voices heard when the ballots are counted. No voter should have to choose between their health and the right to vote, and voters of color and other historically disenfranchised communities must be able to make their voices heard. The right to vote is one of our most basic rights as Americans, and it is our collective task to make sure it can be fully realized—even under the most difficult circumstances.”

“As a nation, we have a long history of unequal access to the ballot box. We have been preparing to meet voter suppression challenges for this year’s election for some time. Now we must also respond to a public health crisis and prepare for a wide range of other potential election disruptions, such as a major cyber-attack, online foreign interference or fights over contested election results,” said Task Force member Sherrilyn Ifill, President and Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. “As we’ve seen with other election challenges, those who will be most impacted are voters in African American, Latino and other traditionally marginalized communities. That’s why we need to rapidly prepare at the federal, state, and local levels to protect the 2020 election. This will require a massive effort, but it’s critical to safeguard our democracy.”

“In a critical election year, steps can and must be taken to ensure that the democratic process proceeds on schedule through the November election, while protecting the health of both voters and poll workers,“ said Trevor Potter, President of the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center and a former Republican Chairman of the Federal Election Commission. “Our election processes and infrastructure will continue to be tested by the coronavirus. Policymakers and election officials must ensure that every eligible American has access to the ballot box because the essence of democracy is that every eligible voter must have the opportunity to participate. Elections have endured in other times of crisis, and they will in 2020.”

For more information about the National Task Force on Election Crises, visit ElectionTaskForce.org.

To read the COVID-19 Election Guide, visit ElectionTaskForce.org/news.

For more on Protect Democracy’s work amid the coronavirus pandemic click here.

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The National Task Force on Election Crises is a diverse, cross-partisan group of more than 40 experts in election law, election administration, national security, cybersecurity, voting rights, civil rights, technology, public health, and emergency response. The mission of the nonpartisan National Task Force on Election Crises is to ensure a free and fair 2020 general election by recommending responses to a range of potential election crises. The Task Force does not advocate for any electoral outcome except an election that is free and fair.

The Task Force was convened by Protect Democracy, a nonpartisan nonprofit organization. Protect Democracy’s staff supports the work of the Task Force, and in doing so has drawn on assistance from Jenner & Block, the Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection at Georgetown Law, the Democracy & Rule of Law Clinic at Harvard Law School, and the William & Mary Election Law Society.

Current members of the Task Force include:

  • Jim Baker, Director of National Security and Cybersecurity, R Street Institute; Former FBI General Counsel
  • Rajiv Chandrasekaran, The Emes Project; Former Associate Editor, The Washington Post
  • Christine Chen, Executive Director, Asian and Pacific Islander American Vote (APIAVote)
  • Michael Chertoff, Former U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security
  • Kristen Clarke, President and Executive Director, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law
  • Tom Coleman, Former Member of Congress (R-MO)
  • Tiana Epps-Johnson, Executive Director, Center for Tech and Civic Life
  • Edward B. Foley, Professor of Law, Ohio State University
  • Christopher Fonzone, Former National Security Council Legal Adviser
  • Hannah Fried, Campaign Director, All Voting is Local, The Leadership Conference Education Fund
  • Joshua Geltzer, Executive Director and Visiting Professor, Georgetown Law’s Institute for Constitutional Advocacy & Protection
  • Dipayan Ghosh, Co-Director, Digital Platforms & Democracy Project, Harvard Kennedy School
  • Elizabeth Goitein, Co-Director, Liberty and National Security Program, Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law
  • Rosalind Gold, Chief Public Policy Officer, National Association of Latino Elected Officials (NALEO) Educational Fund
  • Trey Grayson, Former Secretary of State of Kentucky; Former President of National Association of Secretaries of State
  • Rebecca Green, Professor of the Practice of Law and Co-Director of the Election Law Program, William & Mary Law School
  • Yasmin Green, Director R&D, Jigsaw (Google)
  • Vanita Gupta, President and CEO, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights
  • Sam Hirsch, Partner, Jenner & Block LLP
  • Karen Hobert Flynn, President, Common Cause and the Common Cause Education Fund
  • Sherrilyn Ifill, President and Director-Counsel, NAACP Legal Defense Fund (LDF)
  • Rachel Kleinfeld, Senior Fellow, Democracy, Conflict, and Governance Program, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
  • María Teresa Kumar, President and CEO, Voto Latino Foundation
  • Ryan Macias, Former Acting Director of Testing and Certification, U.S. Election Assistance Commission
  • Mary B. McCord, Legal Director and Visiting Professor, Georgetown Law’s Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection
  • Amber McReynolds, CEO, National Vote at Home Institute
  • Michael T. Morley, Assistant Professor of Law, Florida State University College of Law;
  • Jennifer Morrell, Partner, Elections Group
  • Lawrence Norden, Director, Election Reform Program, Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law
  • Adav Noti, Senior Director for Trial Litigation & Chief of Staff, Campaign Legal Center;
  • Norman Ornstein, Resident Scholar, American Enterprise Institute
  • Michael Osterholm, Director, Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, University of Minnesota
  • Tammy Patrick, Senior Advisor, Elections, Democracy Fund
  • Trevor Potter, President, Campaign Legal Center
  • Ezra Rosenberg, Co-Director of Voting Rights Project, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law
  • Paul Rosenzweig, Senior Fellow, R Street Institute; Former DHS Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy
  • Thomas Saenz, President and General Counsel, MALDEF (Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund)
  • Hector Sanchez Barba, CEO and Executive Director, Mi Familia Vota
  • Marian K. Schneider, President, Verified Voting
  • Kate Shaw, Professor of Law, Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law
  • Theodore M. (Ted) Shaw, Julius L. Chambers Distinguished Professor of Law and Director of the Center for Civil Rights, UNC School of Law
  • Paul Smith, Vice President for Litigation and Strategy, Campaign Legal Center
  • Wendy Weiser, Vice President and Director, Democracy Program, Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law
  • Robert Weissman, President, Public Citizen
  • Lawrence Wilkerson, Former Chief of Staff to the U.S. Secretary of State

*Organizational and academic affiliations are for identification purposes only and don’t necessarily represent institutional endorsement.