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National Task Force on Election Crises Releases Post-Primary Report, Detailing Lessons For Safeguarding November’s General Election

Washington DC — On August 13, 2020, The National Task Force on Election Crises released its report on the 2020 primary season, “Lessons from the Primary Elections: Recommendations for Avoiding a Crisis in November.” Distilling lessons from an unprecedented primary season that was conducted amid a global pandemic, economic crisis, and widespread civil unrest is vital for safeguarding a free and fair 2020 general election. The Task Force was convened by Protect Democracy in 2019 to prepare for responses 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.

During the 2020 primary season, voters cast absentee ballots in unprecedented numbers to avoid exposure to a deadly disease, increasing pressure on election authorities to educate voters on absentee ballot procedures — and on the U.S. Postal Service to handle increased ballot loads in a timely fashion. Faced with shortages of poll workers and protective gear, many election administrators consolidated the number of in-person voting locations. Inadequate training of new poll workers, however, and the consolidated number of polling locations, helped produce long lines in some jurisdictions. Even so, voter participation in many locations set primary records. 

The Task Force found that while many state and local officials rose to the occasion and managed to conduct primary elections with relative success, there were also significant failures that left many voters disenfranchised and risked the health of voters and election workers alike. Conducting elections under extraordinary circumstances—including a global pandemic, a related economic crisis, and civil unrest—presented myriad challenges that, if not addressed, could negatively impact voting and ballot counting in November. 

Among the Task Force’s key findings:

  • Early voting was an important element in making voting safer and more accessible
  • Absentee voting played a central role in voting during the pandemic
  • In-person voting continues to be a crucial option for many voters
  • Timely official communications and media coverage are critically important

Ultimately, the primaries offered a compelling set of lessons that can and should be applied to effectively managing November’s general election. The Task Force’s recommendations, distilled from these lessons, will help policy makers, election administrators, and voters safeguard a free and fair general election. Read our post-primary report and recommendations here.

“We’ve never seen a primary season like we did this year, and November’s general election is likely to face many of the same challenges,” said Task Force member Jennifer Morrell, and Partner at Elections Group and the former Deputy of Elections in Arapahoe County, Colorado. “Our democracy requires that we address these challenges head on now, so that every eligible voter is able to cast a ballot and have that ballot counted in the general election.” 

“Our nation has faced adversity before, and we will again, but we should also be as prepared as possible. Applying the lessons from the primaries to November’s general election is necessary, and crucial for the health of our democracy,” said Task Force member Trey Grayson, Former Secretary of State of Kentucky and the Former President of the National Association of Secretaries of State. “Elections are the foundation of our democracy, we have to get this right.”

“With so many hard working public servants racing against the calendar to secure a free and fair general election in November, these recommendations can serve as a road map for how to be effective,” said Task Force member Michael Steele, Chair of U.S. Vote Foundation and the Former Chair of the Republican National Committee. “Working together, across professional and partisan divides, we’re doing everything we can to support that effort.” 

No voter should have to choose between her health and her democracy, because voting is fundamental to our responsibility as citizens of a democracy, and to the health of our democracy,” said Task Force member Virginia Kase, CEO of the League of Women Voters of the United States. “We’ve seen the impact that multiple crises have had on the primary elections, and we have the chance now to make improvements in time for the general election.”

“Primary season showed that election operations are under stress, and that stress can be mitigated in significant ways by learning from both our successes and our mistakes to build resilience for the General Election,” said Task Force member Ryan Macias, Former Acting Director of Testing and Certification, U.S. Election Assistance Commission. “Many of the same risks to a free and fair election will remain in November, and it’s paramount that we ensure every eligible voter can access the ballot box safely and securely.”

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

To read the Post-Primary Report, visit ElectionTaskForce.org/resources.

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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, Deputy General Counsel, Twitter; 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)

Lanhee J. Chen, David and Diane Steffy Fellow in American Public Policy Studies, Hoover Institution; Former Policy Director, Romney-Ryan 2012

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)

Avery Davis-Roberts, Associate Director, Democracy Program, The Carter Center

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

Larry Garber, Board Member, Election Reformers Network; Former US Agency for International Development 

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 Practice, 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)

Virginia Kase, CEO, League of Women Voters of the United States

Rachel Kleinfeld, Senior Fellow, Democracy, Conflict, and Governance Program, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

María Teresa Kumar, President and CEO, Voto Latino Foundation

Megan Lewis, Co-Founder and Executive Director, Voting Rights Lab

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

Meredith McGehee, Executive Director, Issue One

Amber McReynolds, CEO, National Vote at Home Institute

Terry Ao Minnis, Senior Director of Census and Voting Programs, Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAJC)

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

Michael Steele, Chair, U.S. Vote Foundation; Former Chair, Republican National Committee

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.