In an analysis released today, the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law provides many of the timelines facing election officials as they prepare their voting systems to be safe from the coronavirus in the November election. The authors found that in the period from May through August, election officials will encounter multiple deadlines for ordering equipment and supplies necessary for improving online voting registration and scaling up voting by mail. They warn that failing to stay on schedule could cause problems in November that include but aren’t limited to election results delayed for days or weeks and significant voter disenfranchisement.
“The expenses involved in preparing for this November’s election are hitting election officials around the country now. Congress must fund this need immediately,” said Edgardo Cortés, former election official, co-author of Preparing for Election Day: Deadlines for Running a Safe Election, and an election security advisor to the Brennan Center. “Our election officials don’t have time to wait, and our democracy doesn’t either.”
Election officials are seeing huge increases in requests for absentee ballots. In Georgia alone, officials have received more than 20 times the number of requests for absentee ballots then they received at this point in the 2016 election.
Cortés and his co-authors based their analysis on interviews with local and state election officials around the country and their vendors: manufacturers of ballot scanners, paper suppliers, printers, and others. Among the timelines they cover:
- Online voter registration systems: Social distancing protocols have led to an increased demand for online voter registration systems, as fewer people can register to vote or update their registration information at DMV offices or with third-party organizations. Many states don’t have online voter registration systems or they have systems that can’t handle significant increases in usage. States must begin acquiring and implementing new systems or upgrade existing systems this month to be ready for the surge in registrations and registration changes expected to begin in August.
- High-speed scanners: These machines read and tabulate absentee ballots in large batches at much higher speeds than the scanners most jurisdictions have. Officials need to submit their purchase orders this month for scanners to be delivered by October, the timeline required for election officials to test the devices.
- Online absentee application systems: This technology allows voters to request an absentee ballot electronically, as opposed to submitting a paper request. Election officials estimate online applications are seven to ten times faster to process than a paper request. These systems must be ordered (or adapted from online voter registration systems), fully operational, and tested no later than August, when applications for absentee ballots are expected to begin surging.
“Our review of the election administration supply chain shows that time is running out. Election officials must have federal funding this month to ensure everything is in place for a safe and secure election in November. Congress must make at least $4 billion available to state and local governments to do that job,” said Gowri Ramachandran, co-author of the analysis and counsel in the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice. “Local election officials do the lion’s share of the work that goes into running elections, but neither their state budgets nor their own budgets can handle their extra costs this year. Congress must step forward. The $400 million appropriated in the last stimulus is far from enough to protect the vote and voters from Covid-19.”
On April 30, the Brennan Center, the Alliance for Securing Democracy, R Street Institute, and the University of Pittsburgh Institute for Cyber Law, Policy, and Security published a detailed analysis of the costs facing five states as their election officials prepare for Covid-19-safe elections. Ensuring Safe Elections: Federal Funding Needs for State and Local Governments During the Pandemic profiles Georgia, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, with an in-depth look at each state’s needs for equipment, staffing, supplies, and more.
To read the Brennan Center’s plan for protecting the 2020 election from the coronavirus, click here.
For a breakdown of which states have online voter registration and which don’t, click here.