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Preparing Your State for an Election Under Pandemic Conditions

Here’s a 50-state breakdown of what policies states already have and still need in order to best protect the November 2020 election from the Covid-19 pandemic.

Last Updated: February 1, 2021
Published: March 24, 2020
Alex Adelman/Getty
Alex Adelman/Getty

Note: The charts below reflect policies in place for the Novem­ber 2020 general elec­tion. Some policies were enacted on a tempor­ary or emer­gency basis and are no longer in effect.

This is part of the Bren­nan Center’s response to the coronavirus.

The Bren­nan Center has laid out steps elec­tion admin­is­trat­ors should under­take to ensure that voting is access­ible, safe, and secure in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic. The tables below show where states currently stand on some of our key recom­mend­a­tions concern­ing:

Voters and advoc­ates can assess how their state stacks up and where change is needed. For those who want a more general over­view of how prepared your state is for the Novem­ber elec­tion, please consult the first table directly below.

For more inform­a­tion on where targeted advocacy can make the biggest impact in your state, check out your state’s specific toolkit in the Bren­nan Center’s Toolkits for Activ­ists Across the Nation.

Voter Regis­tra­tion

Covid-19 may severely disrupt Amer­ic­ans’ abil­ity to register to vote and elec­tions offi­cials’ capa­city to process voter regis­tra­tion applic­a­tions. Quar­ant­ines and social distan­cing meas­ures will likely reduce access to govern­ment offices that provide voter regis­tra­tion services and could lead to postal service disrup­tions, partic­u­larly in the crit­ical weeks lead­ing up to voter regis­tra­tion dead­lines, when most regis­tra­tions typic­ally occur. The table below outlines voter regis­tra­tion dead­lines, the exist­ence of and access to online voter regis­tra­tion, and whether states allow voters to register in-person past the dead­line for the Novem­ber elec­tion.

In-Person Voting

Safe and healthy polling places will be a crit­ical part of our elec­tion infra­struc­ture in Novem­ber. People without inter­net and mail access, those who need language assist­ance to vote, and people with disab­il­it­ies who rely on voting machines to cast a private and inde­pend­ent ballot will be disen­fran­chised if polling places are closed. To ensure that every­one can vote, juris­dic­tions should do their best to keep polling places open and safe for voters and elec­tion work­ers alike, expand early voting, and guard against long lines and mass confu­sion by adding vote centers that can serve a vari­ety of voter needs. The table below iden­ti­fies states that currently offer early voting and vote centers for general elec­tions.

Request­ing and Return­ing Vote-by-Mail Ballots

A mail-ballot option should be exten­ded to all voters this Novem­ber to minim­ize voters’ expos­ure to Covid-19 and reduce lines and crowds at the polls. Options for request­ing, receiv­ing, and return­ing mail ballots should be expan­ded while main­tain­ing the secur­ity of the voting system. The table below includes which states allow all voters to cast a mail ballot as well as which states allow voters to request a mail ballot online, the state dead­line for request­ing a mail ballot, and whether states have burden­some ID or witness require­ments.

Count­ing Vote-by-Mail Ballots

Nation­wide, over 430,000 mail ballots were rejec­ted in 2018 because of mail delays, minor tech­nical defects, and voter errors in complet­ing a mail ballot, among other reas­ons. Rejec­ted ballots hit under­rep­res­en­ted communit­ies hard­est. In some states, Black, Latino, Asian, and other minor­it­ies have had their mail ballots rejec­ted at much higher rates than white voters. The table below includes which states currently accept ballots that were cast on time but arrived late, the rules around fixing signa­ture prob­lems, and the percent­age of cast ballots that were submit­ted through the mail in the state in 2018.