Fair Elections During a Crisis

The slides below show the 14 recommendations made by the Ad Hoc Committee for 2020 Election Fairness and Legitimacy in a new report, Fair Elections During a Crisis:  Urgent Recommendations in Law, Media, Politics, and Tech to Advance the Legitimacy of, and the Public’s Confidence in, the November 2020 U.S. Elections (PDF).

Note: The text version of the recommendations, along with the executive summary, is available below the slides.

14 Recommendations

Below is the executive summary and 14 recommendations, excerpted from Fair Elections During a Crisis:  Urgent Recommendations in Law, Media, Politics, and Tech to Advance the Legitimacy of, and the Public’s Confidence in, the November 2020 U.S. Elections. View the full report (PDF)

Executive Summary

Even before the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic arrived in the United States, close observers of American democracy worried about the public’s faith and confidence in the results of the upcoming November 2020 U.S. elections. Although a decade ago concerns about peaceful transitions of power were less common, Americans can no longer take for granted that election losers will concede a closely-fought election after election authorities (or courts) have declared a winner.

Current American politics feature severe hyperpolarization and an increasingly partisan media and social media environment. Mistrust is high. It is harder for voters to get reliable political information. Incendiary rhetoric about rigged or stolen elections is on the rise, and unsubstantiated claims of rigged elections find a receptive audience especially among those who are on the losing end of the election. American elections are highly decentralized, leaving pockets of weak election administration which can further undermine voter confidence in the process. The COVID-19 pandemic, which hit the United States hard beginning in March 2020, has only exacerbated concerns about the fairness and integrity of the 2020 elections.

The reasons for growing voter concern about the fairness and legitimacy of the U.S. election process are multifaceted, raising issues in law, media, politics and norms, and tech. This means that solutions to bolster American confidence in the fairness and accuracy of the elections must be multifaceted as well.

Recognizing the need for multifaceted solutions to the issue of the legitimacy and acceptance of fair election results in the United States, Richard L. Hasen, Chancellor’s Professor of Law and Political Science at UC Irvine, convened both a conference and an ad hoc committee made up of a diverse group of leading scholars and leaders to tackle this issue from an interdisciplinary perspective. After public meetings and further online deliberations, this Committee makes the following fourteen recommendations for immediate change that should be implemented to increase voter confidence in the fairness and legitimacy of the 2020 elections. These recommendations call for specific action from: journalists and editors deciding on headlines, what, and how to cover the election up to and including the election night itself; tech companies in the fray; legislators from federal to state to local levels; and nonprofits, citizens, and social media influencers.

Legal Changes for 2020

Recommendation 1: States should adopt reforms to improve the absentee ballot and provisional ballot processes—both in terms of access and security. In particular, states should reduce the extent to which the counting of such ballots might be subject to counting delays that could cause significant shifts in vote margins after in-precinct returns are reported on election night. States should provide transparent information about absentee and provisional ballot counting and the number of ballots remaining to be counted.

Recommendation 2: States should develop or revise election emergency plans well in advance of the elections so that they are robustly able to handle foreseeable contingencies, including the new threat to the November 2020 elections posed by COVID-19. These guidelines should provide generous opportunities for eligible voters to safely and securely cast ballots.

Recommendation 3: States should modify election procedures as necessary to deal with the rise of COVID-19. Having a diversity of avenues for voting—in-person, absentee, curbside, on-site at hospitals and other such facilities—enhances the stability of the system, maximizing the likelihood that elections may continue despite whatever unexpected threat emerges. Online return of ballots should not be contemplated for the November 2020 elections. States should take steps to protect the transmission and accurate counting of the expected increase in the number of absentee ballots.

Recommendation 4: The community of election law scholars should develop a non-partisan set of protocols for how best to resolve, consistent with rule-of-law and constitutional principles, vote-counting disputes that might render uncertain the outcome of the presidential election, including protocols for resolving interpretative ambiguities concerning the Electoral Count Act insofar as it governs the role of Congress in receiving and counting Electoral College votes from the states.

Media Changes for 2020

Recommendation 5: Media organizations should engage in a public information effort to provide voters with accurate information about the process by which election officials count votes and determine election winners. The public education effort should include a simple citizen’s guide to election coverage and a one-stop shop for online information about election processes and outcomes. This information should be translated into as many languages as possible.

Recommendation 6: Nonprofit organizations should facilitate journalistic training and coverage planning to help reporters and media outlets appropriately set expectations about the timing of election results and election procedures before the election and to accurately report on events as they develop. It is especially important for the media to convey to the public the idea that, given an expected increase in absentee ballot voting in the November 2020 elections, delays in election reporting are to be expected, not evidence of fraud, and that the 2020 presidential election may be “too early to call” until days after election day.

Politics and Norms Changes for 2020

Recommendation 7: COVID-19 is going to increase the costs of elections as more voters, when they can, will choose to vote-by-mail and as safety precautions increase the costs of in-person voting. Congress and states should provide adequate funding to deal with the increased election costs that will be associated with COVID-19.

Recommendation 8: Nonprofit organizations and foundations should establish an independent bipartisan Election Crisis Commission well before the elections to affirm a set of core principles that should govern elections and warn against the erosion of core democratic norms. The Commission should encourage candidates and other political actors to embrace those principles, and it should weigh in on post-election disputes, if necessary, to resolve them consistent with those principles.

Recommendation 9: Election officials, government leaders, and others should embrace the democratic principle that all eligible voters, and only eligible voters, should be able to register and vote in a fair election with accurate vote-counting. Losers of fair elections should quickly accept election results once they are final. Elections, even those conducted during a crisis or emergency such as COVID-19, should be resolved consistent with fair election principles, recognizing and resolving disputes in good faith.

Recommendation 10: Leaders in social media, election officials, government leaders, and others should promote the equal protection voting norm, enshrined in the Voting Rights Act and the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, which ban targeting voters based on race or ethnicity in an effort to suppress or dilute their vote. Social media companies have a unique responsibility to prevent the use of their platforms for efforts that would suppress votes through the spread of misinformation about voting.

Tech Changes for 2020

Recommendation 11: To the extent possible, states should use paper ballots or electronic machinery that produces a voter-verifiable record of the voter’s choices, in the November 2020 elections to ensure the integrity of the outcome. States should audit election results, and work towards incorporating risk-limiting audits.

Recommendation 12: Election administrators should create a resilient election infrastructure to deal with the unexpected, including complications related to COVID-19. Resiliency measures include having enough ballots on hand to accommodate high voter turnout, redundant election machinery, and paper copies of e-pollbook voter registration records.

Recommendation 13: Election officials should obtain a .gov domain for an authenticated internet presence. They should secure “verified” status for their official accounts on social media platforms.

Recommendation 14: State election officials should monitor and audit state voter registration databases.