As the November presidential election approaches in the United States, researchers say that many states still aren’t prepared to deal with the chaos the coronavirus pandemic could cause.
“The COVID-19 pandemic presents a severe threat to states’ 2020 election plans, which will have higher turnout and higher stakes since this is a presidential election year,” said researcher Jennifer Kavanagh, a senior political scientist at RAND Corp.
“To be prepared to conduct elections during a pandemic, states will need registration and voting options that reduce crowds, minimize direct personal contact, and limit common access to high-touch surfaces,” she added in a RAND news release.
But two reports released Aug. 5 show that nine states do not have any policies researchers consider necessary for safer voting. Twelve states and the District of Columbia, which account for about one-third of registered voters, have some form of each of the policies.
These policies include online voter registration, mail-in ballots or an early voting period.
Western states have more flexible policies in these areas and may be ready to address safety concerns. But states in the South and some in the Northeast have less flexible policies, which might make it more difficult to enforce rules such as social distancing.
The reports are intended for state legislatures and election officials to help them navigate the challenges created by COVID-19.
The pandemic has already disrupted some primaries, prompting some states to extend access to mail-in ballots and offer other accommodations.
The researchers said that all the options to improve safety during the 2020 election won’t threaten the integrity of balloting, although vote-by-mail poses a slightly higher risk than in-person voting.
Online voting, however, carries significant cybersecurity risk and is not a good option for the 2020 election, the researchers added.
“For some states, integrity may be the priority while others will emphasize safety,” said Quentin Hodgson, a senior researcher at RAND. “Ultimately the options chosen by a given state will reflect the priorities of state policymakers and elections officials, as well as the constraints of existing policies and laws.”
For more on COVID-19 and elections, head to the National Conference of State Legislatures.