Elections 2020: State and Local Perspectives on Election Administration During the COVID-19 Pandemic

What the GAO found

The GAO surveyed state election offices and local election jurisdictions about the steps they have taken to prepare for and conduct the 2020 elections during the pandemic. The surveys asked about steps and challenges in five areas: absentee/mail-in voting, in-person voting, election supplies, election worker recruitment and training, and voter education and outreach. GAO received survey responses from 43 states and 407 local jurisdictions.

Election Administration Areas GAO Asked States and Local Jurisdictions About

In the area of ​​in-person voting, for example, nearly all states said they have taken steps to coordinate with public health agencies, and most have coordinated with emergency management agencies, consulted with vendors and experts. and helped local polling stations add new polling stations. Almost all local jurisdictions reported taking steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19, including providing protective gear to election workers. States and local jurisdictions most often reported that various issues related to in-person voting, such as funding and understanding councils, were not difficult. For voter education and outreach, all states reported providing information on their election websites about voting policies and procedures. Almost all local jurisdictions reported responding to questions about voting policies and procedures. Additionally, nearly all states and most local jurisdictions reported that false or misleading mail-in/mail-out voting information was difficult.

More than half of states reported spending CARES Act grants on supplies and equipment, voter education, facilitating absentee/mail-in voting, and recruiting and training election workers. Most states reported that issues related to grant funding and reporting requirements were challenging, such as submitting required progress reports within 20 days of an election. More than half of local jurisdictions reported spending CARES Act grants on various in-person voting activities, including purchasing protective supplies and cleaning polling places.

Almost all states and some local jurisdictions reported using the information resources and guidance of the United States Election Assistance Commission (EAC) during the pandemic. Almost all states have used CARES Act grant information; less information used on other election administration topics. Most states said they found EAC information helpful in the 2020 elections. Most local jurisdictions said they did not use EAC information on any of the topics the GAO asked about. issues, such as in-person voting. The most commonly cited reasons were that they were unaware of or did not need the information.

Why GAO Did This Study

Election officials faced unprecedented challenges in conducting the 2020 elections during the COVID-19 pandemic. The CARES Act provided $400 million in grants to states to prevent, prepare for, and respond to pandemic-related issues for the 2020 federal election cycle. The EAC was responsible for administering the grants. In addition, the CEC serves as a national clearinghouse and resource for compiling information and reviewing procedures relating to the administration of federal elections.

The CARES Act includes a provision for GAO to report on its ongoing monitoring and surveillance efforts related to the COVID-19 pandemic. This report outlines (1) the steps states and local jurisdictions have taken to prepare for and conduct elections in 2020 during the pandemic and the challenges they have faced, (2) how states and local jurisdictions have reported having used CARES Act grant funding, and the challenges they have reported and (3) what EAC resources and guidance states and local jurisdictions have used and their views on this assistance.

To achieve these three goals, GAO conducted two online surveys of election officials. A survey was administered to election offices in all 50 states and the District of Columbia and achieved an 84% response rate. The other survey was conducted with a sample of 829 local electoral districts. The survey achieved a weighted response rate of 47%, and the design and analysis allow GAO to provide national estimates of local election officials’ perspectives.

For more information, contact Rebecca Gambler at (202) 512-8777 or [email protected]