CISA COVID working group releases FAQs on expanding absentee/VBM

adminNews, Slider According to the U.S. Census, in 2018, just 6.2 percent of the voters who cast a ballot in the Northeast part of the country did so by mail/via absentee. In the South, it was 9.7 percent. Overall, just 23.1 percent of the 2018 ballots were cast by mail/absentee.

Now with the nation in the grips of a global pandemic and the November 3 general election less than seven months away, many states are figuring out how to expand the ability to vote absentee/by mail.

For states like Arizona, where the majority of residents are on the state’s Permanent Early Voting List, which means they get a ballot in the mail, the lift to go to an all/mostly mail election for November, if they choose to, would be relatively “simple”. For places like the District of Columbia where only about 8 percent of the 2016 general election ballots were cast by absentee, the move to greatly expand voting by mail will be a big lift, but not impossible.

This week the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) Elections Infrastructure Government Coordinating Council (GCC) and Sector Coordinating Council’s (SCC) Joint COVID Working Group have put out six FAQ/ consideration documents on how to increase absentee or vote by mail in time for November. The purpose of the COVID working group is to support state and local officials and their private sector partners run elections during this pandemic by looking at everything from expanded mail voting to in-person voting in a social distancing environment.

“These are unprecedented times for everyone, especially election officials.  These documents provide state and local election offices with answers to some of the questions they might have as well as some they might not have thought of yet but need to be aware of,” said Lori Augino, director of elections for the State of Washington and president of the National Association of State Election Directors. “I’m proud of how our community is working together to help Americans cast their ballots this year.”

The U.S. Election Assistance Commission, as an executive committee member agreed to chair the working group. The group started with calls focusing on general responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, but much of the requests for information centered on how to expand absentee/ voting by mail along a realistic spectrum in each state.

In order to not get bogged down in issues pertaining to each jurisdiction the group considered how to create a slightly different governing approach that could address the risks and concerns that the election community as a whole will need to consider. The working group further divided into smaller groups — or what they liked to call “swim lanes” — that focused on a specific area.

“With election officials around the country reexamining their 2020 election plans to account for the impact of COVID-19, I am confident this series of documents can help with the tough decisions they face,” said EAC Chairman Ben Hovland. “This group effort represents input from all aspects of the elections community including state and local election officials, federal partners, and industry professionals. The ability to pull people together and create these documents so quickly would not have been possible without the critical infrastructure governance being in place for elections.”

The goal was to expedite the collection of existing best practices and assist in the efficient development of tools and resources. Each subgroup was assigned a lead and worked through which elections officials and organizations would be contacted about each topic so they didn’t overwhelm the same people, people who are also be contacted by individual elections officials and the media.  Read more.