The NCSL Blog


By Amanda Zoch

At NCSL we’re usually thinking about what lawmakers need to know.

vote button on flagYet as the elections team fields more and more voter questions, we thought we’d take a moment to consider what voters need to know—and how legislators can help.

When voters reach out to us, they’re often seeking basic information—when, where and how they can vote. Elected officials are likely receiving similar questions, and—in addition to providing specific answers—legislators may be able to get ahead of these queries with proactive messaging.

Some potential messages for voters from legislators:

  • “Make a plan for voting.” Due to COVID-19, public health concerns and social distancing guidelines may make voting more complex than swinging by one’s local polling place en route to work. Making a plan means deciding how to vote (by mail/absentee ballot or in-person), when to vote (early or on Election Day) and where to vote (at a polling place, vote center or by returning a ballot to an election office, polling place or drop box—voters should review the hours these locations are open, too). Encouraging constituents to make a plan can eliminate day-of confusion and ensure voters are aware of all their options.
  • “Whatever you plan to do, do it early.” If voters want to vote in person, encourage them to do so before Election Day—if that’s an option in your state. If voters want to vote by mail, encourage them to request their mail/absentee ballots as soon as possible, to avoid any postal delays. Voting as early as possible can ease the stress of local election officials—but it also means that voters can’t have a last-minute change of heart.
  • “Voting is not the end of the election process.” A ballot cast is not a ballot counted. Remind constituents that many important steps happen after voting to ensure a secure and accurate election. That includes verifying signatures on mail/absentee ballots, carefully counting ballots and recording results. Those steps take time.
  • “Election results may not be available on election night.” There will likely be more mail/absentee ballots this November than ever before and accurately counting them takes time. All races will be affected, including the 6,000 state legislative races, and voters should be prepared to go to sleep on election night without knowing the final results up and down the ballot.
  • “Rely on election officials for election information.” Remind constituents that their local election official should be their number one source for election information, such as polling place locations, voting hours, absentee/mail ballot applications and more. Encourage voters to follow #TrustedInfo2020, a hashtag created by the National Association of Secretaries of State to promote accurate election information and fight the spread of misinformation and disinformation. Voters can also use the US Vote Foundation’s directory to look up their local election official’s contact information and website.
  • “Concerned? Be a poll worker.” In addition to voting, one of the best things citizens can do to participate in and ensure a free and fair election is to become a poll worker. In-person voting depends on the availability of poll workers. With many veteran poll workers opting out this year, election officials are eagerly seeking new recruits for this paid and enriching civic experience.

It may not be NCSL’s (or even a legislator’s) stated mission to help people vote, but as people reach out, we can all be prepared with clear, accurate and useful information to facilitate participation in our democracy.

Amanda Zoch is an NCSL policy specialist and Mellon/ACLS Public Fellow.

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Posted in: Elections, COVID-19
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About the NCSL Blog

This blog offers updates on the National Conference of State Legislatures' research and training, the latest on federalism and the state legislative institution, and posts about state legislators and legislative staff. The blog is edited by NCSL staff and written primarily by NCSL's experts on public policy and the state legislative institution.