voter wearing mask at polling place holds out an 'i voted' sticker

NCSL’s new story map, Election Emergencies Happen, can help policymakers determine how well their state election laws might hold up in a health emergency or other crisis situation.

How Would Your State’s Election Laws Hold Up in a Crisis?

By Amanda Zoch | March 1, 2021 | State Legislatures News

Hurricanes, earthquakes and fires—oh my!

State elections have weathered almost every natural disaster imaginable. Hurricane Sandy complicated election season for nearly the entire Eastern Seaboard in 2012. Jurisdictions in Maryland, North Carolina and Virginia were forced to cancel early voting days, and New Jersey had to scramble to accommodate displaced voters.

Cyberattacks, active shooter situations, scandals and—as we now know all too well—public heath crises can also throw a carefully planned election into disarray.

States can’t plan for every disaster, though. Instead, they can ensure that their election emergency statutes are well crafted and robust.


With NCSL’s new story map, Election Emergencies Happen. Like a PowerPoint on steroids, the tool “integrates maps, legends, text, photos, and video and provides functionality, such as swipe, pop-ups, and time sliders, that helps users explore the content” of a database, according to Esri, the geographic information systems company that created the software.

A collaboration with the William & Mary Law School, NCSL’s story map allows users to put three states’ election emergency laws through hypothetical stress tests: What happens in California when an election is moved to benefit a campaign? What qualifies as an election emergency in Florida? And can Texas elections be moved due to a natural disaster?

By moving through these imaginary scenarios, users can see how one state weathers a particular emergency and then assess several statutory alternatives. The goal: to get policymakers thinking about how well their own state’s laws would hold up in similar situations—and to determine whether updates are warranted.

Election Emergencies Happen, which is NCSL’s first story map, offers a dynamic way to engage with scenarios, statutes, maps and more—all in one easy-to-use interface. Play around with it and let us know what you think. We’re pretty excited about the functionality and how we can use it to visualize policies, statutes and more.

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

Additional Resources