State Policy Network
Making it easy to vote and hard to cheat: Four ways state think tanks can help communities prepare for the 2020 general elections

As we find ourselves in the second half of 2020, pandemic-driven disruption has found its way to the 2020 presidential election, as well as elections on the state and local levels.

There is no doubt this year’s elections will look different, as communities work to balance the voting process with public health concerns. Many states are embracing mail-in and absentee ballots to replace in-person voting or give voters an alternative option.

Taking the election process to the mailbox versus the in-person ballot box seems like a simple solution in the current environment, but many Americans are concerned about how it could cause voter fraud. Signatures will need to be scrutinized. Duplicate votes will have to be weeded out. Many people may not know how to properly access and use mail-in ballots, and cheating is likely to be easier. Add to all of this the likelihood that results will not be immediately available on election night, and it’s no wonder Americans’ confidence in the integrity of our elections is slipping.

According to Heart+Mind Strategies Coronavirus Tracking Poll on September 16-17, 2020, only 54% of Americans think the elections will be conducted fairly, and that number is down five points from August 20, 2020. Independents are least confident with 46% saying they are just a little confident and not confident at all while 45% of Republicans and 43% of Democrats share their concerns about the General Election. Democrats have the most confidence in the General Election with 57% saying they are Very or Somewhat Confident Republicans (55%) and Independents (54%) are on par with their confidence.

After the struggles Americans have faced through the pandemic, elections shouldn’t have to be a source of more disillusionment with our country’s institutions. It should be easy to vote and hard to cheat.

Preventing voter fraud requires the participation of as many informed registered voters as possible. As nonpartisan members of their communities, state think tanks can support voters through this time of uncertainty by educating them on the voting process and what to expect as the elections unfold. Here are four ways your state think tank can strengthen voters’ confidence and prevent voter fraud.

1. Describe the voting process in your state and make it available as a public service.

State think tanks can facilitate a fair election process by making sure voters know how to participate—especially if areas of your state are new to mail-in ballots. Save voters the time and hassle of doing their own research by compiling simple how-to instructions and sharing on your website and other channels over the next few weeks.

To get started, check out these examples from state think tanks that you can tailor to your own work:

Illinois Policy Institute: How do I vote by mail in Illinois?
Illinois Policy Institute created a short how-to guide to explain the state’s new vote-by-mail law and process for 2020. The resource details who can vote by mail, how to register, and how to submit a mail-in ballot. The Institute also shared the information with their audiences via email. Download a sample copy of the email to use as a template for your own resource.

Texas Public Policy Institute: Election Protection Project
TPPF has launched a project to protect against voter fraud and provide information about when, where, and how voters’ ballots can be safely cast. TPPF’s first video highlights the problem of vote harvesting, which could lead to compromised election integrity. Learn more about this project here.

Civitas Institute: 2020 Vote Tracker
North Carolina’s 2020 general election opened September 4, with the issuing of absentee ballots to thousands of voters. To make election data accessible to North Carolinians, Civitas Institute launched this Vote Tracker service, which follows absentee and early voting data from North Carolina’s State Board of Elections. Resources like this can strengthen voters’ confidence by giving them a trusted avenue to timely, accurate information, especially when election outcomes may take awhile to determine.

If your organization doesn’t have the capacity to develop a vote tracking service of your own, there are plenty of existing resources to share with your audiences. Ballotpedia is great one to reference, as they publish a wealth of state and local information on elections, ballot initiatives, and more.

2. Prepare voters for election night realities.

More mail-in and absentee ballots mean a longer window for those votes to be verified and counted. Furthermore, delays and data questions could lead to contested results and even lawsuits, drawing out the process for several weeks. You can enhance voters’ peace of mind by helping them understand before the elections that results won’t come in on election night. Instead, we should all be prepared for an election month—maybe two—before results are fully confirmed.

3. Consider rallying your audiences and staff to volunteer at polling locations if your state is operating them.

Many senior citizens typically fill these roles, but that will likely change this year due coronavirus risks. Communities offering in-person voting will need volunteers to make sure these locations can remain open for voters who need or prefer them. As a public service to your communities, consider gathering the information on how to become a poll location volunteer and sharing it through your channels. It’s also a great public service opportunity for your team members.

4. Be a visionary, compassionate voice across every channel possible.

When it comes to effective communications, it is important to meet people where they are and not where we would like them to be. Understanding Americans’ conflicts, concerns, and desires helps us build trust, lead with empathy, and craft compassionate policies that are responsive to the challenges our communities face. As you discuss the 2020 elections and policy issues with people in your state, remember to describe a simple, compelling vision—one that encompasses the moral high ground that most people aspire to understand and reach.

Also, be prepared to show the public how your solutions will benefit them and create the equality, opportunity, and freedom Americans hunger for. For practical tips on how to do this, check out this resource on how to think about your brand and build trust in times of crisis.

If your state think tank has an election education example, project, or story to share with the Network, send it to SPN’s Communications Team at

Policy Issues: Elections and Voting
Organization: State Policy Network