The 2020 Elections: Selected Resources for Members and Constituents

The 2020 Elections: Selected Resources for
Members and Constituents

October 14, 2020
The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and reports of potential election interference might raise questions
for Members and constituents about the 2020 elections. Potential disinformation campaigns and changes
to election procedures in response to COVID-19
might make it more difficult for voters to determine how
to register and vote. Voters might also be concerned about possible effects of COVID-19 or interference
efforts on their safety or on the security of election workers or the electoral process itself.
This Insight shares selected resources Members and constituents might find helpful for navigating such
questions. It links to information about (1) how to register and vote in 2020, and (2) how federal agencies
are responding to potential election interference efforts and election effects of COVID-19. This product
focuses on resources available from government officials and some of the organizations that support
them, such as the National Association of Secretaries of State (NASS) and National Conference of State
Legislatures (NCSL). Additional information may be available from media outlets or nonprofit groups.
Registering and Voting in 2020
States, territories, and localities have primary responsibility for administering elections in the United
States, and their election officials are general y the most authoritative sources of information about when,
where, and how to register and vote
. NASS, which represents the officials who serve as the chief election
official in most states and territories,
and the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC), which was
established after the 2000 elections to help improve the administration of federal elections,
each maintain
a website that links to official state, territorial, and local election information. NASS’s site and the EAC’s
both provide access to contact information for election officials and state-specific tools for
performing common voter activities, such as registering to vote, confirming voter registration status,
locating a polling place, and checking requirements for voting early or by mail. The U.S. Department of
Defense’s Federal Voting Assistance Program, which is charged with carrying out certain responsibilities
under the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act of 1986, maintains a Voting Assistance
Guide that is directed primarily at overseas civilians and military personnel.
States have general y responded to the COVID-19 pandemic by adjusting some of their election
procedures or timeframes, with many temporarily changing their early or mail voting policies. NCSL,
Congressional Research Service
Prepared for Members and
Committees of Congress

Congressional Research Service
which supports state legislators, and NASS are both tracking changes to mail or early voting policies and
updating pages at regular intervals. NCSL’s page provides information about voter eligibility for mail
voting in each state in 2020, automatic mailing of mail bal ots or mail bal ot applications, and timeframes
for processing mail bal ots; and NASS’s page offers updates about eligibility for mail or early voting,
early voting periods, and mail bal ot request and receipt deadlines.
Federal Responses to Interference Efforts and COVID-19
Federal agencies are charged with carrying out a number of activities that are intended to protect voters,
election workers, or the electoral process, such as enforcing federal protections for voting rights and
prosecuting federal election offenses. Especial y following investigations of election interference in the
2016 election cycle and the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in the 2020 cycle, however, they also
conduct activities that are directed specifical y at addressing one or both of those chal enges.
Federal responses to the COVID-19 pandemic have focused on helping states, territories, and localities
secure their election processes, election workers, and voters against effects of the disease. Congress has
provided—and charged the EAC with administering—dedicated COVID-19 elections grant funding and
other grant funds that states, territories, and DC can choose to apply to COVID-19-related costs. The
EAC and other entities, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and a joint working
led by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS’s) Cybersecurity and Infrastructure
Security Agency (CISA),
have also provided resources to help election officials adapt to election effects
of COVID-19.
Some of the federal response to attempted election interference is also aimed at helping states, territories,
and localities secure their elections. DHS designated election systems as critical infrastructure in January
2017. The designation established an Election Infrastructure Subsector and led to creation of new
mechanisms that federal, state, territorial, and local officials and private-sector election vendors can use to
communicate and coordinate about elections issues, including a Government Coordinating Council, a
Sector Coordinating Council, the Elections Infrastructure Information Sharing and Analysis Center
(ISAC), and an Elections Industry Special Interest Group at the Information Technology ISAC.
CISA, through which DHS performs its role as sector-specific agency for the Election Infrastructure
Subsector, also provides states, territories, localities, and vendors with resources and services to help
secure their systems and has launched a number of election security initiatives, including #Protect2020,
the Countering Foreign Influence Task Force, the Crossfeed Pilot Program, and, in collaboration with the
EAC, the Election Risk Profile Tool. In addition to such collaborations, the EAC administers grant
Congress provided for states, territories, and DC in response to election interference concerns and
shares election security resources like a cybersecurity training it helps make available to election officials.
Attempts to interfere in elections differ from COVID-19 in at least one important respect: they
are intentional human actions. That has prompted additional federal responses to interference
efforts beyond helping states, territories, and localities secure their elections, including col ecting
intel igence about potential interference threats, investigating efforts to interfere in elections, and
imposing penalties for attempted interference. The directors of the Federal Bureau of
the National Security Agency, CISA, and the National Counterintel igence and
Security Center
released a video in October 2020 describing the roles each of their agencies play
in responding to attempted election interference. More information about how those and other
election security efforts are distributed and coordinated across federal agencies is also available
in a CRS report about campaign and election security policy.

Congressional Research Service
Author Information

Karen L. Shanton

Analyst in American National Government

This document was prepared by the Congressional Research Service (CRS). CRS serves as nonpartisan shared staff
to congressional committees and Members of Congress. It operates solely at the behest of and under the direction of
Congress. Information in a CRS Report should not be relied upon for purposes other than public understanding of
information that has been provided by CRS to Members of Congress in connection with CRS’s institutional role.
CRS Reports, as a work of the United States Government, are not subject to copyright protection in the United
States. Any CRS Report may be reproduced and distributed in its entirety without permission from CRS. However,
as a CRS Report may include copyrighted images or material from a third party, you may need to obtain the
permission of the copyright holder if you wish to copy or otherwise use copyrighted material.

IN11518 · VERSION 1 · NEW