The County Voice

2020 Election in Focus

Voting is the cornerstone of our representative democracy. The ongoing disruption of COVID-19 means the Presidential election in November will look quite a bit different from previous years, so county registrars—planners by nature—have had a wrench thrown into their process. County supervisors and other community leaders can be a big help making sure their local registrar of voters has everything they need to make the elections run smoothly.

In Brief:

What’s changing:

  • Every registered voter will get a ballot in the mail.
  • Voters can still vote in person, but their usual polling places might have moved.
  • Many usual polling places are declining this year due to COVID-19.
  • Many seniors who usually volunteer as poll workers are opting out due to risk of exposure.

How you can help:

  • Recruit new poll workers: county employees, community members, anyone!
  • Help identify polling places, including county facilities.
  • Get the word out about what to expect in November: changes to the process and location of voting locations.
  • Ask your registrar if there are administrative or bureaucratic hurdles you can help them overcome.

You Get a Mail Ballot! Everyone Gets a Mail Ballot!

The first big change, and the only one that is official at this point, is that every registered voter will get a ballot in the mail. The 15 counties that have adopted the vote center model were already planning to do this, but for the other 43 counties it’s a bit of a change in plans. However, even in those 43 counties, large numbers of voters have already permanently signed themselves up to vote by mail. So while mail ballots for all is a big change, counties already have processes and at least some infrastructure in place to process mail ballots.  

Paying for mailed ballots is another issue entirely. The Governor’s May Revision notes that the state has $36.3 million of funding from the CARES Act available to pay for costs associated with voting by mail and related needs, but does not indicate how he plans to use the funds. CSAC continues to advocate for these funds to be made available to counties to offset election costs. But what does this mean for polling places?

Voting Locations

Some voters will still vote in person, either because they have a disability, they didn’t receive or lost track of their mail ballot, they can read another language better than English, or just because they feel more comfortable doing it that way.

The Secretary of State, Governor, local officials, and voting rights advocates are working together to come up with rules and regulations for the best way to accommodate in-person voting. If everyone is mailed a ballot, how many in-person voting locations do we need? The requirement to mail everyone ballots is expensive, and having fewer polling places will help keep costs contained, but may also lead to longer travel times and larger crowds at each location. The social and physical distancing requirements of the state health order may also mean more space between desks, ballot boxes, and voting equipment. Communicating voting center locations and hours of operation will be of critical importance for counties.

But counties might also be able to provide more polling places than usual. A variety of facilities could be used as polling places in a pinch: public works fleet centers, fire stations, social service centers, animal shelters and more. Supervisors can help facilitate dialogue between registrars and department heads who might not otherwise realize how they can help, even if it takes a little change from their usual procedures.

Aren’t Poll Workers Usually Retired?

Yes, many are, though by no means all of them. That’s why another anticipated difference in the 2020 election will be the make-up of volunteers. Counties will need to recruit a new, younger volunteer cohort well in advance of November. Local community colleges and universities may be a prime volunteer source. Try engaging professors to reach college students, especially those studying political science or government affairs.

There are opportunities for younger students as well. County elections officials may assign up to five high school students ages 16 and up to serve as poll workers in each election precinct. Students work under the direct supervision of appointed adult poll workers. August 18, 2020 will mark the centennial of the ratification of the 19th amendment, granting women the right to vote, so counties may also consider reaching out to women’s groups to recruit volunteers as well.

Let Everybody Know

Fortunately, one of the best ways local leaders can help make sure the November election runs smoothly is also the easiest: tell everybody what’s going on. The more people know what to expect, the fewer problems counties will have on Election Day.

County supervisors have an amazing network at their disposal. Not only does the position come with a stage that few others in the community have, supervisors are also connected to others in their communities who can help. Use board meetings, committee meetings and social media to tell voters what to expect. Ask local businesses to get the word out to their employees and customers. Work with nonprofits to communicate with the communities they serve. Build a bridge with the local newspaper, radio station, or blogger by asking them to help educate their audiences. Reach out to city and special district officials in your area and share messaging.

Consider developing an elections-related frequently asked questions guide in a variety of languages to share on county websites and share with county call center workers. Visit for a host of resources and information already available in advance of the November election.

While the 2020 election may look different from previous years, it’s important for counties—and CSAC— to encourage participation in this most democratic of activities.  How can CSAC support your election efforts moving forward? Be sure to share any questions or concerns with the Government, Finance and Administration policy team. The CSAC communication team is also looking forward to sharing best practices and tips from counties to help prepare for a smooth election process. Please be sure to tag us on social media with any tips you’d like to share.


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