New NASS Report Examines Emergency Planning for Elections

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[Image courtesy of nass.org]

The National Association of Secretaries of State (NASS) is in Washington, DC for its annual winter meetings – and in a perfect of example of a “news hook”, its members are trudging through the aftermath of a huge snowstorm just as they release a new report on emergency planning in elections.

The report, State Laws & Practices for the Emergency Management of Elections, is intended to help states consider how to modify their election laws to allow for greater responsiveness to contingencies like natural disasters.

Politico has more:

Spurred by the landfall of Hurricane Sandy days before the November 2012 election, NASS formed a task force of secretaries of state and elections officials from 24 states last January to assess what could be done in such cases. The task force will present their findings Thursday to elections officials from around the country.

The group found that only 12 of the 37 states that responded to its survey have laws dealing with postponing an election, and only 11 require contingency planning by law. Nevertheless, a majority of states have proactively developed such plans, they found.

The task force recommended that states coordinate its agencies and offices to plan for emergency situations during elections, that they work with local officials to develop procedures in case of such situations, that they put together a communications plan that also accounts for possible power outages or other disruptions, that they come up with ways to get information to individual voters about any changes from polling place locations to absentee ballot rules and that they look at other states’ policies for examples.

The task force also noted that the Federal Emergency Management Agency, in addition to being able to help in cases of presidential emergency disaster declarations, offers online training courses in emergency management. The report recommends local officials take advantage of the FEMA training.

One very interesting result of the report was that states already possess much, if not most, of what they need to deal with contingencies:

One of the co-chairs of the group, Louisiana Secretary of State Tom Schedler, said one thing that jumped out from the report is that states can use much of their existing election systems to adapt in case of emergency.

“One of the most surprising findings of the task force may be the degree to which states told us they can use their existing absentee, mail and early voting processes to facilitate voting when unforeseen emergencies arise,” Schedler said in a statement. “We hope that election officials can learn from each other and use the report to help with their proactive emergency and contingency planning efforts.”

This is a really important idea; taking stock of existing assets and then improvising to adapt – even in the face of serious emergencies – is increasingly an important and must-have skill in election administration.

Thanks to the members and staff of NASS for sharing this report – and stay warm in snowy DC!

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