COVID-19: VotingWorks will help states scale vote-by-mail.

UPDATE – April 29th, 2020: follow our progress on VxMail.

April 9th, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic is the greatest challenge humanity has faced in at least a generation. We are in awe of the healthcare workers on the front lines of this emergency. We are deeply thankful for all the grocery store workers stocking our shelves, the teachers teaching our kids remotely, the neighbors shopping for their elderly community members, and all the other helpers. Given our work in voting, we’re particularly thankful for the election officials and poll workers now faced with one of the most daunting election challenges we’ve ever seen. We at VotingWorks are eager to do our part, however small it may be in comparison to the real heroes.

So let’s talk about the US General Election of 2020. The consensus we’re hearing from election officials and voting policy experts alike—David Becker in the Washington Post, Nate Persily and Charles Stewart in Lawfare, and most recently Charles Stewart again in MarketWatch—is that, while we should leave lasting policy changes to a later date, we’ll need more vote-by-mail on an emergency basis this year. We think these are wise recommendations.

For some states that already have a significant proportion of vote-by-mail, the needed adjustment will be the relatively manageable task of scaling up existing processes by 20–30%. For other states that historically have low rates of vote-by-mail, either because of policy or norms, the job ahead requires scaling by a factor of 10 or more, which is quite a bit more difficult. We’re particularly concerned about the small and medium-sized election jurisdictions in those states, many of which currently have a manual process for handling a small number of mail ballots, a process that may not be able to scale up as needed.

To help those jurisdictions, we are building VxMail, a comprehensive set of tools to help implement & deploy vote-by-mail, including ballot printing, envelope stuffing, mailing, ballot receipt, signature verification, and ballot tabulation. This isn’t meant to run a large vote-by-mail operation, for which the tools already exist. Rather, VxMail is meant to help election officials automate their process for 2,000 to 50,000 ballots where, to date, they only had a few hundred to deal with manually. We’re making all of our progress on VxMail public.

Ultimately, we believe in our hearts that the folks best positioned to run this election well are America’s election officials. They’ve always been the unsung heroes of Democracy. We’re not here to tell them what to do. We’re not here to change policy. We’re good at building tools, and that’s what we’ll do: offer election officials some new tools, and take our lead from them on how best to make these tools helpful. We’ve started a few conversations with interested officials already, and we are always interested in more. If you’re an election official and are interested in discussing, please email us.