Jul 20

Election season 2020: Constant change requires constant communication

With so much focus centered on COVID-19 and racial injustice in our country, the 2020 election season has been under the microscope far less than most anticipated.

A number of "I Voted" stickers piled up on a table

The Aug. 4 Michigan state primary is a couple weeks away, and for some municipalities, this is their third election of the year. Each one has brought its own set of unique challenges and requirements, and the upcoming elections will likely do the same. Therefore, it’s important to review some best practices on communicating procedures leading up to and during Election Day.

Communicate early and often

The weeks leading up to Election Day are some of the most important times to communicate with voters, especially with the many changes that have been made to the process.

Absentee voting is being used at record rates, and many voters need reminders on how the process works. Communicating early and often on your website, social media, email and other platforms about this process is critically important because absentee voting takes time to process. First, an application must be submitted to receive a ballot; then there’s the ballot itself that must completed and returned.

It can take a number of days for the mail to reach it destination, so communicating the importance of submitting applications and ballots early is crucial. Some municipalities have 24-hour drop boxes where voters can drop off their ballots to reduce wait times.

Physically voting at the polls can also cause voter confusion. All precincts were open for the March election, but that wasn’t the case in May. It’s important to make voters aware of the status of the precincts as well as any changes being made at the polls due to COVID-19.

Explain the election

Between the presidential primary, school election, state primary and the general election, it can get confusing on what voters are casting their ballots for and the procedures they must follow.

For example, Aug. 4 is Michigan’s open primary election, which has different rules compared to the November general election. But many don’t know or forget what a primary is and how it differs, so they’ll need a refresher. Especially in a presidential election year, people may default to thinking every election is related to the president. As you push out dates, deadlines and procedures, explain what the election is for.

Be prepared

Whether it be a general reminder for any election, information relating to the specific type of election or the ongoing changes to the voting process due to COVID-19, it is important to be prepared to address common questions leading up to and on Election Day. Ask your local clerk how you can help get the correct information to voters.

For example, in communities that held a May school election, getting the word out on voting with an absentee ballot was important due the governor’s Stay Home, Stay Safe order, which limited communities to one precinct to help stop the spread of COVID-19. This was different than the March presidential primary, where all precincts were open, so communication was key to reducing confusion for May voters.

Scenarios such as this lead to phone calls, emails, social media posts or in-person visits, and frontline staff should be prepared to have an answer ready. Work with the clerk and other officials in advance on statements staff can reference when these inquires come to them.

Election Day

While most of your legwork is done at this point, it’s not completely done.

Reiterating some of the basic information such as precinct hours, locations, tracking results and links to the information you already put out are all good reminders for voters. Posting this information in high-traffic areas of the municipality’s online platforms early can save staff some phone calls and emails during their very busy day. Posting the proper link to tracking results is another great way to keep voters informed as the day progresses.

It also is helpful to monitor community social media pages to see what voters are saying and if any issues are arising. Note any themes you see on social media, good or bad, and keep them in mind for future elections. This will let you know to continue the work you did prior to Election Day or find ways to better address an issue moving forward.

Each election has a certain amount of unpredictability, which has been compounded by the global pandemic. As communicators, it’s important we get ahead of these changes and communicate them to voters. While we can’t resolve every question or complaint, we can – and should – keep voters informed so Election Day can run as smoothly as possible.

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