Air Date

October 30, 2020

Featured Guests

Jocelyn Benson
Michigan Secretary of State

Frank LaRose
Ohio Secretary of State


John Donvan
Journalist and Author


The coronavirus pandemic necessitated a rapid, major overhaul of longstanding government policies. One procedure that required significant changes was the 2020 election. Leading up to November, state governments worked to develop innovative solutions for keeping their citizens safe while ensuring a fair election and voting process.

Prior to Election Day, Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson and Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose shared the challenges of conducting a fair and safe vote amid a pandemic, as well as the novel solutions required to do so.

Safety Protocols, Poll Worker Recruitment, Voter Registration and Misinformation Were Top Concerns of the 2020 Election

In the months leading up to the 2020 election, setting up polling stations that complied with social distancing and other health and safety protocols was one of the top concerns. Michigan and Ohio also strived to get their voters registered and maximize early and absentee ballots.

LaRose reported a greater need for poll workers this year, with over 60% of Ohio's poll workers in the more vulnerable age groups. As a result, the state expected a decrease in volunteers and sought to improve their recruitment efforts.

Finally, both Benson and LaRose stressed the importance of ensuring voters were well-informed on the voting process, and that they had the tools needed to combat misinformation.

Voter Communication Was Key to Overcoming Election Day Challenges and Ensuring a Fair Election

With new policies in place, state governments needed to communicate voting information to their citizens so they could feel confident about a fair election.

"One of the most effective ways to educate citizens about their right to vote absentee or early ... is to get them an application through the mail or other channels," Benson explained. "But [it has to] come directly from the state's chief election officer or the local election official."

Michigan, alongside several other states, mailed out voter applications and important information well in advance of Election Day.

"We found that months of voter education that we did prepared voters to know what to do, which is by and large reject misinformation," Benson said. "They already knew how to cast their vote. They believed in the process."

State Governments Combatted Voter Misinformation and Disinformation During the Election

LaRose noted that both misinformation and disinformation is problematic, but the main issue is with "disinformation that's intended to cause a group of people to self-disenfranchise or to choose not to vote." In 2016, minority communities were the primary target of disinformation.

To prevent the same issue from occurring in 2020, both Ohio and Michigan worked with federal and state law enforcement agencies to charge individuals who intentionally spread disinformation. LaRose and his team also conducted briefings across the state that encouraged citizens to report any suspected disinformation.

"Our efforts have paid off, but this is not a 2020-exclusive operation," LaRose added. "This is something that continues on well into the future."

In the 2020 Election, the Vote-Counting Process Varied by State

Each state has its own process for counting ballots, with notable differences in the way mail-in ballots are counted. In a year with record absentee and early voters, this impacted the timeline of the count.

In Michigan, the tabulation of absentee votes did not begin until 7 a.m. on Election Day. This meant that mail-in ballots could not be opened until Monday morning, increasing the time required to count the vote. To combat this, Benson and her team doubled and, in some cases, tripled the number of absentee-ballot-counting machines in several jurisdictions.

Conversely, Ohio began processing mail-in ballots — opening the envelopes and verifying the accuracy of voter information — as early as Oct. 6. However, ballots could not be tabulated until the polls closed on Election Day.

LaRose emphasized that as a result of these processes, the vote could not be called on Election Night; any posted results were simply a snapshot in time. In addition to sharing the number of votes each candidate received in the unofficial tally, Ohio also reported the number of outstanding absentee ballots.

"That's important," LaRose explained, "so that people have a full story they can look at."

The event was hosted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation.