USC

Voter Communications Task Force aims to provide clear, accurate information

USC Annenberg’s Center on Communication Leadership and Policy’s new report combats misinformation and makes voting information simple and available to the public

USC Annenberg’s Center on Communication Leadership and Policy recently released its Voter Communications Report in conjunction with bipartisan experts to inform voters on when, where and how to vote in the presidential election.

In order to quell voter confusion caused by disinformation and the coronavirus shutdowns, the CCLP joined forces with various elected officials, nonprofit organizations and Google earlier this semester to form the Voter Communications Task Force — a nonpartisan group committed to spreading clear, accurate information about voting protocols around the nation. Their report aims to ensure that all voters receive equal access to voting information within their respective communities.

“[The Task Force] had a very, very simple idea and focus, and that was simply to tell already-registered voters when, where and how to vote — something that’s so seemingly simple,” said Tiffany Shackelford, staff director for the Task Force. “But even in a normal year, you’d be surprised at how many people don’t have that basic information. And then add everything that’s going on with this election, and you’ve got quite a different situation.”

Notable members of the Task Force include former Governors Jack Markell of Delaware and Brian Sandoval of Nevada, Google Vice President Vint Cerf and CCLP Director Geoffrey Cowan. Throughout the election, they’ve worked with state policymakers, advocacy associations and journalists across the country to compile accurate voting information from a range of communities. Shackelford said the Task Force’s main role was that of a “curator,” condensing and distributing this information to over one million individuals and organizations around the U.S.

The report covers topics such as voting during the pandemic, vote-by-mail and the spread of disinformation by foreign actors, juxtaposing voter communication data with different voting protocols in order “to identify and help others implement the best ways to communicate reliable information to already-registered voters.”

According to the report, approximately 75% of voters have the legal right to cast their vote from home this year, resulting in an estimated 80 million mail-in ballots. However, the Task Force also found that 58% of voters under the age of 35 are unfamiliar with their state’s deadlines for these ballots.

In order to mitigate this issue, as well as other forms of misinformation, the report outlined three recommendations for policymakers and state and local governments : to understand the state and local civic organization landscape, to create alliances with technical platforms, associations, retail and national media outlets and to use multiple communication channels to push out voter information.

Voting guidelines and regulations often differ depending on location and election, so the Task Force emphasized the importance of government organizations actively spreading information rather than relying on voters to find it themselves.

“It’s wonderful to build information and put it on the web, but you can’t always assume that people are going to find it immediately or in the best way,” Shackelford said. “We can’t be complicit. We must help really push the information and get these trusted sources to people.”

As the election approaches, the Task Force is contemplating ways to use their research to help American voters in future elections. Looking to the future, Shackelford hopes the voting process becomes less confusing and more accessible around the country.

“For a normal citizen, finding when, where and how to vote information is much more complex than it needs to be. And I hope, if nothing else, that we are able to move forward and really simplify and clarify where constituents can find trusted, nonpartisan, basic information,” Shackelford said. “It needs to be a long term, ongoing education about not just civics, but engagement. We need to make sure we’re reaching everyone, not just certain demographics of the digitally savvy.”