How to Prepare for a Contested Election | NDTC

Election Day is almost here. And, if the race isn’t called on election night, there’s a chance you could have a contested election on your hands.

Election officials may be behind schedule counting absentee ballots, or the race could trigger a recount if it’s too close. 

Already, there are four states that likely won’t be called on the night of the election. 

You cannot be caught off guard if this happens. Let’s go through how to prepare, what to do, and where to go if your election is contested.

Believe In Your Campaign

First, STOP. Take a few deep breaths.

You’ve made it this far. And, you’ve worked incredibly hard. Believe your work will pay off and you will win. That, in itself, should be celebrated.

Don’t spend your time worrying about the potential for your race to be contested. We’re about to spend that time planning for it, so you know what to do if it happens.

Check-In with your Caucus or Committee

Now that you’re thinking clearly, focus on action steps. 

Check with your committee or caucus. This step remains true even if you haven’t done much with them up to this point.

If you are running for a county-level position, this could be the county party or state party. If you are running for state representative or state senate, check with your chamber’s caucus first.

Important Contested Election Questions

Here are some questions you should ask your point of contact.

  • Do you have a plan for my race if it is not called on election night? 
  • If so, what is that plan? If not, do you have any plans for other races?
  • What role do you need me to play in that plan? 
  • Do you need my volunteers/staff to help?  If so, how many and what roles are needed? 
  • Who is my best point of contact for election night on your team? 
  • How can we best work with your lawyer? 
  • Will this cost me any money? 

Make sure you understand when their plan takes effect, such as what triggers a recount in the district? What are the rules around chasing ballots?

And, when working with your caucus or committee’s lawyers for your contested election, do your due diligence and secure your own election lawyer if you can. You need to have someone advocating for you specifically.

Prepare Your Campaign for Contesting 

While figuring out the legal plan with your caucus or committee, your campaign can prepare internally by strategizing messaging and mobilizing your team.

Get The Messaging Down

At this point, you may have written a victory or concession speech. Just as you prepared for those outcomes, direct your communications team to ready a statement for a contested election. 

Your campaign will continue to garner support, if you are ready with a strategy. The messaging should have the tone and feel of, “This race isn’t over, and I’m not giving up until it is.” 

Start off crafting your message with “just the facts.” Make sure you, your campaign, and your voters know exactly what will happen in the next minutes, hours, or days. 

Note: Running communications by your committee or caucus might be worth the effort. You want to mitigate all risks and be on the same page as the folks in your corner. 

Wrap up all messaging with a rallying cry for your voters. The most important thing you can do in a contested election is reassure supporters you are in this fight. Remember, your campaign should remain strong until the very end. 

Secure Your Contested Election Army

For staff and volunteers, make a plan to communicate next steps with them in the event of a contested election. This plan should incorporate the fact that delayed or stalled election results can last for many days after election night. 

We all hope to celebrate victory on election night. But, in 2020 with voter disenfranchisement and the GOP’s rhetoric around election reliability, we must prepare for everything and anything. 

It never hurts to ensure everything is ironed out with your caucus/committee and your team ASAP. We shouldn’t run fire drills at the last second. Be ready to spring into action. 

Additional Resources

We have a couple mini-lessons to help prepare contested election plans.  Adapting your communications is key for messaging during this time. Training campaign volunteers will help you assemble the people power you need to contact voters and control the narrative.  All-in-all, NDTC is here to help you win. Let’s get after it. 

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Jocelyn Hunt

Jocelyn is the Associate Political Director at NDTC. Prior to joining the NDTC team, Jocelyn worked on campaigns for municipal, state, and federal candidates. Most recently she was the Coordinated Field Director for the 2018 Indiana Senate Race. Growing up in a military family, Jocelyn has lived all over the country and in the United Kingdom. She attended Appalachian State University where she discovered her passion for politics and campaigns. In her free time, Jocelyn enjoys exploring Chicago’s different neighborhoods, traveling the country, and spending time with her family.