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So many recent crises and catastrophes have been unprecedented, unexpected, impossible to predict or plan for. But the next big threat we can see coming: a contested election result and a country gripped by uncertainty. 

It’s a real and dangerous contingency that nonprofits—some very political, some decidedly not—are being forced to reckon with. We talked with two of them, M+R clients Oxfam America and the Union of Concerned Scientists, about how they’re approaching their responsibility and role should we face a contested election come November 3. Here’s what we found.

Demanding all votes be counted fairly is not a partisan issue.

Neither Oxfam America nor the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) are partisan organizations. Oxfam America has a non-profit c3 as well as a c4 sister organization, the Oxfam America Action Fund; UCS is strictly c3. Both have engaged in non-partisan voter education and get out the vote efforts for years, and made the case with supporters that being an informed voter is a crucial civic duty and a human right. Given the importance they both place on engagement, it seemed only natural to expect their supporters to push to make sure that all votes are counted fairly.

COVID-19 has made ensuring a safe election more important than ever. 

Oxfam America began advocating for safe voting options in the early days of COVID-19. Global Campaign Manager Ben Grossman-Cohen puts it simply: “nobody should have to choose between their health and their vote.” As rhetoric that threatened safe voting escalated, the importance of this mantra increased as well. For any organization whose mission includes health and human rights—like Oxfam America’s does—addressing threats to safe voting is mandatory.

Messaging that connects protecting the vote with core mission matters.

Both Oxfam America and UCS have worked on messaging that makes sense in the context of their missions. UCS’s Director of Engagement Karla Capers describes messaging points that emphasize the “science” aspect of “political science” as well as their longstanding commitment to verified facts. For example, combating misinformation about the reliability of vote by mail is one of their key talking points.

Supporters get it

Preparing for a contested election and ensuring all votes are counted *shouldn’t* be controversial. And it turns out…it’s not. Both UCS and Oxfam America are paying close attention to supporter response and have experienced little negative feedback. 

Leadership matters. So does staff engagement at every level

The likelihood of a contested election has increased daily, and that means preparing for it is an all-hands-on-deck operation for both UCS and Oxfam America, from educating board members to drafting post-election copy and actions.

It’s not too late to get going—the resources are out there

UCS and Oxfam America see themselves as part of a larger movement, and they’re working collaboratively with the numerous coalitions and resources that have emerged, including the Hold the Line Guide, the Leadership Council on Civil and Human Rights, Protect the Results, Count Every Vote, and Declaration for American Democracy. 


If you and your organization have been reluctant to engage in the very real possibility of a contested election, what are you waiting for? Protecting the vote before and after the election means nothing less than protecting our democracy—and protecting nonprofits and the people we serve. If you haven’t already, start today. Start now. Start here:


Special thanks to Ben Grossman-Cohen with Oxfam America and Karla Capers from Union of Concerned Scientists for sharing their time and plans. 

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