Commenting on 2020 Election Results
Nonprofits can engage in numerous activities related to voting. However, they must ensure their activities are nonpartisan—meaning they cannot support or oppose candidates.
As organizations start to learn election results, they may want to speak out on a range of issues, from election integrity, to letting their supporters know what the likely outcome means for the nonprofit’s work, or simply explaining what their election-related activities have meant in terms of the participation of various groups. But how do 501(c)(3)s make sure this advocacy is nonpartisan?
Here are some best practices:
- 501(c)(3)s should avoid taking credit for an election outcome, such as a candidate winning or a political party taking control of an elected body. However, groups can note turnout of various demographic groups, registration numbers, or votes cast in states, as long these facts are related to their mission. For example, a 501(c)(3) that regularly works with youth may share data on youth voter turnout, and even tout youth turnout if it’s high. An organization that provides direct services to newly naturalized citizens may share data on the number of first-time votes cast by these individuals.
- If groups are correcting misinformation or disinformation that candidates or elected officials are sharing, it’s best to stay focused on the facts. Avoid mentioning the candidates or elected officials, if possible. For example, if candidates prematurely declare victory, a 501(c)(3) might encourage people to obtain their information on elections from nonpartisan sources, such as state or local election officials or nonpartisan news outlets, without even mentioning the candidates’ names.
- 501(c)(3)s may want to make sure all legally cast ballots are counted, through litigation and advocacy. It is important to make sure that these activities are not coordinated with one political party to the exclusion of other major parties, and that 501(c)(3)s are using nonpartisan criteria to decide their strategy. For example, if a 501(c)(3) regularly works in two states in the South, and has offices there, there are nonpartisan reasons to focus on votes cast in those states. In addition, (c)(3)s may encourage supporters to urge election officials to count all legally cast ballots. On the other hand, it is highly risky for a 501(c)(3) to focus on the votes cast by people registered with a particular political party, or in “battleground” states or “swing” districts simply because there are close races in those places.
- After outcomes are confirmed, 501(c)(3)s may say what election results mean for their work. But again, they should avoid stating they helped produce certain outcomes. For example, a 501(c)(3) can say that they look forward to working with newly elected officials to protect the environment. However, 501(c)(3) organizations should not say that their election work has led to a legislature that is now more favorable to environmental protection. Please note: urging lawmakers to pass legislation might be lobbying under federal tax rules, and 501(c)(3) public charities are permitted to do a limited amount of lobbying.
This is a critically important time for nonprofits to share facts, advocate for election integrity, and be a trusted resource for their supporters.