The NCSL Blog


By Dylan Lynch

It is rare that all 50 states agree on any one topic. Like siblings, states have their own, distinct way of doing things that makes each different from the rest. This is often visible in state policy decisions.

Yet, an odd trend seems to happen with many policies: Once a policy is adopted by approximately 30-35 states, the upward trend of that policy seems to slow considerably. There are myriad reasons why this can happen, but that doesn’t negate the fact that it does. Let’s take absentee and early voting as an example:

  • Thirty-six states plus D.C. offer early in-person voting.
  • Thirty-one states plus D.C. offer no-excuse absentee voting (including three states that mail ballots to all voters). Many states offer both.

Check out NCSL's full state-by-state breakdown.

It’s not as if early voting is a new policy. Some of the earliest legislation on early voting that NCSL has found dates to 1921. In 2000, at least 26 states had early voting. By 2016, 35 states plus D.C. did. It was right at that point of adoption where things slowed down: The numbers haven’t budged since then.

After this drought, it can be big news when a state adopts early voting. Indeed, New York made a splash earlier this year when it enacted a 10-day early voting period, as well as several other election policies.

And, flying under the radar so far this year, Virginia recently passed SB 1026. Going into effect in 2020, SB 1026 will allow any person who wishes to vote absentee to do so in person, starting 45 days prior to the election and ending the Saturday before Election Day. However, voters still need to provide a valid excuse (Virginia currently has 12 statutorily defined categories of valid excuses). The larger change to the state code is that any voter who wishes to vote absentee may do so, without excuse, beginning on the second Saturday preceding the election.

With the changes in New York and upcoming changes in Virginia, that leaves only 10 states that do not offer some form of early voting. Legislation was introduced in all 10 this year.    


2019 Early Voting and Absentee Legislation*
Alabama: HB 256 Missouri: HJR 5 and HB 994
Connecticut: 13 bills this session, all failed New Hampshire: HB 535
Delaware: HB 38 Pennsylvania: Co-Sponsored Memorandum, HB 43, HB 747 and SB 294
Kentucky: Four bills this session, all failed Rhode Island: SB 631, HB 5292 and HB 5885
Mississippi: 10 bills this session, all failed South Carolina: SB 142, SB 628, HB 3266 and HB 4215

*Legislation was found using NCSL’s Election Legislation Database and using the “Absentee Voting—Early Voting/In-Person Absentee” tag.

It is unlikely that all 10 of these states will decide to adopt an early voting policy soon. For some, it may take years and for others, it may never happen. Like siblings, some states just like to do things differently.

Dylan Lynch is a policy associate in NCSL's Elections Program.

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About the NCSL Blog

This blog offers updates on the National Conference of State Legislatures' research and training, the latest on federalism and the state legislative institution, and posts about state legislators and legislative staff. The blog is edited by NCSL staff and written primarily by NCSL's experts on public policy and the state legislative institution.