During the course of the three focus groups, policy options (and the perspectives focus group members took on them) that did not directly relate to either the pandemic or the conduct and outcome of the 2020 election surfaced. NCSL has included them to provide insight into broader views of election administration in the United States, and perhaps indicate where lawmaking may go in the next couple of years may go.
Processing absentee/mail ballots before Election Day: In states where processing absentee/mail ballots cannot begin prior to Election Day, timing became an issue in 2020 both for getting results out and for causing a “red mirage/blue shift” perception that left casual observers thinking there might be something wrong. In one state, the legislature was asked to consider changing its policy just two weeks before Election Day 2020, and there wasn’t time to do so. Said one Democratic participant, “In 2020 and 2022, for the first time there was a stark difference between in-person and mail ballot results.” A Republican participant noted the same thing: “In this state, in the largest city, President Trump was running ahead with in-person voting, but when the absentee ballots were counted, he lost.”
Early in-person voting: Some see early in-person voting as a good alternative to increasing absentee/mail voting, in that both provide voters with options to vote before the official Election Day. (One Republican participant championed making voting on Election Day the standard again.) In one state that has both no-excuse absentee voting and early in-person voting, the number of days for early voting was decreased from 14 days to 10, saying that resource allocation dictates supporting voters where and when they choose to vote. A Democrat said “Election Day is anticlimactic; it used to be fun, but now no one is there! As campaigners, the legislative participants are adjusting how and when they campaign, perhaps sending two mailings (one for people who like to vote early, and one for those who wait until the last minute)."
Drop boxes and ballot collection: Just as states have gone in every direction on whether to require, prohibit or regulate drop boxes, the groups differed. One Republican saw his state’s decision to prohibit drop boxes as a security measure; two Democrats said their states enacted a law after 2020 to require at least one drop box in each town. Legislation since 2020 has been about clarifying whether drop boxes are permitted, and how many are required or permitted, and with what security features, such as 24-hour cameras. As for ballot collection, one Democrat said, “The biggest back-and-forth on the Senate floor was over ballot harvesting and drop boxes, I don’t want to hear ‘ballot harvesting’ again.” No Republicans in the focus group referenced ballot collection or ballot harvesting.
Poll watchers: Democrats did not discuss poll watchers. Republicans were divided on this, but spent time discussing how poll watchers add an element of security to an election and at the same time can be intrusive into election processes. One Republican commented, “My state didn’t have poll watchers to speak of until this election,” and another said, “I’m worried about poll watchers breathing down the necks of poll workers.” LEOs were also divided; one person said he’d like to see more watchers, because each watcher who goes back to their community and says things were well done helps calm the waters: “This might be crazy, but one of the issues I have in my jurisdiction is an almost lack of observation because they (the public) trust my office. I would love to see something to incentivize observation and change the law to help them see more of what we’re doing.” Another LEO responded with “Observation can be helpful, but it can hurt too.”
Election Crimes: One member of the Republican focus group brought up election crimes; this topic did not surface with Democrats. LEOs felt legislators paid more attention to crime after the 2020 election than was warranted, with the example of creating election crime units. One Republican said, “we haven’t had a single incidence of election fraud of any significance in 30 years,” but did say that his state made a statutory distinction between an inadvertent error and an intentional bad action, such as voting twice.
Electronic (or online, or internet) voting: All participants understood that electronic voting is only used in specific and limited circumstances, and in some states is nonexistent. LEOs did not address electronic voting beyond that. A minority of the Democratic focus group were more inclined to see electronic voting as the inevitable future, “like it or not,” and willing to run pilots. Using internet voting for people with disabilities as well as overseas voters was of mild interest. Republicans were entirely opposed to expanding electronic voting in any way. A typical comment: “With the path we’re going, someday, one state is going to allow people to roll out of bed and vote by punching on their phones. I want to be the resistance to that.”
Hand counting of all ballots: This concept surfaced in several states represented in the Republican focus group, and no participants favored this idea.