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The Canvass | December 2016

December 1, 2016

That's a Wrap on 2016 - But What Happened in Legislatures?

Well, fellow election nerds, 2016 is nearing its end. While you’re busy putting together your “me at the beginning of 2016 and me at the end of 2016” meme, it’s a good time to remember that state legislatures didn’t take the year off when it comes to election administration policy changes. If you were too busy to follow legislation in all 50 states, this handy guide will help you figure out what state election policies will be implemented in 2017 and beyond. Don’t forget to check out NCSL’s elections legislation database for more information.

In 2016, 44 states enacted 205 bills related to various aspects of elections. That’s down from 2015 when 240 bills were enacted and slightly off the average pace of about 1-in-10 election bills being enacted every year.

Notable enactments this year

  • Maine (S 685) and Minnesota (S 2985) enacted legislation to switch from presidential caucuses to statewide presidential primaries in 2020.
  • Idaho (S 1297), Ohio (S 63), Rhode Island (S 2513), Tennessee (S 1626) and Wisconsin (S 295)   authorized online voter registration.
  • Vermont (H 458) and West Virginia (H 4013) authorized automatic voter registration.
  • California (S 450) will move to a system of vote-by-mail and vote centers beginning in 2018.
  • Arizona (H 2023) banned the practice of ballot bundling, in which absentee ballots can be gathered and returned by persons other than family or caregivers. 
  • California (A 1494) authorized ballot selfies, as did Hawaii (H 27). 
  • Michigan repealed straight-ticket voting (S 13) but a court injunction restored it for the 2016 elections.
  • Missouri (H 1631) and West Virginia (H 4013) enacted voter ID requirements. In Missouri’s case, it was a package deal: one bill to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot—it passed—and a second to implement the change.

Compared to previous years

  • Enactments on the following topics increased: accessibility for voters, automatic voter registration, election official duties and training, election technology, voter list maintenance, poll workers, voter identification, voter information and vote-by-mail.
  • Enactments on the following topics remained popular: absentee and Uniformed and Overseas Citizens voters, online voter registration, election-related crimes, and pre-registration and youth voters.
  • Enactments on the follow topics decreased: early voting, felon voting rights, same-day registration.

Absentee, Early Voting and Vote-by-Mail:

  • California passed a series of bills relating to signature verification (A 477), ballot return (A 1921 and A 2071), provisional ballots (A 1970) and accessibility (A 2252). Colorado authorized signature verification for municipal mail ballot elections (H 1070).
  • Florida replaced the term “absentee ballot” with “vote-by-mail ballot” in statute (S 112) and created a Military and Overseas Voting Assistance Task Force (S 184).
  • Idaho shortened the deadline for receiving applications for mail-in absentee ballots from the sixth day before an election to the 11th day before an election, except in emergency situations (S 1274), and expanded the sites available for early voting (S 1275).
  • Illinois authorized the use of an intelligent mail barcode tracking system for tracking mail-in ballots (S 1529). Iowa extended the date for filing special absentee ballot requests from 90 days before an election to 120 days and provided for the receipt of an official federal write-in ballot (H 2147).
  • Louisiana clarified when early voting starts in the case of a Sunday or holiday (H 230). Maine will now allow absentee ballots to be processed prior to Election Day (H 1050).
  • Maryland authorized the canvass of vote-by-mail ballots for special elections to begin early on Election Day (S 169); now requires county councils to set special election dates with enough time to send out overseas and military ballots (H 873); and clarified early voting requirements and procedures (H 1008).
  • Minnesota clarified methods for in-person absentee voting (S 2381). New Hampshire added National Guard members to the definition of uniformed services voters (S 418), added the care of children and infirm adults as an acceptable excuse for absentee voting (H 659), and set 5 p.m. on Election Day as the deadline for receiving absentee ballots (H 1377).
  • Tennessee eliminated the early voting period for special elections with only one candidate (H 1475). Utah provided for the daily disclosure of the results of absentee and provisional ballots counted between Election Day and the date of the canvass (H 21). Utah also extended the time period for mailing absentee ballots from 28 days before an election to 21 days (S 27).
  • Wisconsin clarified the procedures for responding to absentee ballot requests (S 47).


  • Delaware will now allow individuals assisting voters to enter the voting booth (S 255).
  • New Hampshire authorized disabled voters who cannot enter a polling place to receive an absentee ballot with which to vote outside the polling place (H 1378).

Crimes and Elections:

  • Mississippi revised the penalties for certain election crimes and added the crime of voting in the primary of one party then voting in the runoff of another party (H 866).
  • New Hampshire changed the procedures for investigating new voters who do not confirm their residency and will send a list of those voters to the Attorney General for verification (S 509).
  • West Virginia clarified the penalties for disclosing how an absentee voter voted (H 4587).

Electronic Ballot Transmission:

  • Hawaii approved electronic ballot transmission and return  for permanent absentee voters (H 1654). Louisiana (H 614) and Virginia (S 137) approved electronic transmission for certain voters.

Felon Voting Rights:

  • Alabama set timelines for determining if a convicted felon is eligible to register to vote and timelines for receiving a certificate of eligibility to register (S 186). California specified that felons not eligible to vote were only those currently serving in a federal or state prison (A 2466). Delaware eliminated the payment of all financial obligations as a requirement to register to vote for ex-felons (S 242).


  • Utah will allow political parties to choose whether unaffiliated voters can participate in party primaries (H 48). 


  • Alabama authorized a pilot program for the use of electronic pollbooks (S 200). Connecticut decreased the amount of voting districts required for post-election audits (S 252).
  • Delaware created a voting equipment selection task force (H 342). Louisiana authorized the Secretary of State to develop and implement a pilot program for new voting equipment (H 890).
  • Missouri clarified security procedures for processing absentee ballots (H 1480).

Voter ID:

  • Florida added veteran health ID cards, concealed carry licenses and federal government employee ID cards to the list of acceptable documents for voter ID (S 666).
  • Kentucky added state ID cards, county ID cards and federal ID cards to the list of acceptable documents at the polls (S 169).
  • Louisiana added student ID cards to the list of acceptable documents (H 940).

Voter List Maintenance:

  • Alaska authorized the sharing of voter registration data with other states for the purposes of list maintenance (S 9), which allowed the state to join the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC). Arizona will now compare voter registration records and death records (H 2084).
  • Colorado made miscellaneous updates to improve list maintenance procedures (H 1093). Illinois created an Operations Trust Fund for the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC) (S 1529).
  • New Hampshire authorized participation in the Interstate Crosscheck Program (H 1482). New York specified that the postal service should return mail to the board of elections if it cannot be delivered rather than forwarding it (A 7817).
  • Virginia authorized the electronic sharing of registration information with other states (S 460).

Voter Registration:

  • Delaware clarified that a municipality cannot impose a residency requirement for voter registration of more than 30 days (H 395).
  • California will now require state universities and colleges to allow students who enroll online to submit voter registration electronically to the Secretary of State (A 2455). Maryland required designated voter registration agencies to have electronic voter registration systems (H 1007).
  • Florida clarified that voters must provide an address of legal residence for voter registration including distinguishing apartment numbers, suites, rooms and other identifiers (H 541).
  • Hawaii requires that applicants for voter registration provide a Hawaii driver’s license number or state ID number and if these aren’t available, they can provide the last four digits of a social security number, and if that is not possible, the election official can assign a unique identifying number for registration purposes (H 1055).
  • Louisiana will now close registration on the 20th day before a presidential election instead of 30 days (H 951).
  • Maryland added clarifying language about the ability of unaffiliated voters to participate in partisan primaries on its voter registration forms (S 170).
  • Mississippi authorized the creation of a secure online portal for voters to review and update their registration records (H 809).
  • Oregon directed public universities and community colleges to provide increased access to voter registration (S 1586).


  • Illinois will now allow 17-year-olds who will be 18 by the general election to register to vote and vote in primaries (H 6167). New Hampshire clarified the right of 17-year-olds to register to vote provided they will be 18 by Election Day (S 423).
  • New Mexico authorized 17-year-olds who will be 18 by the general election to vote in the primary (H 138). Virginia clarified what youth election pages can do on Election Day (H 205).

One-of-a-Kind Enactments:

  • California authorized international election observers (A 2021). Colorado will require those working on voter registration drives to fulfill certain mandatory training requirements (S 107).
  • New York made its participation in the National Popular Vote compact permanent (S 5478). Washington authorized the Secretary of State to standardize the reporting of election data (H 2852). 

Vetoed Legislation

Eleven bills in five states were vetoed by governors this year and not overridden:

  • In California, S 49 to cancel special elections with only one candidate, S 1288 authorizing ranked-choice voting in municipal elections and A 2089 requiring notification of a voter whose vote-by-mail ballot was not counted.
  • In Illinois, S 250 authorizing automatic voter registration.
  • In New Jersey, A 1944 authorizing automatic voter registration and A 3591 allowing 17-year-olds who will be 18 by the general election to vote in primaries.
  • In Ohio, S 296 requiring those requesting extended polling hours in the courts to post a bond for the estimated cost of keeping the polling place open.
  • In Virginia, H 9 requiring minimum information for voter registration and S 767 which would have required candidates to have a partisan affiliation in all races except as determined by local charters.

Worth Noting

From NCSL's Elections Team

It’s been a wacky and wild election year, but NCSL’s elections team is showing no signs of slowing down. Here are a few things we have on tap for the New Year:

  • Should states consider different ways of casting votes? Issues such as ranked-choice voting, open primaries and redistricting commission are grabbing the attention of lawmakers across the country. If you are a legislator or legislative staff, join NCSL’s Mechanics of Democracy email list where you can converse with your peers in different states and share information about alternative voting systems. Email Dan Diorio to be added to the list.
  • Save the date for NCSL’s Future of Elections: Technology, Policy and Funding Conference June 14-16, 2017 in Williamsburg, Va. In the historic setting of Williamsburg, join legislators, legislative staff, and election administration experts for a three-day conference where we will discuss the future of elections technology and how to pay for it.

That’s a wrap on 2016—see you in 2017! 

Browse the most recent entries from the election team on the NCSL Blog.

Look for #NCSLelections on Twitter for all NCSL election resources and news.

Thanks for reading, let us know your news and please stay in touch.

—Wendy Underhill, Dan Diorio and Amanda Buchanan 

The Canvass, an Elections Newsletter for Legislatures © 2016 | Published by the National Conference of State Legislatures | William T. Pound, Executive Director

In conjunction with NCSL, funding support for The Canvass is provided by The Pew Charitable Trusts’ Election Initiatives project. Any opinions, findings or conclusions in this publication are those of NCSL and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Pew Charitable Trusts. Links provided do not indicate NCSL or The Pew Charitable Trusts endorsement of these sites.

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