2015 Election Legislation Enacted By State Legislatures

1/27/2016

image of vote button*For 2016 election legislation enacted by state legislatures go here

After taking a dip in 2014, election-related enactments were up in state legislatures in 2015. In 2015, 241 bills were enacted in 45 states, more than 2014 and back on par with 2013 and 2012.

Voter registration was the hottest topic this year and included online voter registration, data-sharing for list maintenance, as well as automatic voter registration, which made its debut on the national stage. Voter ID continued its decline for the third year in a row, but there were some notable enactments on the subject. Preparation for the 2016 presidential election was the source of several enactments and some unique issues made their mark as well.

Here are some of the key enactments:

  • Florida, New Mexico and Oklahoma enacted online voter registration.
  • Oregon and California enacted automatic voter registration.
  • Alabama, Texas, and Virginia authorized interstate data-sharing of voter registration lists.
  • North Carolina, North Dakota, Texas, and Virginia enacted changes to existing voter ID requirements.
  • Indiana enacted legislation to ban ballot selfies, while Arizona and Utah enacted legislation to permit the practice.
  • Michigan and West Virginia repealed straight-ticket voting.

Compared to previous years:

  • Enactments on the following topics increased: automatic voter registration, election date consolidation, general list maintenance, interstate crosschecks of lists, poll workers, absentee and UOCAVA Voters.
  • Enactments on the following topics remained popular: online voter registration, election-related crimes, election technology and pre-registration and youth voters.
  • Enactments on the follow topics decreased: early voting, felon voting rights, same-day registration (Vermont was the only state to adopt it), voter information confidentiality, and vote-by-mail.

Information on all 2015 election legislation can be found in NCSL’s 2011-current Database of Election Legislation. If you would like assistance in using this database please contact NCSL’s elections team or call us at 303-364-7700.

2015 Key Election-Related Enactments:

Absentee and Vote-by-Mail:

  • Alabama changed the number of days that absentee ballot supplies should be delivered before an election from 21 days to 35 days (S 19) and also enacted procedures for a federal instant runoff primary and special federal ballot for UOCAVA voters (H 29) for primaries, other than presidential, where there are 3 or more nominees.
  • California passed legislation to allow for mail ballot drop-off locations (S 365) and to clarify the procedures to verifying signatures on vote-by-mail envelopes (A 477).
  • Colorado extended deadlines for getting ballots for municipal elections to UOCAVA voters (H 1130).
  • Florida extended the federal write-in absentee ballot to apply to any state or local election (S 184).
  • Hawaii clarified its procedures for delivering absentee ballots and for voters receiving permanent absentee ballots (H 179).
  • Missouri extended registration deadlines and absentee ballot use to UOCAVA voters (S 34).
  • Montana allowed for electronic address confirmation for absentee ballots (H 342).
  • New Hampshire allowed family members to return absentee ballots (H 328).
  • New Jersey reduced the number of mail-in ballots that can be returned by an authorized messenger to three (S 685).
  • South Carolina enacted the South Carolina Uniform Military and Overseas Voters Act which authorized electronic transmission of both absentee ballot applications and ballots for those voters as well as absentee instant runoff voting for second primaries (H 3154).
  • Utah clarified provisions regarding absentee voter status (H 177), declared mail-ballots valid if they are postmarked before Election Day (H 220) and required elections that are entirely run by mail to have at least one Election Day voting center (H 321).  
  • Virginia removed the requirement that a person requesting an absentee ballot for religious reasons explain those reasons (S 816) and made technical changes to policies for UOCAVA Voters (H 2397).

Accessibility:

  • California changed the name of its Visually Impaired Voter Assistance Board to the Voting Accessibility Advisory Committee and required it to advise the Secretary of State on improving accessibility (A 683).
  • Montana allowed the use of an agent to assist voters with registration and voting process (H 209) and the delivery of ballots electronically for disabled voters (the ballot must still be printed and returned through the mail) (H 400).

Administration:

  • Arkansas clarified certain positions within local election administration (H 1863) and passed the Election Commissions Integrity Act for county boards of election commissioners (H 1865).
  • Connecticut established an elections training unit and required annual training for registrars of voters (S 1051).
  • Maryland allowed any one to observe the canvass counting process (S 5).
  • Minnesota modified various provisions relating to election administration including ballot marking, candidates, political parties and presidential electors (S 455).
  • Montana required training for election administrators to be offered online (H 69).
  • Nebraska changed its procedures for counting ballots (L 575).
  • Virginia reassigned certain duties of the local electoral board to the general registrar (S 1092).
  • Wisconsin split the Government Accountability Board, which has had statewide oversight of elections and campaign finance, into two separate agencies (A 388) and prevented municipal clerks from registering voters on Election Day if the clerk is on the ballot as a candidate (S 71).

Automatic Voter Registration:

  • California (A 461)
  • Oregon (HB 2177)
  • New Jersey (AB 4613) passed legislation that included automatic registration, but the bill was vetoed by the governor and therefore not enacted.

Ballots:

  • California expanded the list of acceptable translators for ballot measures and ballot instructions at a polling place (S 366).
  • Maryland requires ballots properly cast by a voter who dies before the canvass is completed to be counted (S 97 & H 884).
  • Rhode Island changed the period that mail ballots must be retained to twenty-two months after the election (S 631 & H 5951).

Ballot Selfies:

  • Arizona authorized ballot selfies (S 1297).
  • Indiana banned ballot selfies (S 266).
  • Utah authorized ballot selfies (H 72).

Candidates:

  • Arkansas now requires write-in candidates to provide notice of their candidacy 90 days prior to the election (H 1068) and amended the laws for filing as an independent candidate (H 1269).
  • Idaho clarified the process for withdrawing candidacy for a partisan office (H 128).
  • Kentucky extended “sore loser” laws to county and local government races by preventing defeated primary candidates from running as a write-in candidate during the general election (H 150).
  • Louisiana made any public officer who is recalled or removed from office ineligible to become candidates at the elections held to fill the vacancy caused by the recall (H 131).
  • Maine gave municipalities the option to accept certain provisions of state law for write-in candidates for municipal elections (S 219).
  • Michigan clarified recall procedures and required an official declaration of the sufficiency or insufficiency of the recall petition by election officials (H 4274 & H 4276).
  • Missouri prevented persons convicted of felonies to be candidates for public office (S 104).
  • Montana prohibited candidates from serving as poll watchers (H 529).
  • Nevada allowed candidates for nonpartisan offices in certain cities who win a majority of votes in the primary where there more than twice the number of candidates, to be elected to office without going to the general election (S 5).
  • New Hampshire clarified that convicted felons cannot be candidates for public office (H 545).
  • Oklahoma lowered the threshold for qualifying as political party from five percent to three percent of the total votes cast in the last general election for Governor (H 2181).

Crimes and Elections:

  • Arkansas clarified that a person commits perjury if they knowingly apply for an absentee ballot unlawfully (H 1114).
  • California made it a misdemeanor to lie about being an elected official on campaign materials (A 370).
  • Kansas gave the Secretary of State the authority to prosecute election crimes (S 34).
  • Louisiana increased the fine for bribing voters from five to ten thousand dollars (H 640).
  • Maryland authorized the Attorney General to seek injunction relief to prevent someone from continuing to engage in election law violations (H 73).
  • Montana prohibited candidates from distributing anything of value to voters inside a polling place (H 580).
  • West Virginia established that fraud associated with absentee ballots is a felony and established penalties (H 2157).

Electronic Ballot Transmission:

  • Maine authorized UOCAVA voters to return voted absentee ballots by electronic means (S 552).
  • Texas extended a pilot program to allow UOCAVA voters to cast ballots electronically (S 1115).

Election Dates:

  • Arkansas amended its school election dates (S 968).
  • California will prevent local elections on dates other than a statewide election date based on previous year turnout (S 415).
  • Kansas moved local and county elections from spring of odd-years to the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November of odd years (H 2104).
  • Louisiana moved primary and general elections for municipal offices from March to April of even years (H 591).
  • Michigan standardized the dates for primary and general elections in both odd and even years (H 4273) and allowed certain cities to move their election dates (H 4272).
  • Nevada moved election dates for city elections to June of odd years (A 23).
  • Oklahoma clarified on which dates local elections can be held (S 312).
  • Texas required certain jurisdictions to move their election dates to the even year general election (S 733) and moved the May uniform election date to the first Saturday (H 2354).

Felon Voting Rights:

  • Wyoming required the Department of Corrections to issue a certificate of restoration of voting rights for non-violent felons following completion of prison sentence, probation and parole (H 15).

Authorizing Online Voter Registration:

  • Florida (SB 228)
  • New Mexico (SB 643)
  • Oklahoma (SB 313)

Polling Places:

  • Alabama passed legislation allow physically disabled and elderly voters to move to the front of the line at polling places (H 41).
  • Indiana bans serious sex offenders from voting at schools serving as polling places and requires they be informed of vote-by-mail and other voting alternatives (S 522).
  • Virginia clarified that mobile devices with a camera can be used by representatives of political parties inside polling places but cannot be used to take pictures (S 1351).

Poll Workers:

  • Indiana clarified procedures for removing poll clerks (H 1139) and that election inspectors can serve more than one precinct (H 1140).

Presidential Primaries:

  • Alabama changed its deadline for qualifying for the presidential primary from 90 days to 116 days before the election (S 148) and moved its presidential primary date to coincide with several other southern states (the first Tuesday in March) dubbed the “SEC Primary” after the NCAA football conference (S 240).
  • Arkansas also joined the SEC Primary (S 8) and now allows a person to be a candidate for President and another federal office in the same primary and general election (S 803).
  • Florida moved its presidential primary to the third Tuesday in March (H 7035).
  • Idaho revised its presidential primary date to the second Tuesday in March and required declaration of candidacy and payment of a fee in order to appear on the ballot (S 1066).
  • Michigan set its presidential primary date to the second Tuesday in March (S 44).
  • New York changed its presidential primary date and how delegates to national party convention are selected (S 5958 & S 6002).
  • North Carolina clarified its presidential primary procedures and primary date to March 15 (H 373).
  • Ohio moved its presidential primary to the second Tuesday in March (H 153).
  • South Dakota allowed a person to be on the ballot twice, once as a candidate for president and a second time for another office (H 1176).

Provisional Ballots:

  • California required provisional ballots and conditional registration to be offered at satellite offices on days other than Election Day (S 439).
  • Rhode Island allowed a voter to cast a provisional ballot without obtaining a temporary registration certificate (S 635 & H 5952).

Recounts:

  • Idaho clarified the process for an automatic recount (H 242).
  • West Virginia eliminated mandatory electronic recount of ballots in recounts (S 322).

Straight-Ticket Voting:

  • Michigan repealed straight-ticket voting (S 13).
  • West Virginia repealed straight-ticket voting (S 249).

Technology:

  • Arkansas amended its laws regarding election equipment and testing procedures (S 816).
  • Idaho authorized county adoption of electronic poll books (H 212).
  • Iowa required election officials to tally and record write-in votes using digital ballot counting technology (S 415).
  • Louisiana allowed the Secretary of State to charge certain fees for services and dedicate those to the Voting Technology Fund (H 151).
  • Rhode Island authorized the Secretary of State to approve specifications for the purchase of new voting equipment (S 999).
  • Wyoming authorized the use of electronic poll books and vote centers (S 52).

Vacancies:

  • Hawaii shortened the time frame in which a U.S. Senate vacancy must occur for the special election to coincide with the next regular election (S 440).
  • Illinois now requires special elections for the U.S. House of Representatives to happen only if they happen 85 days before a regular primary (S 1265).
  • Montana moved special elections for U.S. Senate seats to occur with regularly scheduled elections (S 169).
  • North Dakota moved to fill U.S. Senate vacancies by special election rather than by appointment (H 1181).
  • Tennessee clarified its process for how political party county executive committees nominate candidates for filling legislative vacancies in the State Senate (S 137).

Voter ID:

  • North Carolina amended its existing law to allow voters to sign a reasonable impediment to obtaining a photo ID declaration in order to vote a provisional ballot (H 836).
  • North Dakota clarified what documents can be used for voter identification, and required that these must be current (H 1304 & H 1333).
  • Texas prohibited registrars from charging a fee for birth records needed for voter identification purposes, and required the state to pay that fee to the registrar (S 983).
  • Virginia allowed names on IDs to be substantially similar to the name in the pollbook (H 1538) and will accept student IDs from private schools in the state (H 1653).

Voter Information:

  • Maine requires unofficial election results to be posted as soon as possible at polling places (S 302).
  • Nevada authorized the sending of sample ballots through electronic means (A 94).
  • Tennessee prohibited county election commissions from banning the use of mobile devices for information purposes to assist voters in making election decisions (S 597).
  • Texas required posting a public notice of the time for voting in an early voting period on the website of the authority ordering the election (H 2721).

Voter List Maintenance:

  • Alabama authorized interstate data-sharing of voter lists (H 254) and clarified the procedures for investigating reports of deceased voters or voter who have moved (H 323).
  • Colorado permitted the Secretary of state to forward any information obtained from the DMV to county clerks and recorders to update voter registration records (S 60).
  • Louisiana authorized the use of jury questionnaires for the purposes of determining proof of citizenship for voting (H 242).
  • Montana now will only use active registered voters for jury selection purposes (S 139).
  • Oklahoma authorized the use of the U.S. Postal Service National Change of Address system for the purposes of voter list maintenance (S 114).
  • Rhode Island authorize that mail-ballot requests serve as an affirmation of address for inactive voters (H 5931).
  • Texas authorized interstate data-sharing of voter lists (S 795).
  • Virginia authorized using the information from interstate data-sharing of voter lists for list maintenance (H 2379).

Voter Information Privacy:

  • Alabama reduced the number of free copies of voter lists available to legislators from two to one (H 204).
  • Florida extended the public records exemption to voter records of victims of stalking (S 7034).
  • Vermont clarified that date of birth, driver’s license number and the last four digits of a social security number are the only information exempt from the public voter record (H 477).

Youth:

  • California will now allow youth  who are lawful permanent residents to serve as poll workers (A 554) and will allow pre-registration for 16-year-olds (A 1020).
  • Indiana will allow those under 18 on the date of the primary to cast votes for precinct committeeman or state convention delegate if they will be 18 by the date of the next general election (S 59).
  • New Hampshire clarified the age at which youth (17 years old) can serve as assistant election officials (H 135).
  • Utah extended pre-registration to 16 and 17-year-olds (H 340). 

One-of-a-Kind Enactments

  • Arkansas repealed its prohibition on carrying a concealed handgun inside a polling place (H 1432) and allowed no election to be held for unopposed local offices (H 1610).
  • California will now allow election notifications to be posted on Department of Transportation highway signs (A 400).
  • Rhode Island authorized bake sales to be held on election days at polling places (S 58).
  • Vermont enacted same day voter registration (S 29). 

Additional Resources