Voter Information: Varied State Requirements
All states make an effort to inform the electorate about upcoming elections; notification on where and when elections will be held, and how to vote, is essential. Beyond the basics, each state determines what information will be provided and how it will be distributed. For instance, many states provide sample ballots. Some states also provide candidate information, descriptions of elected offices, or background information on Constitutional Amendments or ballot measures.
Below is a snapshot of some states' requirements, starting with states that produce extensive voter pamphlets and continuing with sample ballots, websites, and other approaches.
For complete details, see the 2013 report, Voter Information in the 50 States: A Review of State Legal Requirements, produced by professor Elizabeth Bergman.
In at least 16 states, election officials are required by law to publish and distribute a voter information pamphlet. Most of these requirements are found in states with a citizen initiative process, and in most cases the required contents related to ballot measures. However, a handful of states also require that information about candidates and general election procedures be included in the ballot pamphlet.
Pamphlets on Ballot Measures
In the following nine states, voter pamphlets focus primarily on ballot measures and do not generally include information about candidates:
Colorado - The state constitution (Art. V, §1(7.5)) requires that the nonpartisan research staff of the General Assembly prepare and distribute to each registered voter household what's commonly called "The Blue Book." State law (CRS §1-40-124.5) delegates the responsibility to the Legislative Council staff.
Idaho - State law (Idaho Code §34-1812C) requires the secretary of state to publish a pamphlet that is mailed to every household in the state.
Massachusetts - State law (M.G.L. §54-53) requires the secretary of state to publish a pamphlet and send it to the residences of registered voters.
Mississippi - State law (Miss. Code §23-17-45) requires the secretary of state to compile a pamphlet. The law makes no mention of how the pamphlet must be distributed, but it does require the secretary of state to publish the same information in a newspaper in each county of the state.
Montana - State law (M.C.A. §13-27-401 et seq.) requires the secretary of state to prepare a pamphlet and deliver it to each registered voter household.
Nebraska - State law (Neb. Rev. Stat. §32-1405.01) requires the secretary of state to prepare a pamphlet . At least six weeks before the election, the pamphlets are distributed to county clerks and election commissioners, who must make them available at their offices and at least three additional public locations.
New Hampshire - The Joint Committee on Legislative Facilities is authorized, although not required, by N.R.S. §663:3-a to print a voter's guide.
Rhode Island - State law (R.I.G.L. §17-5-3) requires the secretary of state to send to each residential unit in the state information about statewide ballot measures.
Wyoming - State law (Wyo. Stat. §22-20-105) requires the secretary of state to print a "reasonable" number of voter pamphlets and provide them upon request to any person or organization.
Detailed Voter Pamphlets on Candidates, Ballot Measures, and More
In the following seven states, the voter information pamphlets include information on ballot measures, but also much more.
Alaska - State law (AS §15.58.010 et seq.) requires the Lieutenant Governor (Alaska's chief election official) to prepare a pamphlet and mail it to each registered voter household in the state. The pamphlet may be prepared on a regional basis as determined by election officials, and it must contain:
- photos and campaign statements submitted by candidates
- information and recommendations regarding judicial candidates
- a map of house districts for the region
- a sample ballot
- an absentee ballot application
- detailed information on each ballot measure
- a maximum of two pages of material submitted by each political party
- additional information on voting procedures that is determined to be necessary
Arizona - State law requires that two pamphlets be prepared and distributed. ARS §19-123 requires the Secretary of State to produce a pamphlet on ballot measures and the report of the commission on judicial performance review. It must be mail to each registered voter household in time to arrive before absentee ballots do. ARS §16-956 requires the Citizens Clean Election Commission to produce and mail a ballot containing candidate information. Candidates are invited to submit their own message; for those who do not, the Commission prints "No statement submitted."
California - The California Secretary of State produces a very robust voter information pamphlet. State law (Elec. Code §9081 et seq.) requires that it be mailed to each registered voter household, although voters may opt out of receiving a printed copy (§9094.5). The law requires that the information also be provided in an audio recorded version and over the Internet. The pamphlet must contain:
- an explanation of the electoral procedures for all offices on the ballot
- detailed information regarding all ballot measures
- the Voter Bill of Rights
- information on U.S. Senate candidates (candidates may purchase space for a statement of up to 250 words)
North Carolina - State law provides for voter pamphlets in two areas, both related to the state's voluntary public campaign financing program. The pamphlets may be produced jointly. The State Board of Elections is required (N.C. Gen. Stat. §163-278.69) to publish a Judicial Voter Guide. The Board is also required (N.C. Gen. Stat. §163-278.99E) to publish a guide that must be distributed to "as many voting-age individuals in the State as practical, through a mailing to all residences or other means it deems effective." Both guides must include similar information:
- an explanation of the offices of State Council that are covered by the Voter-Owned Elections Act (Auditor, Superintendent of Public Instruction, and Commissioner of Insurance), or in the case of the Judicial Guide, information about the purpose and function of appellate courts and judges
- the purpose and function of the Voter-Owned Elections Fund (a program that provides voluntary public financing to candidates for the above-mentioned offices)
- the laws regarding voter registration
- candidate information as provided by the candidates according to a format provided by the Board
Oregon - It should come as no surprise that the state with the most active citizen initiative process in the country produces a very thorough voter pamphlet. State law (O.R.S. §251.005 et seq.) requires the secretary of state to produce a voter pamphlet, and also allows counties to produce pamphlets (O.R.S. §251.302 et seq.). The law also allows the secretary of state and counties to work jointly to produce pamphlets. The state pamphlet is mailed to each address in Oregon, and the secretary may use any additional means of distribution to make it available, including radio or television broadcasts. The pamphlet includes:
- general information regarding voter qualifications, registration deadlines and procedures, maps of districts, and voting instructions
- a list of the names of the candidates for each office on the ballot
- portraits and statements submitted by candidates, subject to rules drafted by the secretary of state (note that candidates must pay a fee ranging from $600 to $3,500, depending upon the office being sought, to have a portrait and statement included in the pamphlet; a petition may be submitted in lieu of the fee)
- detailed information regarding statewide ballot measures
Utah - State law (Utah Code §20A-7-701) requires the lieutenant governor (the state's chief election official) to produce a voter pamphlet. The law was amended in 2012 (SB 19) to replace the requirement that the pamphlet be mailed to each household in the state to permit local jurisdictions to choose between mailing the full pamphlet or mailing a notice that the pamphlet has been produced and providing the website where the voter pamphlet can be found and a phone number for voters to call to obtain a paper copy of it) or placed in one issue of every newspaper of general circulation in the state. The pamphlet includes:
- a list of candidates for constitutional and legislative offices
- a 100-word statement provided by each candidate for a constitutional office
- information pertaining to each statewide ballot measure
- a description provided by the Judicial Council of the selection and retention process for judges
- information for each judge, include the counties in which the judge is subject to retention election, a short biography, a recent photograph, a statement of whether the judge meets each standard of performance, a summary of reprimands and orders of censure or suspension, and statement as to whether or not the judge is certified by the Judicial Council
- an explanation of how to mark a ballot in each county
- information on how to register to vote and request an absentee ballot
- contact information for all county clerks
Washington - State law (R.C.W. §29A.32.010 et seq.) requires the secretary of state to print a voter pamphlet for any election with at least one statewide measure or office on the ballot. The pamphlet is distributed to each household in the state, public libraries, and any other location deemed appropriate by the secretary. It is also made available either in taped form or in Braille, and may be made available in electronic form. The pamphlet must contain:
- information about each ballot measure
- statements, contact information, and photographs submitted by candidates for federal, state, legislative and certain judicial offices
- contact information for the Public Disclosure Commission (the state agency that receives and publicizes campaign finance data)
- contact information for major political parties
Many states require that sample ballots be prepared so voters can become familiarwith what candidates, offices, and formats before Election Day. How these samples are made available varies.
Posted in Polling Places
- Alabama (Ala. Code§17-6-46(a)(1)) requires that sample ballots with instructions be posted at all polling places.
- New Hampshire (N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. §658:26) requires that they be posted just outside the polling place.
Published in Newspapers
- Kentucky (Ky. Rev.Stat. §424.290) requires county clerks to publish sample ballots in newspapers “not less than three days” prior to elections.
- Iowa (Iowa Code §49.53) requires that county auditors “publish notice” of elections, which includes sample ballots, but does not instruct that it be in newspapers.
- Nebraska (Neb. Rev. Stat. §32-803) requires county officials to publish sample ballots in newspapers.
Printed and Distributed on Request
- Oklahoma (Title 26, § 6-117) prints sample ballots and makes them available on request.
Printed and Mailed
- Arizona (Ariz. Rev.Stat. Ann. §16-510(C)) mails one sample ballot per household at least eleven days before Election Day.
- Maryland (Md. Election Code §7-105) mails or posts sample ballots for primary elections, and mails them for general elections.
- New Jersey (N.J. Stat. Ann. 19:23-30) requires a sample ballot to be mailed to each registered voter.
Published at the discretion of local election authorities
State elections offices have websites that provide where, when, and how to vote, and may also include state-approved descriptions of any ballot measures, candidates’ biographies, links to campaign websites, and definitions of some of the more obscure offices to be filled. The 2011 report, Being Online is Still Not Enough, from the Pew Charitable Trusts, provides a 50-state analysis of state-based voting websites, with recommendations for improvements. It makes the point that providinig better online services means fewer phone calls, which saves money on customer service.
In addition to the approaches above, state law can require other methods for informing voters. Some examples:
- South Carolina (§7-13-2110 and §7-13-2120) explicitly makes "explanations of Constitutional amendments" available to the media, not just to newspapers; the state also posts these on the secretary of state’s website.
- Vermont (Vt. Stat.Ann.tit.17, §2810 (b)) directs the secretary of state to publish online information about candidates, and newspapers are asked to voluntarily publish the information.
Provide Audio Materials
- California (Cal. Elec. Code §9082.5 and § 2053) requires the secretary of state to create an audio version of the voter pamphlet. It also establishes a Visually Impaired Voter Assistance Advisory Board, which is charged with increasing awareness of the audio version of the ballot pamphlet, among other ways of providing support to visually impaired voters.
- Article from NCSL's elections newsletter, The Canvass: Getting Voter Information Out—Without Breaking the Bank
- Elizabeth Bergman, associate professor of political science at California State University East Bay, focuses on voter information. Her 2013 report, Voter Information in the 50 States: A Review of State Legal Requirements, gives details on all state requirements.
- The non-profit, non-partisan group, Project Vote Smart, provides information on ballot measures, candidates, and issues throughout the country.
- The U.S. Vote Foundation’s directory of local election officials for the most up-to-date information on where and how you can vote.
- The National Association of Secretaries of State’s website, Can I Vote, provides state-by-state information on where, when and how to vote, and what kind of identification to bring.
For More Information
For questions or updates, contact NCSL's elections team at 303-364-7700.