Wrap-Up of 2011 Election Legislation Enactments


2011 Election Reform Legislation



Number of Bills







Carried over to 2012


Failed to pass



National Summary

Over 2,300 bills dealing with elections were introduced in state legislatures in 2011, significantly higher than the 2,049 bills introduced in 2010. Odd-numbered years in general have more elections-related legislation than even-numbered years; this may be because more legislatures are in session and the odd-numbered sessions tend to be longer.  In addition, an even-numbered year, with a major election coming up, may not be ideal for making big changes to election laws. Also, in odd-numbered years the recent election brings to the forefront issues that legislatures can then address. 

Taking into account the odd year/even year differences, the amount of election-related legislation has been on a continuous increase since 2002, when 1437 bills were introduced and 171 were enacted.

In 2011, 308 elections-related bills were enacted. This is the most enactments since 2003, when 323 bills were enacted. In 2003, states were still adjusting to changes based on the fraught 2000 presidential election.

Unlike 2010, 2011 was a year of major changes; states made changes that voters will experience (voter ID requirements, how and when voting takes place) and ones that election administrators will implement behind the scenes (deadlines for mailing ballots, changes to ballot access, voting equipment requirements).  In addition, many minor improvements were enacted as well. The Wrap-Up of 2010 Election Legislative Enactments can be found here

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


Key 2011 Elections-Related Enactments:

All-Mail Elections—Washington (S 5124) became the second state to conduct all elections by mail, and California (A 413) permitted an all-mail election pilot in one county. Wyoming (S 23) permitted all-mail elections if the regular election is declared null and void.

Ballot access—Among other ballot issues, North Carolina (S 356) prohibits candidates from running for more than one office at a time; Nebraska (L 550) clarified its ballot access deadline; Oklahoma set residency requirements for candidates (S 821); Tennessee changed its regulation of minor parties (H 794); Texas (H 1135) prohibits the amendment of a candidate’s petition after the deadline.

Crimes and Elections—California (A 547) prohibited locating polling places in areas where sex offenders live, and made it a crime to coerce an elder to vote a certain way. Nevada (A 82) prohibits employing anyone who has been convicted of theft or fraud in a position that includes registering voters and establishes Texas (H 2449) made it illegal to possess another person’s mail ballot.

Early and Absentee Voting—Early voting periods were reduced in six states, although in West Virginia, the “reduction” also included adding a Saturday for voting, a day that has proved popular there. Hawaii approved permanent absentee status for voters.    Other states adjusted the timeline and requirements for absentee voting.

Election Day Registration—While two legislatures (Maine and Montana) passed laws to do away with Election Day registration neither went into effect. In Maine, a citizen’s referendum undid the legislation, and in Montana, the governor vetoed the legislation. Rhode Island (S391) permitted people to register and vote on Election Day, but only for the offices of president and vice president. California (A 84) permitted new citizens to register to vote up through Election Day.

Election Emergencies— two states, South Dakota (S 130) and Connecticut(S 942) establishes procedures in case of major emergencies during elections.

Felon Voting Rights—Tennessee (H 1117), Texas (H 1226) and Utah (H 31) enacted minor changes regarding voting rights of felons.

Military and Overseas Voters—At least 22 states enacted legislation to comply in full or in part with the federal Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act of 2009.   The most common changes included permitting electronic transmission of blank ballots to overseas voters and moving primary election dates earlier so that ballots are ready to be transmitted 45 days before each election.

National Popular Vote—California (A 459) and Vermont (S 31) enacted legislation to join the National Popular Vote “compact” which would change how electoral delegates for the president would be distributed. These laws do not go into effect until states with the equivalent of 270 electoral votes join the compact; so far the electoral votes in the compact total 132.

Online Voter Registration— At least five states enacted new laws to permit or regulate online voter registration in California (S 397), Maryland (H 740), Nevada (A 82), Ohio (H 194) and Utah (S 165).

Primaries—In the year prior to a presidential election, it is common for states to move their presidential preference primary dates, and this was true in 2011 as well. At least 22 states moved presidential primary dates, state primary dates, or both. Alabama (H 425), California (A 80), the District of Columbia (B 90), Maryland (H 671) and New Jersey (A 3777) consolidated their presidential primary and state primary dates.

Poll Workers, Poll Watchers, and International Observers—At least nine states enacted legislation regarding those who serve in polling places. North Dakota (S 2256) and New Mexico (S 403) explicitly permitted international election observers.

Vote Centers—Six states--Arizona (H 203), Indiana (S 32), New Mexico (S 337), Tennessee (H 1268), Texas (H 2194) and Utah (H 130) -- passed legislation to permit consolidation of precincts or the use of vote centers throughout the state or as pilot projects. Vote centers are a cost-saving alternative to traditional precinct-based polling places; fewer locations are open, but voters can choose which location is most convenient for them.  

Voting Equipment—Six states enacted legislation dealing with voting equipment. Issues included: permitting “signature pads” for voter check-in at polling places (Missouri, H 217); how new equipment will be paid for (Arkansas, H 2078); permitting the use of precinct-based optical scanners and ballot-on-demand technology (Tennessee, H 386); permitting the purchase of direct-recording equipment when in accordance with legal mandates (Virginia, S 1036); and requiring a “paper trail”  (Washington, S 5393).

Voter ID—Voter ID was the most high-profile election issue in the nation. Three states enacted new voter ID laws, and another four states passed laws to make existing voter ID laws stricter. In addition, Mississippi’s voters passed a constitutional amendment providing for voter ID. Read more at NCSL’s Voter ID: State Requirements.

Voter Registration—22 states enacted legislation that affect voter registration processes.  Permitting the exchange of data with other agencies was enacted in Delaware (S 150), Texas (S 1046) and Virginia (S 1196). Regulation of third party voter registration drives was enacted in Nevada (A 82), Texas (H 2194) and Florida (H 1355). Many other changes were enacted as well.  Legislation dealing with online voter registration and Election Day registration are listed under those headings separately.

Youth—Arkansas (H 1995) permitted teens to be excused from school to serve as poll workers; Kentucky (H 192) requires school instruction on voting; Maryland (H 257) allows children up to age 17 to accompany their parents to vote; Rhode Island (S342) requires that colleges send lists of graduates to the state so that the state can compare it to the voter rolls and determine if the graduates are still eligible to vote.

Many states passed one-of-a-kind legislation in 2011. Alaska (S 31) passed a law clarifying how write-in votes are to be counted; Arkansas(S 975) permitted election results to be sent to the secretary of state’s office electronically; California (S 441) disallowed the practice of sending campaign contribution envelopes with sample ballots; Delaware (H 11) abolished fusion voting; Illinois added residents of veterans homes as people who can be on a permanent absentee voting list (S 98); Tennessee prohibited purging of voter rolls based on divorce (H 377); Virginia required that electronic poll-books be backed up with a paper version (H 2251) and that an absentee ballot cast before Election Day by a voter who then dies before Election Day be counted (H 1568).

For More Information

For more information on 2011's legislative enactments, or to make corrections or offer additions, please contact NCSL's elections staff