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Absentee Voting, Voter Registration, Electoral College Among Year’s Top Election Trends

Lawmakers also increased wages and protections for election officials, refined voter list maintenance processes and addressed the needs of voters with disabilities.

By Helen Brewer  |  September 28, 2023

As state legislatures look ahead to the 2024 presidential election, the pace of election legislation has slowed. Just under 200 election-related bills have been enacted in states across the country so far this year, with a handful more to come before Dec. 31. For comparison, 290 bills were enacted in 2021.

Numbers tell only part of the story; topics matter more. Evergreen topics include absentee/mail voting, voter registration and voter list maintenance, while voter ID took a back seat. Lawmakers also increased wages and protections for election officials, revised state Electoral College processes and addressed the needs of voters with disabilities.

Some of the year’s trends are summarized below. For details on all these laws and more, visit NCSL’s 2023 Elections Enactments page.

Absentee/Mail Voting

Absentee/mail voting remained a popular topic, with 41 enactments in 23 states. No state adopted no-excuse absentee voting or mostly mail elections for the first time; instead, these bills were all about fine-tuning existing processes. Notably, some states established or updated ballot “curing” procedures for absentee voters. These procedures typically involve notifying a voter that their return envelope doesn’t have the required verification information and therefore will be rejected—and offering the voter an opportunity to fix, or cure, the defect so that their ballot can be counted. Half the states have statewide cure systems. This year, Kansas created a new requirement that county election officials provide voters the opportunity to cure a ballot they failed to sign. Maryland similarly created a system allowing voters to track the status of their absentee ballots and cure defects. Texas established a notice and cure system for absentee ballot applications, adding to the state’s preexisting ballot cure system.

Voter Registration, List Maintenance

Voter registration and list maintenance received close attention in many states this year, as they have for the last several. States have passed laws that range from implementing automatic voter registration to laying out comprehensive voter list maintenance procedures.

On automatic voter registration, Minnesota, New MexicoMaine, Oregon, and Washington either implemented or expanded automatic voter registration. Automatic voter registration varies state to state, but in general it allows records from the state DMV to be shipped electronically to the state’s election officials for verification and integration into the statewide voter registration database.

Everyone wants to make sure those databases are as clean as they can be—recognizing that the lists will always be a snapshot in time—as people become registered, move, or pass away. A legislative focus on list maintenance is not new; what is new this year is that several states have exited the Electronic Registration Information Center, the decade-old interstate data-sharing organization designed to facilitate list maintenance. While the departures have been largely the choice of chief election officials, North Carolina now prohibits joining ERIC without approval from the General Assembly. Texas and Oklahoma passed bills establishing specific requirements any organization of this type must meet in order for the state to join it.

On the flip side, Arkansas requires cross-state data comparison for its list maintenance process without specifying the process, and California and New York authorized their election officials to join multistate voter list maintenance organizations.

Voting Accessibility

Another area of agreement across the nation: voters with disabilities may benefit from exceptions to some rules. Louisiana established an Americans with Disabilities compliance officer position and a Voting Accessibility Advisory Group. Hawaii also renamed its Special Needs Advisory Committee to the Elections Accessibility Advisory Committee, and more substantively, broadened the mandate beyond physical and visual disabilities. Nevada now permits voters with disabilities to receive and submit their ballots through an approved electronic system.

Electoral College

The federal Electoral Count Reform Act (ECRA), passed in December of 2022, made changes to the date by which presidential electors must meet and cast their votes in the states and what certification is required. Whether a state is in compliance with the new law requires a thorough review by counsel; some states may find that they are just fine as is. So far this year, California and Colorado updated their statutes Electoral College statutes to ensure they will comply with ECRA in 2024. Other states may look at this when their 2024 sessions begin.

In addition, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, and Texas passed various versions of what are commonly known as “faithful elector” laws, which bind presidential electors to vote for the candidate selected in their state by their party.

Elections Workforce

As concerns grew in many states over retaining election workers, Arkansas, Alabama, Louisiana and Maryland passed laws this year raising the pay for workers such as clerks, judges and poll workers. In most states, elections are a local responsibility and pay is determined at the local level. Still, states can mandate pay or set a minimum.

In recent years election officials, staff and poll workers have been subjected to threats, and accusations of crime and leaked private information (doxing) at higher rates than usual. As a result, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico and Oklahoma enacted legislation in 2023 to specifically protect election officials and poll workers this year, joining seven others who did so in 2021 and 2022; see NCSL Election Worker Protections. These laws criminalize the act of threatening election staff in the same way that states may already criminalize harassment of judges, police offers or other public servants.  

Odds and Ends

Ranked choice voting had been a quiet but growing trend over the last few years; notably, Alaska and Maine each have variations on the theme for statewide elections. This year marked a first for prohibitions on this electoral system, with enactments in Idaho, Montana and South Dakota. At the same time, Illinois created a task force to consider the option for 2028 or beyond.

Using GIS for maintaining precinct lines may not be exciting, but it may also be a coming trend. Why? Accuracy. There’s nothing like a pin on a map to show precisely where each voter lives, and therefore what contests they will vote on. This year, Florida begins requiring officials to use GIS.

In 2021 and 2022, many states prohibited private funding of elections. This was largely in reaction to increased funding from private philanthropic organizations that attempted to address the rise of unexpected election expenses resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic in the 2020 election. Twenty-one states passed such bans in 2021 and 2022; Georgia followed suit this year. Arkansas and Idaho tightened existing restrictions on accepting private funds or services in elections.

For more on these and the year’s other enactments, visit NCSL’s 2023 Elections Enactments page and the comprehensive Elections Legislation database.

Helen Brewer is a policy specialist with NCSL's Elections and Redistricting Program.

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