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It’s the Little Things: Small Changes Can Yield Smoother Elections

By Mark Wolf  |  August 22, 2022

After Nebraska saw a sharp decline in poll workers during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Legislature passed a law allowing poll workers who live in counties with all-mail voting to serve as poll workers in other counties.

“We hope that will help out in some of the surrounding counties,” Nebraska Sen. Adam Morfeld (D) explained. “It’s one proactive and small way to make sure county election workers have the right kind of staff.”

But if counties still face shortages, Morfeld pointed out that they can actually draft poll workers to help where needed.

Those are just two strategies for improving elections that were discussed during “Elections: Little Changes, Big Impact,” a session at the 2022 NCSL Legislative Summit in Denver.

Adding Protections

Utah, which has used mail voting for decades, bolstered protections during the last session by making it a class A misdemeanor to maliciously vote more than once.

“We want to make sure people are showing their ID when they register,” Utah Rep. Cory Maloy (R) said. “If their ID wasn’t attached to their registration, they receive a notice with their ballot that they need to show an ID before they cast a ballot on Election Day.”

The law also enables election officials to proactively identify double votes.

Kentucky Rep. Kevin Bratcher (R) said his state has always prided itself on being an early reporter on presidential election night.

“We close our polls at 6 p.m. Eastern time and usually would be the first on the electoral tote board. Everybody seemed to be happy with that,” he said. “Then COVID hit.”

 During the pandemic, Kentucky voters didn’t need an excuse for either early walk-in or absentee voting.

“Fast forward to the next legislative session and everybody said, ‘We want these.’ We did come up with three-day walk-in no-excuse early voting,” he said.

Kentucky voters still need an excuse for mail-in absentee voting, including being in the military, being out of the county or being disabled, and they must use a web portal to request an absentee ballot.

“My mother, who rarely gets out, 45 days before an election she’s going to go to that portal and can request a ballot up to 14 days before the election,” Bratcher said.

Early Ballot Processing

Maryland Sen. Cheryl Kagan (D) advocated for the early processing of absentee ballots.

“From 29,000 ballots to half a million ballots coming through the mail—it’s a big deal,” she said. “The fact that the state certified the primary today, nearly four weeks after Election Day, is insane.

The General Assembly passed a bill calling for pre-processing, but it was vetoed by Gov. Larry Hogan.

“Early canvassing of absentee ballots would allow hard-working election officials to get a much-needed head start on the deluge of ballot envelopes that, under current law, must wait until after Election Day for processing,” Hogan said in his veto statement.” However, he said he vetoed the bill because it lacked signature verification.

Kagan has urged Hogan to issue an executive order allowing the pre-preprocessing.

The Maryland Board of Elections recently passed a bipartisan, unanimous motion to bring a legal case to allow local election boards to begin canvassing before Election Day.

Mark Wolf is a senior editor at NCSL. Saige Draeger, a policy associate in NCSL’s Elections and Redistricting Program, contributed to this report.

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