With 6,279 out of 7,386 seats in state legislatures up for vote this November, one might expect the pace of legislative action on elections to slow down. Not so this year.
As of Aug. 22, lawmakers across the nation have introduced 2,035 bills in 46 states; Washington, D.C.; Puerto Rico; and the Virgin Islands. (The four biennial legislatures—in Montana, Nevada, North Dakota and Texas—did not meet this year.) So far, 251 bills have been enacted in 41 states, Guam and Washington, D.C.
Absentee/mail voting continues to be a popular topic nationwide, with enactments expanding or limiting it and others fine-tuning processes. Voter ID, early in-person voting and voter registration remain perennial trends. And several previously quiet topics rose to prominence: electronic ballot transmission, local election official protections, citizenship requirements for voting and prohibiting private funding in elections.
This year’s legislative trends are summarized below. For details on all these laws and more, visit NCSL’s 2022 Election Enactments page.
Absentee/mail voting came to the forefront of lawmakers’ attention in 2020 with the COVID-19 pandemic, and it has stayed there ever since. This year, both Delaware and Massachusetts established no-excuse absentee voting, which means any voter can cast an absentee/mail ballot without needing to provide a reason. Now 28 states have no-excuse absentee voting (with eight more conducting all-mail elections). Arizona required the creation of a ballot tracking system, which allows voters to follow their returned ballots as they would a package. And two states—Indiana and South Carolina—created additional identification requirements for some absentee/mail voters.
Missouri explicitly prohibited ballot drop boxes 34946, while Utah will now require 24-hour video surveillance of all unattended drop boxes. Florida changed the official name of its drop boxes to “ballot intake stations.”
Several states made changes to absentee/mail ballot processing. New Jersey and Rhode Island will both allow processing to begin earlier; additionally, the Garden State will allow absentee/mail ballot counting to begin three days before an election. Wyoming will allow county clerks to process absentee ballots on the Thursday or Friday before Election Day if the clerk notifies the secretary of state. In Maryland, the governor vetoed legislation that would have allowed processing to begin before Election day. And Louisiana created a ballot cure process, allowing voters to correct deficient absentee/mail ballots after they have been returned.
Early In-Person Voting
Over the last two decades, more states have permitted early in-person voting 30164, and more voters choosing that option. This year, Missouri and South Carolina both added early in-person voting for all voters—a first for both states. Massachusetts increased its early voting period to two weeks, including two weekends, for general elections and one week for primaries. And Kentucky, which first adopted early in-person voting for all voters in 2021, passed a bill to fine-tune its process and add six business days of in-person absentee voting for those with an eligible excuse.
Voter registration is the gateway to voting—and thus always a legislative priority. This year, Delaware established Election Day registration, joining 19 other states and Washington, D.C. Guam enacted online voter registration along with 42 states and Washington, D.C. In Arizona, the Legislature proactively prohibited both automatic voter registration and Election Day registration. Guam moved up its voter registration deadline from 10 days to 21 days before an election, while Massachusetts went the other way and changed its deadline from 20 days to 10 days before an election.
This year, voter list maintenance was an area of significant action and bipartisan interest. Updating their laws to ensure that ineligible voters are accurately and consistently removed from registration lists were Arizona, California, Florida, Idaho, Missouri, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Utah and Virginia.
Citizenship is a requirement for voting in all state and federal elections; this year saw a significant uptick in citizenship-related enactments. Arizona will now require proof of citizenship to register to vote, Kentucky added language clarifying that voters must be U.S. citizens, and Tennessee explicitly prohibited non-citizens from voting in federal, state or local elections. Mississippi and Missouri both established procedures to prevent noncitizens from registering to vote, and Florida updated its list-maintenance procedures to require the state’s motor vehicles department to report any information it may have on noncitizens.
Although voter identification laws received less attention this year than in the past, several states took action. Notably, Missouri will now require voters to show a photo ID when casting a ballot. New Hampshire established provisional voting for individuals who cannot provide acceptable ID or whose identity cannot be verified at the polls. And at least two states tweaked the types of IDs they will accept: Kentucky removed credit and debit cards as acceptable forms of secondary identification, and Maine will now accept voters’ tribal IDs.
Electronic Ballot Transmission
All states must send blank absentee/mail ballots in at least one electronic format—email, fax or an online delivery system—to voters who fall under the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act. Thirty-one states, the Virgin Islands and Washington, D.C., allow these voters to return their voted ballots electronically. This year, Illinois, Kentucky and Oklahoma joined the list of states allowing the electronic transmission of blank ballots to voters with disabilities. Massachusetts and Rhode Island allowed both the electronic delivery of blank ballots and electronic return of voted ballots for voters with disabilities. And West Virginia permitted first responders to vote by electronic absentee/mail ballot in certain emergency circumstances.
Protecting Local Election Officials
After two years of increasing attacks against election officials, it is no surprise that their safety was on lawmakers’ minds. This year, almost 20 bills were introduced to protect election officials, with five enactments. Four states—Colorado, Maine, New Hampshire and Oregon—made it unlawful for anyone to threaten, coerce, intimidate, harass or attempt to do any of those things to an election official, especially with the intent to interfere with the official’s duties. Most of these bills took additional steps, too. Colorado prohibited the malicious sharing of election officials’ or their immediate family members’ personal information on the internet, a harassment technique known as doxxing.
Maine required election officials to receive de-escalation training and directed the secretary of state to record of all reports of threats to or harassment of public officials related to elections. That data must then be reported annually to the legislative committee in charge of elections. Oregon’s bill will allow election officials to make their addresses exempt from public records. Lastly, Massachusetts will allow a city or town, at the discretion of its election officials, to detail police officers to early voting sites to preserve order and protect local election officials and workers from any interference with their duties.
Prohibiting Private Funding
Because the pandemic generated unexpected election expenses, some philanthropic organizations made funding available for local election offices. Citing concerns that private funds could result in donors or grant-making organizations having undue influence over elections and perhaps favoring some jurisdictions over others for partisan reasons, nearly half of all states have taken steps to prohibit such funding in the future. Last year, 11 states passed bills prohibiting the use of private or philanthropic funds to run elections; this year, 10 more followed suit: Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Utah, Virginia and West Virginia.
- Ranked choice voting: In the past, most enactments on ranked choice voting were in favor of that alternative voting method. This year, however, two states moved in the other direction; Florida and Tennessee both prohibited the use of ranked-choice voting.
- Cybersecurity: At least 25 enactments this year relate to election security and voting technology. Several states, including Indiana and Mississippi, will require a voter-verifiable paper audit trail. Kentucky, New Hampshire, South Carolina and West Virginia prohibited voting and tabulation machines from being connected to the internet.
- Physical and cybersecurity: Colorado passed a sweeping measure that increases security for the storage of voting equipment and requires county and state election officials to complete a relevant training program.
- Postelection audits: About two-thirds of the states use a traditional post-election tabulation audit, and 15 states (with some overlap) use risk-limiting audits or have a pilot program or make them optional. This year, Idaho and Louisiana established traditional post-election audits.