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This is part of the Brennan Center’s work on the Freedom to Vote Act.

The Freedom to Vote Act

The Freedom to Vote Act is major pro-democracy legislation that sets national standards to expand and protect access to the ballot, prevents partisan interference in election administration, prohibits partisan gerrymandering for congressional districts, and shores up key campaign finance safeguards. The bill came extremely close to becoming law in 2022 after passing the House but not the Senate due to the filibuster. 

The Freedom to Vote Act enjoys strong support from the American people — 63 percent of likely voters in one 2022 poll, including 82 percent of Democrats, 62 percent of independents, and 42 percent of Republicans. The specific policies it contains are also very popular, including measures to expand voting accessend partisan gerrymandering, and limit spending on political campaigns

Momentum in States Across the Country

In the 2022 midterm elections, voters in key states not only rejected high-profile candidates running on election denial platforms, they affirmatively backed policies to expand the freedom to vote and safeguard elections. With nearly 60 percent of the vote, Michigan voters approved a major expansion of voting access through a constitutional amendment. In Arizona, voters decisively rejected a package of new voting restrictions. And in Minnesota, voters elected a new state legislative majority that campaigned on a pro-democracy platform and then moved swiftly to enact an ambitious package of new pro-voter policies. 

These results were the continuation of a trend going back at least to the 2018 midterms.

While too many states continue to place new restrictions on the freedom to vote, the past five years have also seen a wave of pro-voter changes enacted through ballot initiatives and by state legislatures. This state-by-state progress is no substitute for baseline national standards enacted by Congress, but it shows the deep resonance that pro-voter policies have with the American people.

Here are some of the most notable pro-voter developments in the states since 2018:

Expanding the Freedom to Vote

Since 2018, over two dozen states have passed laws expanding the freedom to vote.

  • Twenty-seven states have expanded access to early voting or mail voting. No-excuse early voting is now permitted in 47 states and the District of Columbia. No-excuse mail voting is permitted in 35 states and the District of Columbia.
    • In 2022, nearly 60 percent of voters in Michigan approved a constitutional amendment that guarantees at least nine days of early in-person voting, expands the availability of ballot drop boxes, and guarantees prepaid postage for mail ballots, among other things. Previously, in 2018, Michigan voters enacted no-excuse vote by mail with over 66 percent of the vote.
    • Over 60 percent of voters in Connecticut approved a constitutional amendment in 2022 that allows the state legislature to establish no-excuse early voting.
    • Since 2019, state legislatures in red, blue, and purple states alike have passed reforms to expand early voting, including DelawareKentuckyLouisianaMassachusettsNew YorkOklahomaRhode IslandSouth CarolinaTexas, and Virginia.
    • Similarly, in a diverse range of states, 24 state legislatures have passed laws expanding access to mail voting since 2019, including CaliforniaVirginiaTexas and Nevada, among others. These laws expand access to drop boxes, remove unnecessary hurdles such as witness requirements, enhance voters’ ability to cure deficiencies in their absentee ballots, and create permanent absentee voter lists.
  • Since 2018, 14 states have passed laws to enact automatic voter registration (AVR), and 8 states have established same-day voter registration (SDR) in that same time period. In total, 23 states and the District of Columbia now have AVR, alongside 22 states and the District of Columbia that now have SDR.
    • In 2018, voters in Michigan and Nevada passed automatic voter registration with overwhelming majorities. Michigan’s Proposal 3 (which also included same-day voter registration and no-excuse absentee voting) was approved with over 66 percent of the vote, and voters in Nevada approved Question 5 with nearly 60 percent of the vote, which established a system of AVR in the state. Since 2018, 11 states have passed AVR through their legislatures, and Pennsylvania administratively implemented AVR in 2023.
    • In 2018, more than two-thirds of voters in Maryland approved a constitutional amendment to allow Election Day voter registration, and since 2018, lawmakers in seven states — CaliforniaMassachusettsNevadaNew MexicoUtahVirginia, and Washington — have passed same-day voter registration.
  • Since 2018, at least 18 states and Washington, DC, have either restored voting rights to people who had previously been barred from voting because of a felony conviction, made it easier for people with past convictions to register to vote upon their release from prison, or expanded access to the ballot for eligible voters who are detained in jail.
    • In 2018, almost two-thirds of voters in Florida approved a ballot measure restoring voting rights for individuals with past felony convictions. footnote1_mr4fust 1 Shortly after voters approved the ballot measure, Florida lawmakers adopted a law that severely curtailed the measure’s impact by requiring those whose rights had just been restored to pay off certain court debts before they can vote.
    • California voters passed a ballot measure expanding voting rights for people with felony convictions with nearly 60 percent of the vote.
    • Lawmakers in Washington, DC, and 10 states — ArizonaColoradoConnecticutLouisianaMinnesotaNevadaNew JerseyNew MexicoNew York, and Washington — also passed laws expanding the franchise to people with past convictions. In two more states — Kentucky and Iowa — the governor restored voting rights through an executive order. footnote2_5cgiylr 2 Virginia did the same in 2021: former Gov. Ralph Northam signed an executive order automatically restoring the right to vote to all Virginians who were not currently incarcerated. But in 2023, Gov. Glenn Youngkin quietly ended this policy, making Virginia the only state in the country that categorically and permanently bars anyone convicted of a felony from voting.
    • In 2023, lawmakers in Michigan adopted a law automatically registering individuals to vote upon their release from prison, further bolstering the automatic voter registration system approved by voters in 2018.
    • At least three other states — IllinoisMaryland, and Massachusetts — passed laws expanding ballot access for eligible voters in jail facilities.

In 2023, Colorado passed a law improving vote centers and registration procedures for voters on Indian Reservations, and Nevada passed a law to make it easier to establish polling places and drop boxes on Native American reservations.

Promoting Secure Elections 

Since 2018, at least 18 states have passed laws to enhance the security of elections and protect election workers.

Ending Partisan Gerrymandering

Since 2018, voters in six states have passed various reforms to end partisan gerrymandering in the redistricting process.

  • In Colorado and Michigan, voters approved constitutional amendments creating independent citizen-led redistricting commissions that drew maps after the 2020 census. Voters in MissouriOhioVirginia, and Utah, likewise, passed variations of anti-gerrymandering reforms via ballot initiatives. footnote3_xylmhpg 3 Many of these measures have since been undermined by lawmakers to limit their reach and effectiveness.  In all cases, reforms passed by strong majorities: for example, 61 percent of voters in Michigan and 71 percent of voters in Colorado voted to pass redistricting reform.
  • The New Hampshire state legislature also passed redistricting reform with a bipartisan majority, though the governor vetoed the reform.

Reforming Campaign Finance and Ethics

Since 2018, 10 states have passed significant campaign finance reforms to strengthen politicians’ accountability to their voters, not to billionaires and corporations. 

  • In 2019, New York passed a historic overhaul of campaign finance rules, including small donor public financing for all state races, which has gone into effect for the 2024 campaign cycle. A number of other major jurisdictions have also passed small donor public financing in the last five years, including Denver, ColoradoWashington, DC, and six communities in Maryland — Baltimore CityBaltimore CountyMontgomery CountyHoward CountyPrince George’s County, and Anne Arundel County — covering about 70 percent of the state’s population.
  • In 2023, 86 percent of Maine voters approved a ballot measure that prohibits foreign governments, corporations, and oligarchs from spending money in state elections.
  • In 2018, 62 percent of Missouri voters approved a constitutional amendment overhauling the state’s lobbying laws and establishing campaign contribution limits. North Dakota voters also passed a ballot initiative in 2018 establishing an ethics commission and reforming state lobbying and ethics laws. In 2020, Oregon voters also passed a measure allowing stronger state campaign finance regulations.
  • Legislatures in AlaskaCaliforniaColoradoMarylandMinnesotaOregon, and Washington have also passed campaign finance reforms, including updates to disclosure rules, contribution and spending limits, and protections against foreign spending.

End Notes