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Voting During Covid-19

A comparison of policies and changes as a result of Covid-19

Last Updated: November 20, 2020
Published: November 2, 2020
Voters cast their ballots in person on Election Day.
ROBYN BECK/Getty

Mail Ballot Receipt Deadlines

Eighteen states and D.C. will count mail ballots that are timely sent (depending on the state, this may be on or before election day) but arrive in the days following election day. Those jurisdictions are: AK, CA, DC, IL, KS, KY, MA, MD, MN, MS, NC, NJ, NV, NY, PA, TX, VA, WA & WV. footnote1_45rq6nb 1 See Brennan Center, Preparing Your State for an Election Under Pandemic Conditions, https://www.brennancenter.org/our-work/research-reports/preparing-your-state-election-under-pandemic-conditions.

Six states which had previously required that mail ballots arrive by election day changed that policy for the November 2020 election. Those states are: KY, MA, MN, MS, NY & PA.

There are lawsuits related to ballot receipt deadlines pending in 16 states. Those states are AZ, DE, GA, IN, MI, MN, MO, MS, MT, NC, NH, NJ, NV, OK, PA & TX. footnote5_4o1o7n6 5 See Brennan Center, Voting Rights Litigation 2020, https://www.brennancenter.org/our-work/court-cases/voting-rights-litigation-2020.

Ballot Signatures and Curing Defects

For the November election, only 23 states require election officials to notify voters and provide them with an opportunity to cure at least some mail ballot defects after election day. footnote6_qdcxefo 6 See Brennan Center, Preparing Your State for an Election Under Pandemic Conditions, https://www.brennancenter.org/our-work/research-reports/preparing-your-state-election-under-pandemic-conditions.  Those states are: AZ, CA, CO, FL, GA, HI, IL, IN, KS, KY, MS, NC, ND, NJ, NM, NV, NY, OH, OR, RI, UT, VA & WA.

Eight states have altered their notice-and-cure policies since the start of the pandemic. Those states are: IN, footnote7_lkhic4s 7 On August 20, 2020, a federal district court issued a permanent injunction, https://www.courtlistener.com/recap/gov.uscourts.insd.94815/gov.uscourts.insd.94815.82.0_1.pdf, precluding the Indiana Secretary of State and all Indiana election officials from rejecting “any mail-in absentee ballot on the basis of a signature mismatch absent adequate notice and cure procedures to the affected voter.” As of November 2, 2020, however, it is unclear whether statewide notice and cure guidelines have been issued to comply with the order.  KY, MS, NC, ND, NJ, NY & VA. 

Early Voting

Forty-four states and the District of Columbia will provide all voters with the option to participate in some form of early voting in person during the November 2020 election.

At least seven states expanded their early voting hours or began offering early voting in person for the November 2020 election. Those states include AL, KY, MA, NC, NV, TX, & VA. footnote11_pxewzpa 11 AL: See Alabama Reporter, In-person absentee voting underway in Alabama, https://www.alreporter.com/2020/09/10/in-person-absentee-voting-underway-in-alabama/. KY: See Kentucky Secretary of State, 2020 Elections General Updates, https://www.sos.ky.gov/elections/Pages/2020-General-Updates.aspx. MA: See Massachusetts Secretary of State, Elections and Voting, https://www.sec.state.ma.us/earlyvotingweb/earlyvotingsearch.aspx. NC: See North Carolina State Board of Elections, Vote Early in Person, https://www.ncsbe.gov/voting/vote-early-person. NV: See Nevada Assembly Bill 4, https://www.leg.state.nv.us/App/NELIS/REL/32nd2020Special/Bill/7150/Text, signed into law August 3, 2020. TX: See July 27, 2020 Executive Order, https://gov.texas.gov/uploads/files/press/PROC_COVID-19_Nov_3_general_election_IMAGE_07-27-2020.pdf, of Governor Greg Abbott. VA: See 13newsnow.com, Expanded Early Voting Begins in Virginia, https://www.13newsnow.com/article/news/politics/elections/expanded-early-voting-starts-in-virginia/291-81bbbfcd-5e94-4eca-a13c-d7c5df44f2dc.

Four states have not allowed any form of early voting in person during the November 2020 election. They are CT, MO, MS & NH. footnote12_lax3jdt 12 See Brennan Center, Preparing Your State for an Election Under Pandemic Conditions, https://www.brennancenter.org/our-work/research-reports/preparing-your-state-election-under-pandemic-conditions.

Affirmatively Sending Mail Ballots to Voters

Nine states and D.C. affirmatively mailed absentee ballots to all registered voters for the November 2020 election with no application required. Those states are: CA, CO, DC, HI, NJ, NV, OR, UT, VT &WA.

Of those ten jurisdictions, five states already had primarily vote-by mail systems (CO, HI, OR, UT & WA). footnote13_wsomyto 13 Colo. Rev. Stat. § 1-7.5-107(3)(a)(I); Haw. Rev. Stat. § 11-102(b); Or. Rev. Stat. § 254.465; Utah Code § 20A-3a-202; Wash. Rev. Code § 29A.40.01.  The other five changed their procedures since the start of the pandemic in order to automatically mail all registered voters a ballot for the November election. 

An additional state, Montana, has given counties the option of automatically mailing absentee ballots to all active, registered voters. footnote16_ie3zlps 16 See Directive, https://covid19.mt.gov/Portals/223/Documents/2020-08-06_Directive%20-%20November%20Elections.pdf?ver=2020-08-06-112431-693, issued by Governor Steve Bullock dated 8/6/20.

Affirmatively Sending Mail Ballot Applications to Voters

Of the 41 states that did not affirmatively mail ballots to voters, eleven mailed absentee ballot applications to most or all registered voters for the November 2020 election. Those states are: CT, DE, IA, IL, MA, MD, MI, NE, OH, RI & WI. In addition, New Mexico gave counties the option of automatically sending ballot applications. footnote17_3cuhc20 17 NMSA 1-12-72(D).  Alaska has sent ballot applications to all active, registered voters aged 65 and older. footnote18_8s57wha 18 See https://www.alaskapublic.org/2020/06/21/state-will-mail-absentee-ballot-applications-to-seniors-critics-say-that-suppresses-young-minority-votes/.

At least three states that did not mail all voters an absentee ballot application have certain local jurisdictions that did so. Those jurisdictions include Dekalb County, GA; some counties in Pennsylvania; and three counties in Kansas.

Eighteen of the 30 states that did not automatically send ballots or ballot applications provided an online absentee ballot request tool to voters across the state. Those states are: AK, AZ, FL, GA, ID, IN, KY, LA, ME, MN, NC, ND, NM, NY, OK, PA, VA & WV. footnote21_pogx5rt 21 The online absentee ballot request websites for each state are available here: AK: https://absenteeballotapplication.alaska.gov/, AZ: https://my.arizona.vote/Early/ApplicationLogin.aspx, FL: https://dos.myflorida.com/elections/for-voters/voting/vote-by-mail/, GA: https://ballotrequest.sos.ga.gov/voter/voterSearch, ID: https://elections.sos.idaho.gov/ElectionLink/ElectionLink/BeginAbsenteeRequest.aspx, IN: https://indianavoters.in.gov/MVPHome/PrintDocuments, KY: https://vrsws.sos.ky.gov/abrweb/, LA: https://www.sos.la.gov/ElectionsAndVoting/Vote/VoteByMail/Pages/default.aspx, ME: https://apps.web.maine.gov/cgi-bin/online/AbsenteeBallot/index.pl, MN: https://mnvotes.sos.state.mn.us/ABRegistration/ABRegistrationStep1.aspx, NC: https://www.ncsbe.gov/voting/vote-mail/absentee-ballot-tools, ND: https://vip.sos.nd.gov/absentee, NM: https://portal.sos.state.nm.us/OVR/WebPages/AbsenteeApplication.aspx?type=RA&AspxAutoDetectCookieSupport=1, NY: https://absenteeballot.elections.ny.gov/, OK: https://www.ok.gov/elections/OVP.html, PA: https://www.pavoterservices.pa.gov/onlineabsenteeapplication/#/OnlineAbsenteeBegin, VA: https://vote.elections.virginia.gov/VoterInformation & WV: https://sites.omniballot.us/54/absentee/app/absentee/lookup.

That leaves twelve states that did not mail all registered voters absentee ballot applications and also did not make the absentee ballot request form easily accessible through an online system. Those states are AL, AR, KS, MO, MS, MT, NH, SC, SD, TN, TX & WY.

Ballot Postage

Twenty-two states and D.C. provided pre-paid postage for vote-by-mail or absentee ballots during the November 2020 election. Those states are: AZ, CA, CT, DC, DE, HI, IA, IN, KY, MA, MD, MN, MO, NJ, NM, NV, OR, PA, VA, VT, WA, WI, WV. footnote22_32efun2 22 See Brennan Center, Preparing Your State for an Election Under Pandemic Conditions, https://www.brennancenter.org/our-work/research-reports/preparing-your-state-election-under-pandemic-conditions.

Eight states and D.C. made changes in order to provide pre-paid postage for absentee ballots during the November 2020 election. They are CT, DC, KY, MA, MD, NJ, PA, VA, VT.

Absentee ballot postage related lawsuits are currently pending in GA, MI, NC, NY, OH, OK & TX. footnote25_dslmz6y 25 See Brennan Center, Voting Rights Litigation 2020, https://www.brennancenter.org/our-work/court-cases/voting-rights-litigation-2020.

Changes to Voting Laws & Procedures, Generally

As a result of the pandemic, 35 states and Washington, D.C. have made substantive changes footnote26_knz20ee 26 The term “substantive changes” includes changes to the absentee process such as: significantly expanding who can vote absentee; ending notary requirements for absentee voting; extending the deadline for arrival of absentee ballots that are post-marked by election day; providing postage for absentee ballots; newly providing voters with a notice-and-cure opportunity; and directly mailing ballots or absentee applications to voters. The term also includes significantly expanding early voting, such as adding additional days or significantly increasing hours. Those changes that did not count as significant included expanding absentee ballot return locations (e.g., ME, WY) or simply clarifying that those individuals with pre-existing conditions could use the illness exception to vote absentee (e.g., LA, TN).  to their voting systems that will be in place at least through the November 2020 election.

Fourteen states have passed new legislation that makes substantive changes related to voting which will be in place for the November election. Those states are: CA, CT, DE, IL, MA, MD, MO, MS, NJ, NV, NY, PA, SC & VA. footnote27_ls2sp69 27 See, e.g., Missouri Senate Bill 631, https://www.senate.mo.gov/20info/BTS_Web/Bill.aspx?SessionType=R&BillID=26837998, signed by the Governor on June 4, 2020, which provides for no-excuse mail-in voting during all 2020 elections. For more information about changes to state voting laws, see The Brennan Center, Protecting Election 2020 from Covid-19: Toolkits for Activists Across the Nation, https://www.brennancenter.org/our-work/research-reports/election-2020-covid-toolkits.

Thirteen states and Puerto Rico have made substantive changes to voting procedures or policies since the start of the pandemic as a result of litigation. Those states are: AK, AL, AZ, IN, MI, MN, NC, ND, NY, PA, RI, VA & WI. footnote28_8cuzp8p 28 See, e.g., Michigan Alliance for Retired Americans v. Benson, No. 2020-000108-MM (Mich. Ct. Claims) (ordering that otherwise valid ballots postmarked by the day before election day and received within 14 days of election day be counted). For more information about COVID-related voting litigation, see Brennan Center, Voting Rights Litigation 2020, https://www.brennancenter.org/our-work/court-cases/voting-rights-litigation-2020.

Twenty states and D.C. have made substantive changes to voting procedures or policies since the start of the pandemic via executive action. Those states are: AL, AR, AZ, CA, CT, IA, KY, MI, MT, NC, NE, NH, NJ, NM, OH, PA, RI, TX, VT & WV. footnote29_d7q6kp9 29 See, e.g., New Jersey Executive Order 177, https://nj.gov/infobank/eo/056murphy/pdf/EO-177.pdf, issued August 14, requiring ballots be sent to all registered voters in the state. For more information on substantive changes made by executive order, see notes 2, 11, 15, 20, 24 & 33.

Five states already had 100% vote-by-mail systems before the pandemic. Those states are: CO, HI, OR, UT & WA.

That leaves 10 states that, despite having voting systems which are vulnerable to being upended by the pandemic, have not made substantive changes to their voter systems for November. Those states are: FL, GA, ID, KS, LA, ME, OK, SD, TN & WY. footnote30_6ainxb6 30 Each of these states had the opportunity to make changes that would have made voting during a pandemic more accessible, but did not do so. For example, every state on this list except Kansas will refuse to count ballots which are postmarked on election day but received in the days following (See Brennan Center, Preparing Your State for an Election Under Pandemic Conditions, https://www.brennancenter.org/our-work/research-reports/preparing-your-state-election-under-pandemic-conditions). Indeed, Florida requires, https://dos.myflorida.com/elections/for-voters/voting/vote-by-mail/, that absentee ballots be received by county officials ten days before election day. As another example, Kansas requires, https://www.kshb.com/news/election-2020/election-guide/mo-supreme-court-signs-off-on-mail-in-ballot-notary-requirement, mail ballots be notarized, Louisiana requires, https://www.sos.la.gov/ElectionsAndVoting/Vote/FrequentlyAskedQuestions/Pages/VotingByMail.aspx?OwnershipName=VotingByMail&faqid=0, they be signed by a witness, and Oklahoma requires, https://www.ok.gov/elections/documents/Physically%20Incapacitated_Absentee_Ballot_Packet.pdf, signatures from two witnesses.

Vote-by-Mail and Absentee Voting Excuses

Thirty-four states and D.C. allow any voter who chooses to vote by mail or absentee ballot to do so without having to provide an excuse. Those jurisdictions are: AK, AZ, CA, CO, DC, FL, GA, HA, IA, ID, IL, KS, MD, ME, MI, MN, MT, NC, ND, NE, NJ, NM, NV, OH, OK, OR, PA, RI, SD, UT, VA, VT, WA, WI & WY.

All but one of these states (VA) already had no-excuse voting in place prior to the pandemic. Virginia is the only state which has passed legislation to permanently allow no-excuse absentee voting since the start of the pandemic. footnote31_ulg2jnf 31 See Va. Code § 24.2-700.

Of the remaining 16 states, 11 have eliminated the excuse requirement for the November election, or have expanded the definition of a pre-existing excuse to encompass voters who fear spreading or contracting Covid-19. As a result, voters in those 11 states will be able to vote absentee in November without having to provide an excuse beyond Covid-19. Those states are AL, AR, CT, DE, KY, MA, MO, NH, NY, SC & WV. Of those:

Seven of the 11 states that made changes did so by re-interpreting existing excuses, such as disability or illness in relation to Covid-19, either via executive order or temporary legislation. Those states are AL, AR, CT, KY, NH, NY & WV. The four remaining states—DE, MA, MO & SC—did so by passing no-excuse legislation that will sunset after the November 2020 election.

The five states that will not allow all voters to vote-by-mail in spite of the pandemic are IN, LA, MS, TN & TX. footnote34_hec5xn6 34 IN: Ind. Code § 3-11-10-24. LA: La. RS § 18:1303(B), Harding v. Edwards, 2020 WL 5543769 (M.D. La. 2020), expanding the available excuses to include voters at a higher risk of contracting Covid-19 “because of serious medical conditions, those subject to a ‘medically necessary quarantine or isolation order,’ those advised by a health provider to self-quarantine, those experiencing symptoms of Covid-19 and seeking a medical diagnosis, and those caring for an individual who is subject to a quarantine order and has been advised to self-quarantine.” MS: H.B. 1521, http://billstatus.ls.state.ms.us/documents/2020/pdf/HB/1500-1599/HB1521SG.pdf, expanding excuses to include being subject of “a physician-imposed quarantine due to COVID-19 during the year 2020,” or caring for one who is subject to the same. TN: Tenn. Code § 2-6-202(a)(3), Fisher v. Hargett, 604 S.W.3d 381 (Sup. Ct. Tenn. 2020), holding that persons with underlying medical or health conditions that make them particularly susceptible to contracting Covid-19 or who are at greater risk should they contract it, and their caretakers, are eligible to vote absentee by mail for the November 3 election. TX: Tex. Elec. Code § 82.001-82.004.  Excuse-related litigation is pending in all of those states. footnote35_joqk6gi 35 IN: Tully v. Okeson, No. 1:20-cv-1271 (S.D. Ind.), No. 20-2605 (7th Cir.). LA: Harding v. Edwards, No. 3:20-cv-495 (M.D. La.). MS: O’Neill v. Hosemann, No. 3:18-cv-815 (S.D. Miss.); Parham v. Watson, No. 3:20-cv-572 (N.D. Miss.). TN: Demster v. Hargett, No. 20-0435-III (Tenn. Chancery Ct., Davidson Cnty.); Fisher v. Hargett, No. M2020-831-SC-RDM-CV (Sup. Ct. Tenn.); Memphis A. Phillip Randolph Institute v. Hargett, No. 3:20-cv-374 (M.D. Tenn.), Nos. 20-6046, 20-6141 (6th Cir.). TX: Lewis v. Hughs, No. 5:20-cv-577 (W.D. Tex.), No. 20-50654 (5th Cir.); Texas Democratic Party v. Abbott, No. 5:20-cv-438-FB (W.D. Tex.), No. 2020-50407 (5th Cir.), No. 19A1055 (S. Ct.).  Louisiana, Mississippi, and Tennessee have modestly expanded existing excuses to encompass voters who are at a particularly high risk of contracting or spreading COVID-19, Mississippi having done so through legislation, and Louisiana and Tennessee having done so as a result of litigation. Due to successful litigation in Puerto Rico, all voters aged 60 and over may vote absentee this November and beyond. 

Pandemic-Related Voting Litigation

Since the start of the pandemic, approximately 250 voting-related lawsuits have been filed in at least 42 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. footnote36_xo4nhia 36 For more detailed information about pandemic-related voting litigation, see Brennan Center, Voting Rights Litigation 2020, https://www.brennancenter.org/our-work/court-cases/voting-rights-litigation-2020.  This leaves only eight states that have not seen voting rights litigation during this period: CO, KS, NE, OR, SD, UT, WV & WY.

Of these, 165 cases take what the Brennan Center would consider to be a “pro-voter” posture, whereas only 77 seek to restrict voters’ rights.

As of November 2, 2020, 77 cases had either interim or final “anti-voter” outcomes, whereas primarily pro-voter interim or final orders were issued in 108 cases.

As of November 2, 2020, 143 cases in 32 states and the District of Columbia remain pending, on appeal, or subject to appeal.

 

End Notes