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Voting Laws Roundup 2020

The Brennan Center’s latest voting laws roundup catalogs new bills relating to the voting process in 2020.

Last Updated: February 4, 2020
Published: February 4, 2020

The start of 2020 state legis­lat­ive sessions has been marked by a flurry of activ­ity around pro-voter reforms, partic­u­larly in states with Demo­cratic control over both cham­bers of the legis­lature and the governor’s office (i.e., where there is a Demo­cratic trifecta).

New Jersey, for example, enacted three bills in Janu­ary to estab­lish online voter regis­tra­tion, end prison-based gerry­man­der­ing, and create more trans­par­ency around district bound­ar­ies.

Virginia legis­lat­ors seek to enact a broad-based, pro-voter agenda, and the common­wealth accounts for nearly a quarter of the expans­ive bills intro­duced in 2020. Virginia Demo­crats hold full control over state govern­ment for the first time in more than two decades.

Legis­lat­ors in two other Demo­cratic trifectas—New York and Wash­ing­ton—­ex­pect to pass auto­matic voter regis­tra­tion (which has already passed the New York Senate) and rights restor­a­tion (which has moved out of a Wash­ing­ton Senate commit­tee).

Of the 40 states that have opened their regu­lar legis­lat­ive sessions, 29 states have intro­duced at least 188 bills to expand access to the fran­chise, primar­ily by making regis­tra­tion easier and redu­cing restric­tions on absentee voting foot­note1_okam­ci2 1 Alabama, Arizona, Cali­for­nia, Color­ado, Flor­ida, Geor­gia, Hawaii, Idaho, Indi­ana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Mary­land, Missis­sippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hamp­shire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Virginia, Wash­ing­ton, West Virginia, Wyom­ing.  We estim­ate that most of the 188 new expans­ive bills, if enacted, would go into effect by or before Elec­tion Day, Novem­ber 3. When combined with bills carried over from last year, the new bills bring the total of expans­ive bills currently before state legis­latures to 471 foot­note2_zexpini 2 The follow­ing states carried over expans­ive bills from last year’s sessions: Cali­for­nia, Delaware, Geor­gia, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Massachu­setts, Michigan, Nebraska, New Hamp­shire, New York, North Caro­lina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Caro­lina, Tennessee, Vermont, Wash­ing­ton, and Wiscon­sin.

Still, there are paral­lel efforts to restrict voting access. Legis­lat­ors have intro­duced at least 35 bills that would restrict access in 15 states foot­note3_12lki5q 3 Arizona, Flor­ida, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Mary­land, Missis­sippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, Oklahoma, Virginia, and Wash­ing­ton.  Thus, when combined with bills carried over from last year, there are currently 57 restrict­ive bills before state legis­latures.  foot­note4_lk63t0k 4 The follow­ing states carried over restrict­ive bills from last year’s sessions: Alaska, Cali­for­nia, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, New York, North Caro­lina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee.

We estim­ate that most of the 35 new restrict­ive bills, if enacted, would go into effect by or before Elec­tion Day in Novem­ber. Unsur­pris­ingly, a substan­tial portion of these bills seek to impose stricter voter ID require­ments. And, build­ing off a resur­gence of efforts to limit voter assist­ance (which coin­cides with the grow­ing use of absentee and mail-in ballots), legis­lat­ors in three states—­Flor­ida, Oklahoma, and Hawaii—have intro­duced bills that would limit who may assist voters in apply­ing for and deliv­er­ing absentee and mail ballots. In addi­tion, legis­lat­ors in two states, Flor­ida and New Jersey, have intro­duced bills that would require elec­tion admin­is­trat­ors to affirm­at­ively under­take steps to purge supposed noncit­izens from the rolls, and they would use flawed data regard­ing citizen­ship to do so.

Of course, these bill counts do not capture all efforts to restrict or expand access to the vote – there is signi­fic­ant action occur­ring outside of state legis­latures. For example, voting rights are being threatened by non-legis­lat­ive actions, like voter roll purges. In Decem­ber, Geor­gia purged over 300,000 voters from its rolls on the basis of their inactiv­ity, and Wiscon­sin may purge more than 200,000. At the local level, activ­ists have sent a series of letters to dozens of local elec­tion offi­cials threat­en­ing them with legal action if they do not under­take more aggress­ive purges (ripping a page out of the 2017 voter suppres­sion play­book).

Finally, follow­ing the elec­tion secur­ity concerns that surfaced in the 2016 elec­tion, we continue to see legis­lat­ive activ­ity around this issue, though few of these policies are likely to have an impact before the 2020 elec­tion. Thus, as of Febru­ary 3, 15 states  foot­note5_yw6u5ll 5 Arizona, Cali­for­nia, Flor­ida, Hawaii, Idaho, Indi­ana, Iowa, Kansas, Mary­land, New Jersey, South Caro­lina, Tennessee, Utah, Virginia, and Wash­ing­ton.  have intro­duced bills related to elec­tion secur­ity, and 11 states foot­note6_j5dcmrp 6  Geor­gia, Illinois, Iowa, New Hamp­shire, New York, North Caro­lina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Caro­lina, Tennessee, and Wash­ing­ton.  are still consid­er­ing 46 carry-over bills related to elec­tion secur­ity. Note, however, that this count does not include appro­pri­ations bills or admin­is­trat­ive action – two import­ant tools for improv­ing elec­tion secur­ity.

Over­view of Expans­ive Bills

As of Febru­ary 3, 2020, legis­lat­ors had intro­duced at least 188 bills expand­ing access to the fran­chise in 29 states.

The bulk of pro-voter bills intro­duced this year aim to reform regis­tra­tion.

  • Regis­tra­tion Reforms
    • AVR (Ten states). New York is poised to pass auto­matic voter regis­tra­tion (“AVR”). Indeed, on its first day in session this year, the New York Senate passed an AVR bill carried over from 2019. AVR is a trans­form­at­ive reform that registers eligible voters unless they “opt out” of regis­tra­tion and lever­ages exist­ing tech­no­logy to more effi­ciently update the voter rolls. Ten other states—Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Kentucky, Missis­sippi, Missouri, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Virginia, and Wash­ing­ton—have intro­duced 20 bills this year that would imple­ment or strengthen AVR. Like New York, Arizona is also advan­cing an AVR bill carried over from last year. Sixteen states and the District of Columbia have already approved auto­matic voter regis­tra­tion. 
    • Same Day Regis­tra­tion (Seven states). Flor­ida, Hawaii, Indi­ana, Kentucky, Missouri, New Jersey, and West Virginia have intro­duced bills that would allow voters to register on Elec­tion Day.
    • Pre-Regis­tra­tion (Five states)Hawaii, Indi­ana, Kentucky, Virginia, and Wash­ing­ton have intro­duced bills permit­ting minors to pre-register to vote prior to their eight­eenth birth­days. Virgini­a’s pre-regis­tra­tion bill is expec­ted to pass, but—be­cause the provi­sion seeks to amend the state’s consti­tu­tion—the bill would need approval from both cham­bers again next year, before going to the voters.
    • Port­ab­il­ity (Three states). Cali­for­nia has intro­duced a bill that would allow voters to update their regis­tra­tion or change party affil­i­ation from the four­teenth day before elec­tion to the close of polls on Elec­tion Day. West Virginia has intro­duced a bill that would permit voters to update their address when voting early in-person and vote without chal­lenge. Hawaii has intro­duced compan­ion bills that permit voters to change their regis­tra­tion inform­a­tion seven days before an elec­tion (instead of 14) and still receive mail ballots.
  • Absentee Voting (Thir­teen states)Alabama, Indi­ana, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Missis­sippi, Missouri, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wyom­ing have proposed 45 bills collect­ively that would ease restric­tions on absentee voting, with most bills aimed at remov­ing the require­ment that voters estab­lish an excuse before they can vote absentee. One of the bills out of Virginia would permit voters who are confined while await­ing trial or for a misde­meanor convic­tion to vote absentee as an excep­tion to the require­ment that first-time voters who registered by mail must vote in person.
  • Re-enfran­chising persons with past convic­tions (Eleven states). Wash­ing­ton (SB 6228), Flor­ida, Iowa, Kentucky, Missis­sippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New York, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Virginia have intro­duced bills to grant greater access to the ballot for indi­vidu­als with crim­inal convic­tions. These bills come on the heels of rights restor­a­tion laws enacted in 2019 in Nevada, Color­ado, and New Jersey. The 2020 bills in Kentucky, Virginia, and Nebraska aim to amend the state consti­tu­tions, though Kentucky and Virginia already restore voting rights by exec­ut­ive action. Flor­ida legis­lat­ors have intro­duced a bill that would elim­in­ate the require­ment that return­ing citizens pay off all court costs, fees, and fines before their rights are restored (though the prerequis­ite of paying off resti­tu­tion oblig­a­tions would remain). The Bren­nan Center and allies have chal­lenged in federal court the current Flor­ida stat­ute that makes voting contin­gent on the payment of legal finan­cial oblig­a­tions limit­a­tions.
  • Early Voting (Twelve states). Alabama, Arizona, Kentucky, Mary­land, Missis­sippi, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia have intro­duced bills expand­ing oppor­tun­it­ies for early in-person voting.
  • Easing Voter ID Restric­tions (Eight states)Virginia, Indi­ana, Iowa, Missouri, New Mexico, South Dakota, Tennessee, and Wyom­ing have intro­duced bills easing the burden of exist­ing voter ID laws, such as making it accept­able to use other forms of iden­ti­fic­a­tion (e.g., univer­sity or tribal IDs), remov­ing the require­ment that an ID contain a photo­graph. Virginia has intro­duced seven differ­ent bills that would elim­in­ate entirely or ease its photo ID require­ments.
  • Access for People with Disab­il­it­ies (Three states)Kentucky, Mary­land, and Missouri have intro­duced bills to improve access for voters with disab­il­it­ies.
  • List Main­ten­ance (Two states). Missouri has intro­duced a bill that would extend the time during which a voter must be inact­ive before the voter’s regis­tra­tion can be cancelled. Missis­sippi has intro­duced a bill that would prohibit the state from purging voters within 120 days of an elec­tion.

Over­view of Restrict­ive Bills

As of Febru­ary 3, 2020, legis­lat­ors had intro­duced at least 35 bills restrict­ing access in 15 states. The vast major­ity of these bills impose stricter voter ID or absentee voting require­ments.

The restric­tions intro­duced this year include:

  • More Restrict­ive Voter ID (Nine states)Arizona has intro­duced a bill that prohib­its the use of school IDs for voter veri­fic­a­tion and elim­in­ates the abil­ity to use other iden­tity veri­fic­a­tion docu­ments; Kentucky, Illinois, Mary­land, Nebraska, and New Jersey have intro­duced bills impos­ing photo ID require­ments to vote (the MD, IL, and NJ require­ments would be espe­cially strict); New York has proposed a bill that would require proof -of -citizen­ship to register to vote; Oklahoma has proposed a bill that would require finger­print­ing upon regis­tra­tion to vote; and Missouri has proposed a bill that would elim­in­ate the possib­il­ity for those without ID to submit an attest­a­tion and then vote using a regu­lar ballot.
  • More Burdens on Absentee Voting (Five states)Virginia has intro­duced three bills increas­ing burdens related to over­seas absentee voting. Kentucky has intro­duced a bill that would require voter ID at the polls (as noted above) and that applic­a­tions for an emer­gency absentee ballot be accom­pan­ied by proof of ID.
  • Limit­a­tions on the Assist­ance of Voters (Three states)Flor­ida, Hawaii, Oklahoma have intro­duced bills limit­ing those who may assist with or deliver vote-by-mail or absentee ballots. A Flor­ida bill, for example, would limit who may be desig­nated to pick up and deliver a voter’s mail-in ballot to the elect­or’s care­giver, house­hold member, imme­di­ate family member, or legal guard­ian. Currently, any person could assist in pick­ing up a voter’s ballot, so long as that person didn’t pick up more than two vote-by-mail ballots.
  • Aggress­ive Prosec­u­tion (Three states). Flor­ida and New Jersey have intro­duced bills that make it a felony to collect the ballot of another if the person collect­ing the bill is not the kind of person specific­ally author­ized to do so. New York has intro­duced a bill that would make it a felony for a person to register or attempt to register to vote if the applic­ant is not a U.S. citizen, without a know­ledge (or, mens rea) require­ment.

Over­view of Elec­tion Secur­ity Bills

Fifteen states have intro­duced bills related to elec­tion secur­ity thus far this year. Note that these bills do not include appro­pri­ations bills or admin­is­trat­ive action, nor is the Bren­nan Center opin­ing on the impact or poten­tial effic­acy of these bills in this docu­ment.

Four­teen states seek to make some improve­ments to elec­tion secur­ity. For example, three states would create offices related to elec­tion secur­ity or grant exist­ing bodies more author­ity over elec­tion secur­ity. (CA SB 808, NJ AB 291, and VA HB 539). Five states have intro­duced bills related to audits, address­ing proced­ures, paper ballots, and tech­no­logy acquis­i­tion. (IA LD 5426, KS SB 310, SC HB 4725, TN HB 1863, and WA SB 6412). Legis­latures in Mary­land (HB 392), Utah (SB 42), Arizona (SB 1135), and Indi­ana (SB 179) have intro­duced meas­ures related to manu­fac­tur­ing voting equip­ment in the United States, protect­ing voters’ signa­ture on mail ballots, and guidelines for elec­tronic vote adju­dic­a­tion and the use of batter­ies in voting systems.

But legis­lat­ors in one state—­Flor­id­a—have intro­duced a bill that would under­mine secur­ity. Flor­id­a’s HB 1005 / SB 1312 would result in an end-run around certi­fic­a­tion processes for voting systems in the state by permit­ting a single propri­et­ary soft­ware to be used for recounts. Flor­ida elec­tion secur­ity advoc­ates oppose the bill because it risks expos­ing Flor­ida recounts to inter­fer­ence.

For more inform­a­tion, please visit our State Voting Laws project.

End Notes