DEMOCRACY MAPS REPORT

The 10 Policy Trends Transforming Voting & Elections in America

The 2020 election transformed options for mail and absentee voting, enabling a record voter turnout. However, some politicians used the new systems as part of their rationale for launching false claims about voter fraud. As a result, state legislatures are considering diametrically opposed approaches to voting policy changes. Some states are embracing the changes that allowed for record democratic participation, and other states are seeking to undo the changes and further restrict voting access.

The Movement Advancement Project’s (MAP) newest report, “The 10 Policy Trends Transforming Voting and Elections in America,” examines a number of legislative proposals across the states that seek to make policy changes in three main areas: registration & eligibility, casting a vote, and vote counting & certification. The report is part of MAP’s Democracy Maps project, which tracks more than 40 laws and policies related to voting and elections.

Read the report: The 10 Policy Trends Transforming Voting and Elections in America

This year alone state legislatures across the country are considering thousands of voting-related bills. While most other democracies have a single voting system for national elections to ensure equal access to voting, America’s voting systems differ dramatically by state—and those differences are growing sharply.

Registration & Eligibility

Registration and eligibility to vote are the starting points in the cycle of an election, and accurate and updated voter lists are one of the most important steps to running a successful election.

  • Trend 1, Automatic Voter Registration: At least 13 states are considering bills related to automatic voter registration (AVR), with the majority of proposals intending to newly enact or improve their AVR systems, and at least one state looking to restrict AVR.
  • Trend 2, Voting Rights Restoration: At least 13 states are considering legislation related to restoration of voting rights for people who were formerly incarcerated. The majority of these seek to automatically or more easily restore rights upon release from prison. However, some states are also considering regressive bills that would add overly burdensome requirements such as payment of all fines and fees before someone’s right to vote is restored, despite them having been released from prison.

Casting a Vote

The ability for eligible citizens to cast their vote remains a core democratic principle. The 2020 election saw a dramatic change in this area as more voters than ever chose to cast their ballot through voting by mail and ballot drop boxes — in large part due to pandemic-related policy changes.

  • Trend 3, More Restrictive Voter ID Requirements — Including for Mail Voting: At least 13 states are considering legislation related to ID requirements for voting, with almost all of these states looking to make requirements stricter. A few states are also seeking to add new ID requirements for absentee and mail voting.
  • Trend 4, Availability of Absentee Voting: At least 13 states are considering legislation relating to the availability of absentee voting; this trend is more varied, with some states proposing to restrict these voting options, while other states are seeking to carry forward reforms made during the pandemic.
  • Trend 5, Ballot Drop Boxes: Finally, at least 10 states are considering legislation related to ballot drop boxes, a policy that was noncontroversial before the 2020 election cycle. As we head into the 2022 election, multiple states are proposing to restrict or even entirely ban this secure method of voting.

Vote Counting & Certification

Once voters are registered and able to cast their ballots, the final step in the election cycle is counting the votes and certifying the results are accurate. In the past these processes have been the province of experienced, nonpartisan election officials, but they are now becoming increasingly politicized.

  • Trend 6, Protecting Election Officials Against Threats: At least nine states are considering legislation to protect election officials from an alarming rise in threats by increasing penalties for harassment and intimidation of these officials.
  • Trend 7, Targeting Election Officials with Criminal Penalties: In a stark contrast to the trend of protecting election officials from threats, at least seven states are considering bills to impose undue criminal penalties against election officials for minor mistakes or technical errors. These kinds of bills increase the danger for partisan abuse and have the potential to accelerate the growing exodus of nonpartisan officials. The rhetoric behind these bills can also contribute to threats against election officials addressed in Trend 6.
  • Trend 8, Nonpartisan Post-Election Audits: At least eight states are considering new provisions for nonpartisan, legitimate post-election audits that are a best practice and increase voter confidence in election results.
  • Trend 9, Partisan “Audits” and Investigations: Following the increase of false narratives surrounding voter fraud and in stark opposition to Trend 8, at least 13 states are considering bills relating to either retrospective investigations of the 2020 election, or legislation to make illegitimate partisan “audits” easier in the future.
  • Trend 10, Allowing Partisan Interference in Elections: Finally, and most concerning to the health of our democracy, at least eight states are considering legislation that would increase the power of partisan actors to interfere in election administration. These bills would give legislatures more power over election related litigation and emergency powers, allow interference with election officials duties, and devote massive state resources to the investigation of nonexistent voter fraud.

Why is this happening?

The 2020 election was unprecedented in several ways. The COVID pandemic led to an overhaul of many election systems and a nation-wide expansion in mail voting. When the record voter turnout led to President Trump’s defeat, rather than accept the results, many elected officials launched challenge after challenge, falsely citing voter fraud and blaming many of election changes. As a result, some states are looking to permanently adopt or even expand the changes that allowed more of their citizens to vote, while other states are looking to eliminate them or make their election systems more restrictive.

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Democracy Maps

Democracy Maps

Democracy Maps tracks more than 40 laws and policies on elections and voting. Project of Movement Advancement Project, an independent, nonprofit think tank.