Snapshot: Five Ways States Can Make Voting from Home Easier
In mid-February, the NewDEAL Forum released its Democracy Playbook, containing more than 40 recommendations for state and local leaders to strengthen our democracy.
Though the 2024 election is nearly two years away, now is the ideal time for state legislatures to review laws and policies around voting, especially voting from home (also known as “voting by mail” or “absentee voting”). During the 2020 election, many states expanded access to voting at home due to the COVID pandemic. And voters took advantage of that opportunity. Yet more can still be done to ensure all eligible citizens have the optimal opportunity to vote.
Sure, some folks still like to go to the polls and vote. But for those who prefer to have their voice heard from the comfort of their own home, here are five steps state legislatures should consider:
- Vote-by-Mail. In eight states (California, Colorado, Hawaii, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Vermont, and Washington), every registered voter is mailed a ballot, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. All Voters in those states can return their ballot by mail, although the states also have some form of in-person voting available.
- Enact No-Excuse Absentee Voting. In addition to vote-by-mail states, an additional 28 states and Washington, D.C., allow any citizen to request a ballot by mail for any reason — or no reason. States that restrict absentee voting to a limited number of citizens who must declare a reason for requesting an absentee ballot should, at minimum, implement no-excuse voting from home.
- Enact Permanent Vote-by-Mail Lists. In just six states (Arizona, Maryland, Michigan, Montana, New Jersey and Virginia) and the District of Columbia, registered voters can request to be added to a permanent list to receive their ballots through the mail. Also known as “single sign-up,” this process allows voters to “set it and forget it,” knowing they will be able to vote from home each election.
- Extend Deadline of Absentee Ballots to Election Day. In some states, ballots have to be postmarked by a certain date, while in others, ballots must be received by a certain date. Rather than forcing voters to guess at how long it may take a ballot to be delivered, states should eliminate the confusion and make it as easy and friendly to voters as possible. And this means that voters can return their ballot any day, so long as it is postmarked on or before Election Day. Yes, this may result in taking longer to know the results in particularly close races. But it allows more people to participate in democracy, and that’s worth a longer wait.
- Enact Ballot Tracking Measures. State legislators should prioritize the enactment of ballot tracking measures for absentee ballots. According to the Center for American Progress, such a system “allows voters to track their ballots through every step of the process, from the moment they request a ballot to the time it is counted.” In some states, such as California, voters can receive a text message letting them know their vote has been counted. Such a measure also increases the transparency of elections.
Democracy, at its most basic, is about participation. Expanding access to voting at home (or “voting by mail” or “absentee voting”) is one way we can increase participation. And with more voices heard, our democracy will become stronger.
If you are interested in more ways elected officials — from state legislators to secretaries of state to county commissioners — can strengthen our democracy, check out the full Democracy Playbook. It contains more than 40 recommendations around election integrity, voting access, and civic engagement.