2021 Year in Review for Voting Rights: A Look Back at Voting Legislation in the States

by Elizabeth Grossman

January 25, 2022

Much of the attention over the 2021 and in the early weeks of 2022 has been on the failure of federal legislation to secure voting rights. But, as always, much of the movement has taken place at the state level. State legislatures proposed nearly three thousand bills related to elections and election administration in 2021. Many restrict voting rights, but most actually expand voter access or improve election administration.

Here are some of the major ways election laws shifted in 2021.

Legislation by the Numbers

Voting Rights Lab tracked 2,842 elections-related bills in the 2021 legislative session and 295 of those bills are now law in a total of 46 states and the District of Columbia. Of those bills enacted, 116 improve voter access or election administration, 47 restrict voter access or election administration, 29 are neutral, and 103 are mixed or unclear.

By our count, in 2021:

  • 27 states enacted legislation to expand and improve mail voting, while 13 states enacted legislation restricting it;
  • 20 states enacted legislation improving voter registration, while five states imposed new registration barriers;
  • 16 states enacted legislation shifting election authority, which in many cases could make the administration of elections more partisan;
  • 15 states created, expanded, or improved in-person early voting, while Iowa was the one state to restrict it;
  • 14 states created or expanded election-related crimes with potentially suppressive effects;
  • 10 states allowed election officials to begin processing mail ballots earlier, while no states cut back pre-processing time;
  • Seven states imposed new or tougher voter ID laws, while two states took action to make their voter ID laws less restrictive;
  • Seven states codified processes to ensure voters are notified of problems with their ballots and provided an opportunity to resolve the issue, while zero states rolled these processes back;
  • Nine states passed laws to create, facilitate, or improve the accessibility of ballot tracking tools for voters (including one state that encouraged the implementation of such a system), while no states did the opposite; and
  • Eight states expanded voting eligibility for or improved access for citizens with past felony convictions (or have paved the way for voters to approve such a law), while zero states did the opposite.

Follow Along: The Tracker’s Issues Pages

Our legislative tracker provides information about legislation on the move in the current session because we need to know where the threats and opportunities are. But we know that legislation alone doesn’t tell the whole story.

Voting Rights Lab tracks the state of voting nationwide across 12 essential voting issues. Our State Voting Rights Trackers provides a snapshot of the existing law in every state for each legislative issue, allowing you to contextualize changes in particular states  and to see where a state lags behind the rest of the nation on a voter access issue – or where it leads the pack.

In addition to exploring the existing laws under each issue area, you can browse pending legislation within each issue. Bill information is available for current 2022 legislation, but you can also toggle to 2021 to take a look at last year’s legislation.

Our issue pages are intended to show the baseline so we know how far each state has to go to expand voting access. There, you can see issue-by-issue how many states provide, for example, same-day registration, vote-by-mail elections, or electronic ballot tracking.