Mail Voting: States Trending in Opposite Directions Ahead of 2022 Midterms

by Voting Rights Lab

October 17, 2022

Following the 2020 election, an onslaught of election-related legislation has pulled the nation in two directions, with some states working to expand ballot access and others passing legislation to restrict it. Mail votingl epitomizes this divergence. Voters will find that their access to this popular form of voting has likely either increased or decreased recently, depending on their state.

In 20 states, voters will generally have an easier time voting by mail than they did prior to the 2020 election, while in 11 states, mail voting access has grown more restrictive. Another three states expanded access to mail voting in some dimensions, while restricting it in others. In 16 states, voters will experience no significant changes to mail voting this election.

Expand: CA, CO, CT, HI, IL, IN, KY, ME, MD, MA, MN, NV, NH, NJ, NY, ND, OR, RI, VT, VA
Restrict: AR, FL, GA, ID, IA, KS, MO, OK, SC, TX, WI
Both Expand & Restrict: AL, LA, UT
No Change: AZ, AK, DE, MI, MS, MT, NE, NM, NC, OH, PA, SD, TN, WA, WV, WY

It’s important to note that these categorizations focus on the domestic voter experience in 2022. As such, they do not include changes relating solely to overseas and military voters, but they do include policy changes made through litigation. For example, although Wisconsin did not enact any new laws relating to vote-by-mail, it is characterized as restricting access because recent litigation has significantly curtailed access to mail voting. Similarly, new laws that have not yet taken effect, or that have been enjoined by the courts, are not represented here.

Because the map focuses on the voter experience, it does not reflect changes that allow election officials to start processing mail ballots prior to Election Day. This administrative change is important for tallying election results in a timely manner, and in some instances can help ensure voters have sufficient time to correct – or “cure” – minor errors on their mail ballot envelopes. Eleven states passed legislation that gives election officials more time to process mail ballots in 2021, and four states did so in 2022.

Chart: Mail Voting Changes in Key States 

The chart below offers a snapshot of some of the major changes to noteworthy policy areas, capturing significant changes that eleven key states made to mail voting since 2020. In 5 key states (Arizona, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, and Pennsylvania), voters will experience no significant changes to mail voting this election, so they are not included in this chart. These categorizations are not intended to be an exhaustive list of each and every policy related to mail voting.

This snapshot reveals that changes to some vote-by-mail policies, such as drop boxes, varied dramatically across states, while other policy changes have been much more uniform in nature. For example, changes related to ID requirements for mail voting have been exclusively restrictive. Meanwhile, all the legislative developments in these key states related to correcting – or “curing” – minor errors on mail ballot ballot envelopes have been expansive (though Wisconsin courts did limit cure opportunities this year). In fact some states that generally restricted access to mail voting – such as Texas and Iowa – also created or improved cure processes.

StateAutomatically Receiving Mail Ballots or Applications ID Requirements  for Mail VotingDrop Boxes Ballot Return
Curing Errors on Mail Ballot Envelopes
New HampshireExpand

Automatically Receiving a Mail Ballot or Application: In some states voters automatically receive a mail ballot each election, either because they opted into a permanent mail voter list offered by the state, or because the state sends ballots to all voters. Nevada recently started sending mail ballots to all voters and Virginia created a permanent mail voter list in 2021. Meanwhile, a number of states made it illegal for election officials to automatically send ballots or applications to all voters.

ID Requirements for Mail Voting: In most states, voters may receive and cast a mail ballot by providing basic identifying information such as a signature, address, and/or date of birth. But an increasing number of states are requiring that voters provide a specific ID number (such as a driver’s license number or Social Security number) in order to receive and/or cast a mail ballot.

Drop Boxes: Voters may often return their completed mail ballots by placing them in secure ballot drop boxes. Some states are expanding drop box access by requiring counties to provide a minimum number, or by requiring that the drop boxes be equitably placed throughout a jurisdiction. Other states have placed restrictions on counties’ ability to provide drop boxes, for example, by limiting the number of drop boxes they may provide or the locations where the drop boxes may be placed or requiring that drop boxes be continuously staffed.

Ballot Return Assistance: Nearly all states allow someone other than the voter to return a ballot on a voter’s behalf in at least some circumstances, but many states have passed legislation restricting whom a voter may ask to return their completed, sealed mail ballot, or under which circumstances they may do so.

Curing Errors on Mail Ballot Envelopes: Sometimes voters forget to include information on their mail ballot envelopes, or make minor errors when completing the fields on their ballot envelope. An increasing number of states have passed laws requiring voters to be notified of – and give an opportunity to correct – these mistakes so that their otherwise valid ballots may be counted.