Ahead of the 2024 election, state lawmakers continued to change the rules of our elections this year. While some states, such as Michigan, Minnesota, and Pennsylvania, adopted measures that will improve voter access and election administration in 2023, others – most notably North Carolina – moved in the opposite direction.
The summary below highlights the ten most significant new laws enacted in 2023.
Top States That Improved Voter Access & Election Administration in 2023
Michigan enacted a collection of bills to improve voter access and strengthen elections. In Michigan, the legislature passed and Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed several bills that improve in-person early voting, mail voting, Election Day voting, and voter registration in the state. Many of these news laws were passed to implement the Promote the Vote constitutional amendment approved by voters in 2022. Bills enacted this year include S.B. 367 (establishing nine days of Election Day-style early voting), H.B. 4699 (creating a permanent mail voter list), S.B. 370 (improving mail ballot cure), H.B. 4697 (ensuring the availability of mail ballot drop boxes), S.B. 373 (expanding acceptable forms of voter ID), H.B. 4569 (extending pre-registration to 16-year-olds), H.B. 4568 (repealing a criminal offense for providing voters with rides to the polls), and a package of bills expanding automatic voter registration.
New York gave all voters the option to vote by mail. Governor Kathy Hochul signed into law S.B. 7394, which established a process for “early mail voting” that will be available to all voters. New York had previously required voters to have a special qualifying reason or excuse to apply for a mail ballot. With this expansion in voter access, only 14 states continue to require voters to have an excuse to request a mail ballot. New York’s law is currently being challenged in state court by a group of Republican elected officials and campaign committees.
Connecticut established in-person early voting and advanced a mail voting constitutional amendment. Governor Ned Lamont signed H.B. 5004, which established a 14-day early voting period and made Connecticut one of only 11 states where early voting must be offered on both Saturdays and Sundays. This change was made possible by a 2022 state constitutional amendment and leaves only three states with no in-person early voting available to all registered voters. The legislature also adopted H.J.R. 1, which will put a state constitutional amendment on the ballot in 2024 that would establish no-excuse mail voting if approved. Connecticut is one of 14 states where voters must have a qualifying reason or excuse to vote by mail.
Minnesota restored voting rights for citizens on probation or parole and improved access to voter registration and mail voting. The Minnesota legislature passed, and Governor Tom Waltz signed, two major elections bills this year. H.B. 28 restored voting rights to citizens with past felony convictions immediately upon release from incarceration. Under prior law, citizens did not regain their right to vote until they had completed probation or parole. H.B. 3 improved voter access by establishing automatic voter registration at several state agencies; creating a permanent mail voter list; and allowing 16-year-olds to pre-register to vote.
Pennsylvania implemented automatic voter registration. Governor Josh Shapiro announced the state’s implementation of automatic voter registration. Every qualified resident obtaining a new or renewed driver’s license or ID card at the DMV is now automatically registered to vote, unless they opt out. Pennsylvania is the 25th state to implement or have plans to implement automatic voter registration.
Top States That Restricted Voter Access & Weakened Election Administration in 2023
The North Carolina legislature enacted restrictive laws over the governor’s veto, and a court ruling required that election officials begin enforcing an old voter ID law that had previously been found unconstitutional. The North Carolina legislature adopted two major pieces of legislation over vetoes by Governor Roy Cooper. S.B. 747 imposes an earlier deadline for receipt of mail ballots; prohibits the use of ballot drop boxes; requires ballots cast by same-day registrants to be discarded if a single address confirmation mailer is returned as undeliverable; and expands who may challenge early and mail ballots. S.B. 749 changed the makeup of state and county election boards, with the legislature seizing appointment power from the governor and his appointees, The new board configurations also create a risk of deadlocks that could block certification of election results or designation of early voting locations. Voting rights advocates have filed lawsuits challenging both laws, and a state Superior Court panel blocked S.B. 749 from being enforced while the challenge moves through the court system. Additionally, earlier in the year, the state supreme court reversed a months-old decision and allowed a strict voter ID law first enacted in 2018 to go into effect. Learn more about the year in North Carolina in our October report.
Mississippi enacted restrictive list maintenance and third-party assistance laws. Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves signed two significant restrictions into law this year. H.B. 1310 established non-voting as a trigger for an address confirmation process that can result in the cancellation of a voter’s registration. Mississippi is now one of 21 states where not voting can trigger a removal from the rolls. Meanwhile, S. B. 2358 made it a crime for a neighbor to assist another voter in returning a mail ballot, although this restriction has been temporarily blocked by a federal judge.
Idaho adopted restrictive voter ID requirements. Idaho added a new ID requirement for voter registration with the passage of H.B. 340. Voter registration applicants must now present documentary proof of identity and residence. Additionally, the passage of H.B. 124 in Idaho means that a photo ID card issued by an Idaho high school or institution of higher education will no longer be accepted as a valid form of voter identification.
States With Mixed Results on Voting & Election Law Changes in 2023
The Virginia governor ended automatic rights restoration, while the legislature eliminated witness requirements for mail ballots. Governor Glenn Youngkin ended the state’s practice of automatically restoring voting rights to citizens who completed their felony sentences, which had been in place under previous governors of both parties. Virginia is now one of three states where citizens’ voting rights are never automatically restored. With the passage of H.B. 1948, the Virginia General Assembly repealed the requirement that voters have a witness sign their ballot return envelopes. Instead mail voters can verify their identity by providing their year of birth and the last four digits of their Social Security number.
Texas improved tracking for mail ballots and mail ballot applications, but also moved to take over elections in its biggest county. Texas improved its online tool for mail ballot tracking by passing S.B. 1599. The bill made it possible for an applicant for a mail ballot to be notified of a defect in their application or the ballot itself by using the online tool and, in some cases, to also correct the issue online. The bill also expedites the process for notifying mail ballot voters of a defect in their ballot by requiring rapid notice of a ballot defect to be delivered via the online tool. Meanwhile, the legislature also passed two bills that limit the ability of Harris County, the state’s largest county, to run its own elections. S.B. 1933 permitted administrative oversight of Harris County elections and S.B. 1750 eliminated the county’s elections administrator position. The county recently dropped a lawsuit challenging S.B. 1750 after an unfavorable ruling from the Texas Supreme Court.
These new laws, though significant, do not tell the whole story. In addition to these developments, other forces are also impacting Americans’ freedom to vote and the integrity of our election systems. Disinformation continues to influence policy making and election administration, with no better example than this year’s campaign against the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC), a bipartisan, multi-state program that helps states maintain accurate voter registration records. Eight states (AL, FL, IA, MO, OH, TX, VA, & WV) left ERIC this year, joining Louisiana that withdrew in 2022. Additionally, Oklahoma and North Carolina enacted bills prohibiting ERIC membership this year.
2023 showed us that election policy remains a focus of lawmakers and bad actors who want to manipulate our election systems. As the 2024 election approaches, the new laws detailed above and ongoing efforts to influence election policy will have a major impact on how voters cast their ballot and how our elections are run.