Early Primary States: The Changed Voting Landscape

by Voting Rights Lab

January 23, 2024

Though the new year is only just beginning, the 2024 elections are officially underway and the runway to November’s presidential election has unfolded.

In the upcoming six weeks between today’s first-in-the-nation primary in New Hampshire and Super Tuesday (March 5), 19 states will conduct presidential primary elections to allow voters to express their preferred candidates for president. A few of those states will also hold state primaries on the same dates to select candidates for other federal and state offices.

For many voting in these elections, this will be the first time they have voted since the November 2020 general, when states enacted a number of temporary access expansions in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Given the lapse of these temporary expansions and the wave of new laws enacted since 2020, this year’s voting experience will look very different. Many of the states holding early primaries have made substantial changes that will impact voter access and the voting process broadly.

In this month’s Hot Policy Take, we’re taking a look at how primary voters in five critical early 2024 primary states (New Hampshire, South Carolina, Michigan, North Carolina, and Texas) will experience substantial changes from their experience voting in 2020. Election officials need to ensure that voters understand new opportunities and obstacles so that access and confidence in the system remain intact.

Note: This Hot Policy Take does not cover state caucuses, which are administered privately by political parties. We’ve also omitted Nevada in our analysis below – because while Nevada is holding a primary election, the Republican party will ultimately be awarding delegates chosen through a caucus.

State By State: What’s Changed

New Hampshire

Primary for both parties held January 23

New Hampshire is one of only three states in the country where the only option for most voters this primary season will be in-person voting on Election Day. In the 2020 general election, due to temporary COVID-19 rules in place, New Hampshire voters could vote by mail without an approved excuse. They could also vote early at their clerk’s office. Those rules are no longer in place for today’s election.

Voters who forget to bring their IDs to the polls with them will also face a new, unfamiliar process to verify their votes. In 2020 and 2022, voters without IDs could still vote with a regular ballot, provided they signed an affidavit attesting to their identity and had their photo taken. However, a new law effective this year requires voters who fail to bring ID to the polls this year to cast a special “affidavit” ballot. This special ballot will not be counted unless they submit a copy of their ID within 10 days. If they do not do so, the secretary of state is required to report them to the attorney general for criminal investigation.

South Carolina

Democratic primary held February 3

Republican primary held February 24

There will be some positive changes for voters in South Carolina’s February primaries. Most notably, South Carolina voters will enjoy in-person early voting opportunities that did not exist in 2020. A 2022 law established an early voting period in all South Carolina elections, allowing voters to cast their ballots at early voting centers in their county six days a week in the two weeks leading up to Election Day. Also, election officials will be able to begin processing mail ballots two days before Election Day, which should mitigate any delays in reporting unofficial results. However, voters who wish to vote by mail will face new restrictions due to the same new law. The deadline to apply for a mail ballot has been shortened from four days before Election Day to 11 days prior. People who assist voters in applying for and returning mail ballots will need to provide sensitive identifying information or a copy of their ID to ensure the ballot is counted and avoid criminal investigation.


Primary for both parties held February 27

This year, Michiganders will experience a second consecutive election cycle with significant changes following voter approval of constitutional amendments and legislative changes. While 2020 saw the advent of expanded mail voting options, 2024’s biggest change for Michigan voters will be the implementation of in-person early voting.

February’s presidential primary will be the first election to see in-person early voting available statewide, due to a citizen-initiated ballot initiative followed by an implementing 2023 law that vastly expands voter access and enhances state election administration processes. Voters statewide will have the opportunity to vote early for at least nine consecutive days leading up to the Sunday before Election Day. Election officials may provide additional days.

Several laws enacted in 2023 further streamline the newly popular mail voting system in Michigan. Laws requiring drop boxes, prepaid postage, online ballot tracking, ballot envelope cure options, and earlier ballot preprocessing should increase voter access and confidence while also providing greater transparency to the mail voting process.

North Carolina

Primary for both parties held March 5 (Super Tuesday)

Perhaps no voters in the country will have to adjust to more new restrictions this election cycle than North Carolina voters. In addition to presidential candidates, voters in North Carolina will also select candidates for other federal and state offices in their primary, including governor, state legislators, and state supreme court justices on Super Tuesday. Voters in the state will face numerous new hurdles to ensure their votes are counted as a result of rulings and legislative changes since 2020.

For starters, North Carolina voters will need to adapt to the state having no voter ID law during elections in 2020 and 2022 to a strict photo ID requirement at the polls during 2024 elections. Following a change in membership, the North Carolina Supreme Court reheard a decision that previously found the state’s strict voter ID law to be racially discriminatory and unconstitutional. The newly reconstituted court reversed that earlier decision, allowing the law to go into effect. That law also gives North Carolina the strictest verification requirements for mail voting in the country.

Additionally, a 2023 law enacted over Governor Roy Cooper’s veto made a number of changes, including one that could  force election officials to throw out ballots cast by registered, eligible voters during the same day registration process. The law is blocked due to a court order on Sunday, January 21; however litigation continues in the case.  The law also gives partisan observers in polling locations much greater freedom of movement and greater access to polling place procedures, including voter activities.

Finally, the new law moved the deadline for a voter to return a mail ballot forward to require all voters return their ballots by the close of polls on Election Day, rather than only requiring voters to postmark ballots by Election Day. Had this rule been in effect in the 2020 general, more than 11,000 ballots would have been rejected.


Primary for both parties held March 5 (Super Tuesday)

Like North Carolina, Texas voters will also select candidates for federal and state offices along with presidential candidates on Super Tuesday. Whether voters use in-person early voting (Texas’s most popular voting method), mail voting, or cast their ballots on Election Day, they will experience a number of new restrictions compared to their experience in November 2020.

The state did, however, make some modest improvements. Texas lawmakers passed a sweeping election reform omnibus during a contentious special session in late summer 2021. Popular 2020 voting options like drive-through and 24-hour early voting are now prohibited. Voters who cast a mail ballot in 2020 will now face new requirements to include their drivers license or social security number. Early implementation of this requirement in 2022 led to the rejection of roughly one in eight mail ballots based on voters’ unfamiliarity with the process.

People providing assistance to voters with disabilities or language barriers will need to satisfy more stringent requirements to ensure the voters’ ballots count and to avoid possible criminal prosecution. New rules also give party-appointed poll watchers increased freedom of movement within polling locations and complicate election officials’ removal of unruly or obstructive poll watchers.

Mail voters will, however, notice some improvements to access and transparency. 2021 legislation created a statewide online ballot tracking system and began to systematize a process to allow mail voters to correct (“cure”) issues on their carrier envelopes. 2023 laws made the online tracking system easier for voters to access and made the new cure process more uniform and accessible for all voters, including some options for voters to cure mail ballot issues online.


Millions of voters will be casting their ballots between today’s first-in-the-nation New Hampshire primary and Super Tuesday. For both election officials and voters, new voting and election administration policies will be put to the test in early primaries in New Hampshire, South Carolina, Michigan, North Carolina, and Texas. From new ID requirements to new mail ballot deadlines, these changes have the potential to impact a significant number of ballots cast.

It’s critical that state election officials provide clarity around new voting practices so that every voter has the opportunity to make their voice heard throughout this election year. At every step along the way, our team at the Voting Rights Lab will be tracking the implementation and impact of new election laws.

For more information about how swing states have changed their voting rules since the 2020 election, check out our recent Battleground 2024 report.