The resources below detail the steps taken by state and local officials to prepare for the 2020 elections during the COVID-19 pandemic.
State and Local Response Database
Throughout 2020, we tracked state and local responses to the pandemic – a mix of executive orders, administrative guidance, new legislative action, and litigation. Learn more about the diverse and urgent actions taken by states, cities, and counties in this searchable database.
Were states prepared to conduct safe and equitable elections in a pandemic? In this chart, we tracked each state’s position on 16 key policies, from providing prepaid return postage for ballots to offering early voting on weekends. See how the rules changed in response to the COVID-19 crisis. Note that many cells contain an explanatory note, viewable only on a computer.
State Response Summaries
Policymakers were scrambling. Courts were issuing emergency orders. Governors were invoking emergency powers. County leaders jumped into the fray, too. We kept track of the developments in each state in the months leading up to the November election. Click on any state to learn more.
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Under an emergency rule issued by Secretary of State John Merrill (R) in July, all voters are eligible to vote by absentee ballot in the November general election using the existing excuse covering illness. Most voters will be required to obtain signatures from two witnesses or a notary for their ballot envelopes and include a copy of a photo ID with their applications; however a federal court has waived these requirements for certain individuals with risk factors for severe COVID-19. Under an emergency declaration issued by Governor Kay Ivey (R), absentee ballots may be opened for verification and tabulation beginning at 7 a.m. on Election Day. Generally, verification cannot begin until noon on Election Day and counting cannot begin until after polls close. Although Alabama normally does not offer an early voting period, all voters can request and cast absentee ballots in person at election offices between September 9 and October 29 this year. Office personnel are often notaries and may serve as witnesses.
July 14 State Primary Runoff
Alabama held its presidential and state primary elections on March 3, 2020, and a runoff for the Republican nomination for a U.S. Senate seat was scheduled for March 31. Governor Kay Ivey (R) declared a state of emergency on March 13, and on March 18, she issued a supplemental state of emergency proclamation postponing the primary runoff from March 31 to July 14. On March 18, Secretary of State John Merrill (R) issued an emergency rule authorizing all voters to request an absentee ballot for the primary runoff by selecting the “physical illness or infirmity” excuse if they were concerned about contracting or spreading the virus.
In light of the pandemic, plaintiffs in a federal lawsuit asked the court to enjoin and declare unconstitutional Alabama’s ban on curbside voting, as well as its requirements for voters to include a copy of a photo ID with their absentee ballot applications (and in some cases, with their ballots) and to have their ballots signed by a notary or two witnesses. On June 15, U.S. District Judge Abdul K. Kallon ordered that the state’s witness and photo ID requirements be waived for the July 14 election for certain at-risk individuals in Jefferson, Baldwin, and Lee Counties. The order also directed Secretary Merrill to waive the ban on curbside voting statewide. The U.S. Supreme Court blocked enforcement of the district court ruling pending appeal after the 11th Circuit declined to do so. An attempt by the League of Women Voters to win changes to election administration in state court also failed.
The July 14 primary runoff had turnout in line with comparable elections in the past, and no major issues were reported.
November 3 General Election
On July 17, Secretary Merrill issued another emergency rule allowing all voters to apply for absentee ballots in the November general election using the existing illness excuse. Absentee ballots are available by mail or in person until the fifth day before Election Day. Because Alabama allows qualified voters to receive and cast an absentee ballot in person, Merrill’s emergency rule will allow all voters to vote in-person before Election Day between September 9 and October 29 at their clerk’s offices.
On September 30, Governor Ivey issued her 18th Supplemental State of Emergency Declaration making the following changes to the administration of the November 3 general election: First, bsentee ballots may be opened for tabulation beginning at 7 a.m. on Election Day. Generally, verification cannot begin until noon on Election Day and counting cannot begin until after polls close. Second, the order llows county commissions to provide election workers compensation above what is required by statute. Finally, it allows county probate judges to conduct remote training for precinct election officials and poll workers via live or recorded video or telephone call.
Following a bench trial in the ongoing federal litigation, Judge Kallon issued a ruling on September 30 waiving the witness/notary requirement for voters with relevant medical conditions; waiving the ID photocopy requirement for voters 65 years and older and those with underlying medical conditions (provided they furnish other identifying information, such as their driver’s license number or last four digits of their Social Security number); and barring Secretary Merrill from prohibiting jurisdictions from establishing curbside voting. Secretary Merrill has said that he will appeal the ruling.
Last updated on October 13.
All voters in Alaska may vote by mail if they request a ballot; no excuse is needed. Although absentee ballots must be witnessed under state law, for the November general election only, they do not. The Alaska Supreme Court validated a trial court’s judgment that enforcing the witness requirement during the pandemic violated the Alaska state constitution. Other than this change, which was ordered on October 12, Alaska has not altered its election laws for the November 3 general election. Ballots must be postmarked by Election Day. In-person early voting begins October 19; the days and hours available vary by location.
April 10 Presidential Primary and August 18 State Primary
Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy (R) declared a public health emergency on March 11, 2020. At the time, the Alaska Democratic Party was conducting its presidential primary, and it altered the voting procedures as the pandemic unfolded. All registered Democrats received a ballot by mail in mid-February, but the party cancelled its plans for in-person voting sites on the scheduled election date of April 4. Democrats were given until April 10 to return their mail ballots rather than the original postmark deadline of March 24.
On April 10, Governor Dunleavy signed Senate Bill 241, which authorized the Director of the Division of Elections, Gail Fenumiai, to conduct any election by mail during the declared emergency, using the processes that currently govern the limited-purpose vote-by-mail elections already carried out in the state. On May 15, Lieutenant Governor Kevin Meyer (R) and Fenumiai jointly announced that the August 18 primary for federal and state offices would not be conducted by mail. Instead, Meyer announced absentee ballot applications would be sent to all voters who were 65 or older. On June 24, the Division of Elections opened an online portal that voters could use to apply for an absentee ballot. The Alaska Democratic and Republican Parties have announced they would send applications to all of their voters, and some lawmakers sent applications to all constituents. The USPS changed its rules to prohibit postal workers from serving as witnesses while on duty, which creates a challenge for Alaska voters who need their ballots either notarized or witnessed by an official authorized to administer oaths, or if neither option is available, by anyone 18 or older. The change, which happened earlier in the summer, came to light when state primary voters seeking witnesses were turned away by the post office.
To address the state’s poll worker shortage, the Division of Elections announced a program allowing nonprofits to “Adopt-a-Precinct” in exchange for a donation to their organization. In addition, state employees were authorized to work at a polling place in exchange for their usual pay. On July 22, Lieutenant Governor Meyer issued an emergency regulation raising poll worker pay by $3 per hour for both the state primary and November general election. Despite these efforts, six villages were unable to open polling places and were able to offer only in-person absentee voting at tribal or municipal offices for the August 18 state primary. Otherwise, the August 18 primary went relatively smoothly, according to news reports.
November 3 General Election
On September 8, the ACLU and other civil rights groups sued to block the state’s requirement that absentee ballots be notarized or witnessed during COVID-19, alleging that during the pandemic the requirement violates Alaska’s constitution. The court agreed that the requirement impermissibly burdens the right to vote, but allowed the state to appeal to the Alaska Supreme Court before issuing an injunction. On October 12, the Alaska Supreme Court allowed the trial court’s decision to stand, and as result, voters will not need witnesses to cast absentee ballots this year. Other than this change, Alaska is following its ordinary election procedures, except that the state mailed absentee ballots about a week earlier than usual due to the large volume of requests. A separate suit sought to require the state to send all voters an absentee ballot application. Although that case is ongoing, it will not affect the November general election.
Last updated on October 13.
Arizona conducted the November general election without changes to state election law other than a court-ordered extension of the voter registration deadline from October 5 to October 15. After Election Day, conspiracy theories relating to Maricopa County’s distribution of Sharpie pens at vote centers to mark ballots, both during early voting and on Election Day, led to three lawsuits asserting that the Sharpies bled through the ballots and caused the vote tabulating machines to misread them and invalidate votes. In addition, the Arizona Republican Party sued Maricopa County over its election audit procedures. All of these cases were ultimately found to be without merit and dismissed. In fact, the manufacturer of the vote tabulating machines recommends Sharpie pens for marking ballots.
All voters in Arizona may vote by mail if they request a ballot; no excuse is needed. In fact, 80% of Arizona voters normally receive a ballot by mail. Despite litigation seeking to change the deadline, ballots must be returned by 7 p.m. on Election Day.
In person early voting began October 7, the same day ballots were mailed to voters who requested them. The number of early voting locations, and the times and dates they were open, varied widely by county and location.
March 17 Presidential Primary, August 4 State Primary
Early voting in the presidential primary began on February 19, the same day election officials began mailing absentee ballots to voters. Governor Doug Ducey (R) declared a public health emergency on March 11, 2020, and early voting ended on March 13. That day, Maricopa County attempted to mail presidential primary ballots to registered Democrats in the county who had not requested to vote by mail, but Attorney General Mark Brnovich (R) immediately sued and obtained a restraining order blocking the effort. On March 16, Secretary Hobbs confirmed that in-person Election Day voting would go forward as scheduled. In response, some counties closed or moved polling places or converted them to vote centers that were open to all voters in the county, provided hand sanitizer, and expanded ballot drop off options. No major issues were reported at polling locations, and turnout was higher than in 2016.
After the presidential primary, Secretary of State Katie Hobbs (D) and county election officials called on the legislature to allow counties to conduct elections by mail, but it failed to do so. Responding to concerns about poll worker shortages and challenges locating polling places, on July 22, Governor Ducey ordered state facilities be made available to counties for use as voting locations and enabled state employees to take special paid leave to serve as poll workers.
For the August 4 state primary, Maricopa County, home to more than half the state’s population, replaced its approximately 500 precinct-based polling places with 99 vote centers. The vote centers were open to any registered voter in the county. Maricopa opened 79 of the vote centers for early voting on a staggered schedule, with most opening 10-14 days before Election Day. Some were open on nights and weekends. County officials also contacted voters who were not on the permanent early voting list to inform them of their mail voting options. The state primary, held on August 4, went smoothly, with no major problems reported. Voters turned out in record numbers, although most voters cast mail ballots.
November 3 General Election
Governor Ducey’s order making state facilities available to counties for use as voting locations and enabling state employees to take special paid leave to serve as poll workers remained in effect. Maricopa County, Arizona’s largest, tried to increase the number of people voting by mail by making its own link to apply for a ballot, and again decided to conduct the election using vote centers. This time the county opened 175 vote centers on a staggered schedule, and offered weekend and evening voting. As of October 5, 78% of Maricopa County voters had requested a mail ballot. Pima County, Arizona’s second largest, sent voters applications for mail ballots and saw a record number of mail ballots requested in response. Mohave County also saw record mail ballot requests, with more than 80,000 of the County’s 128,000 registered voters requesting them as of September 29.
As a result of litigation over the mail ballot return deadline, the state agreed to conduct voter education about mail voting. The agreement includes educating voters about the state’s Election Day ballot receipt deadline in multiple languages, providing a dedicated mail ballot webpage, and funding counties to expand early voting opportunities in rural areas and communities with significant Native American and Latinx populations. Another lawsuit over the ballot return deadline sought to require the state to accept ballots postmarked by Election Day from members of the Navajo Nation living on tribal lands, but the district court rejected the request. Plaintiffs appealed, but on October 15, the Ninth Circuit agreed the deadline should not change.
COVID-19 has created a special challenge for voters in hospitals or nursing homes who need assistance. Normally counties can send special election boards to help, but some facilities will not allow them in because of COVID-19. As a result, Secretary Hobbs issued guidance for counties to assist these voters remotely. That created a backlash from Governor Ducey, and Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes went to court to validate the procedure. On October 5, the court decided that federal law required the accommodation of disabled voters, and when truly necessary, the video conferencing procedure could be used.
Problems with the motor vehicle department website thwarted some voter registration efforts, but voter registration has surged in Maricopa County. Because of voter registration challenges created by the pandemic, on October 5, Mi Familia Vota won an order extending the voter registration deadline from October 5 through 5 p.m. on October 23. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals modified the extension, allowing it to continue through October 15.
On October 6, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals blocked a lower court order harmonizing the deadlines voters face to remedy defects with their mail ballots. Under state law, voters have until the fifth day after the election to resolve a mismatched signature, but they must supply a missing signature before the close of polls on Election Day. Because of the Ninth Circuit’s action, those differential deadlines applied in November.
Last updated November 24, 2020.
Though Arkansas requires an excuse to vote by absentee ballot, voters who are concerned about contracting or transmitting COVID-19 may request a ballot using the existing excuse for voters who will be “unavoidably absent” from the polls on Election Day. Voters applying for absentee ballots by mail must deliver their applications to the appropriate clerk by October 27, and completed ballots must be received at the clerk’s office by the close of polls on November 3. In-person early voting will take place on the usual schedule for a general election, with voting on Mondays-Saturdays from October 19 to November 2. Some counties are taking advantage of an Arkansas law that allows counties to switch Election Day voting locations from a precinct-based model to a “vote center” model that allows a county’s voters to cast their ballots at any location in the county regardless of their address.
March 31 Primary Runoffs and later spring elections
Governor Asa Hutchinson (R) declared a public health emergency on March 11, 2020, eight days after the state conducted its March 3 presidential and state primary election. Twelve Arkansas counties had primary runoff elections scheduled for March 31. The State Board of Election Commissioners issued guidance to local election officials with suggested risk-mitigation strategies, including notifying voters of the absentee ballot option and consolidating polling sites, while clarifying that local officials could not unilaterally cancel or postpone in-person voting for elections. On March 20, Governor Hutchinson issued an executive order pertaining to the March 31 elections that allowed counties to consolidate to one Election Day polling site as late as three days before the elections, permitted all voters to vote by absentee ballot without needing an excuse, and allowed counties to accept absentee ballot applications and mail ballots to voters within the seven days preceding Election Day. A lawsuit to extend the ballot receipt deadline for the March 31 primary runoffs was unsuccessful.
Various Arkansas localities held special elections on May 12, June 9, and July 7. Governor Hutchinson issued executive orders making the same changes for those elections as were made for the primary runoffs.
November 3 General Election
On June 23, Arkansas voters sued Secretary of State John Thurston (R) to require election officials to allow voters to apply for an absentee ballot without an excuse, to mail absentee ballot applications to all registered voters, and to provide funds to counties to provide return postage for absentee ballots. Three days later, Secretary Thurston issued a statement that existing absentee ballot eligibility rules would allow voters concerned about the spread of COVID-19 to cast an absentee ballot in the November election. The State Board of Election Commissioners, chaired by Thurston, later issued a resolution interpreting Arkansas law as allowing any voter fearful for their own health or the health of others to request an absentee ballot using the existing excuse for voters who will be “unavoidably absent” from the polls. After issuing the resolution,, Thurston successfully convinced the court to dismiss the remaining counts of the suit.
In August, Governor Hutchinson issued an executive order providing that for the November election, concerns about voting in person due to COVID-19 would be a sufficient basis for voters to use the “unavoidably absent” excuse to vote absentee. The order also allows county officials to begin processing absentee ballots a week earlier than allowed under existing statutory law.
In-person early voting will begin on October 19. Counties have announced increases in early voting polling place capacity and the number of locations in anticipation of high demand for early voting. Election Day voting may be different for many Arkansas voters, as some counties are converting from traditional precinct-based polling location models to “vote center” models that allow voters to select any location in the county to cast their ballot.
Last update October 14, 2020.
California is conducting the November general election as a modified mail ballot election. All active voters will receive a ballot by mail with prepaid return postage. Seventeen counties were mailing ballots to all voters even before the pandemic, including three rural counties that meet statutory criteria to conduct their elections by mail, as well as 14 others that opted into a hybrid system of mail and in-person voting under a 2016 law known as the Voter’s Choice Act. In all counties, ballots returned by mail must be postmarked by Election Day; if returned to a ballot drop box, voting location or an election office, they must be returned by the close of polls on Election Day. All counties will offer in-person early and Election Day voting; however, many counties are choosing to consolidate polling places, offer ballot drop boxes, and change early voting dates and times consistent with legislation enacted specifically for this election. Other counties are forgoing this option and will open their traditional Election Day polling places. On September 30, the Secretary of State detailed each county’s approach.
In-person early voting in many counties began at election offices on October 5, the same day ballots were mailed, but will expand substantially starting on the Friday or Saturday before Election Day. In the counties that conduct elections pursuant to the Voters Choice Act, early voting must start the Saturday before the Election, although it may start as early as Saturday the 24th.
March 3 State and Presidential Primary, Spring Special Elections
California held its presidential and down-ballot primaries on March 3, one day before Governor Gavin Newsom (D) declared a state of emergency. The March 3 primary followed a period of mail and early voting that began four weeks earlier. Election officials did not make major changes to the conduct of the primary, although some counties added ballot drop off locations and made hand sanitizer and sanitizing wipes available, among other steps. On March 20, Governor Newsom extended canvassing deadlines for the primary by 21 days in response to the pandemic.
In the same March 20 executive order and in a subsequent order dated April 9, Governor Newsom ordered six special elections scheduled between April and June be conducted as mail ballot elections. He also authorized in-person voting on or before Election Day for each election in a manner consistent with public health and safety. Newsom extended the statutory canvassing deadlines for two of these elections and required substantial public notice of the changes. On April 29, the California Republican Party filed suit in Sacramento County Superior Court, seeking a declaration that organized ballot collection efforts for the May 12 special election would violate Governor Newsom’s stay-at-home order. On May 5, the court denied the plaintiff’s emergency application after concluding that the Governor’s order and related state health directives clearly authorized door-to-door ballot collection.
November 3 General Election
On April 28, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to join the 14 other counties that mail all eligible voters a ballot for all elections. On May 8, Governor Newsom issued an executive order requiring county officials across the state to send vote-by-mail ballots to all registered voters for the November election, while emphasizing that in-person voting opportunities will remain a priority. Former Congressman Darrell Issa (R) and the Republican National Committee filed separate federal lawsuits seeking to block the order as unconstitutional. Both the order and the related lawsuits became moot on June 18, 2020, when California enacted Assembly Bill 860, and both suits have since been dismissed. The new law requires counties to send all voters a ballot; allows all voters to use a certified, remote vote-by-mail system normally available only to disabled, overseas, and uniformed voters; requires counties to offer detailed ballot tracking; gives the post office two extra weeks to deliver ballots that are postmarked on or before Election Day; and allows counties with appropriate technology to begin counting mail ballots 29 days before Election Day, instead of 10 business days before. The new law applies to the November 3 general election only.
On June 3, the Governor issued another executive order, which specified minimum in-person voting and ballot drop box requirements for the November 3 election, and which required all counties to offer comprehensive ballot tracking. The Office of Secretary of State Alex Padilla (D) issued guidance to counties in implementing these requirements. On June 12, a California judge blocked enforcement of this executive order, concluding that it was an unconstitutional exercise of legislative power, but the appellate court reinstated the executive order, ruling the trial court’s action premature. On August 6, California enacted Senate Bill 423, which mirrors the Governor’s executive order other than the provisions relating to ballot tracking, which was addressed by the previously enacted Assembly Bill 860.
Throughout August, September and early October, counties have finalized their plans, mailed ballots, and the state has run a public education campaign. Sixteen counties, such as Shasta and San Francisco, intend to open all their normal polling places. Most other non-Voter’s Choice Act counties are consolidating, and consequently have installed many new drop boxes, designated large, high profile locations as voting sites, and altered polling place operations. Wildfire has displaced voters, and the Secretary of State issued guidance for how they can vote. Santa Cruz County is offering mobile voting in part to reach fire-displaced voters.
On October 11, a ballot drop box controversy erupted, when the state discovered at least three county Republican parties had opened unofficial ballot drop boxes, labeled them as official boxes, and began collecting ballots in them. Secretary of State Alex Padilla (D) issued guidance to counties underscoring the illegality of the boxes, and he and Attorney General Xavier Becerra sent the Republican groups a cease and desist letter on October 12, which the California Republican Party has chosen to ignore, as of October 13. The Orange County district attorney is investigating.
Last updated on October 14, 2020.
Colorado conducts its elections by mail, with in-person voting at countywide vote centers starting the 15th day before the election (October 19 this year). During in-person voting, election workers must wear masks, while voters will be encouraged but not required to wear them. Other than altering assisted voting in nursing homes, Colorado is conducting the November election according to its ordinary election procedures. The biggest changes this year are a sharp increase in the number of ballot drop boxes and voter service centers statewide, a substantially improved ballot tracking system, and a more convenient ballot defect cure process.
March 3 Presidential Primary and June 30 State Primary
Colorado Governor Jared Polis (D) declared a disaster emergency on March 11, 2020, approximately one week after the state completed its March 3 presidential primary. No changes were made to voting procedures for the primary as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
On March 16, 2020, Governor Polis ordered Secretary of State Jena Griswold (D) to issue emergency rules to enable all voters to safely participate in the June 30 primary. Two days later, the Governor amended this order by directing the Secretary of State to take additional actions to facilitate social distancing during election processes related to the June primary, including issuing emergency rules to allow ballots to be delivered to group residential facilities by mail, electronic delivery or other means that do not require election officials to enter the facilities. The Governor extended these orders on April 14, May 14 and June 11 to prevent them from expiring; they remained in effect through the June 30 primary. On May 9, the Secretary issued emergency rules in response to the March 16 order, which provided detailed instructions for safe in-person voting, ballot transport and processing, and other aspects of conducting the election. These rules did not address group residential facilities. The June 30 state primary went smoothly, with no reported problems with lines or voting more generally. Voters set a record for turnout in a state primary, and over 99% of ballots were cast by mail or by returning the ballot to a drop box.
November 3 General Election
On July 10, Governor Polis issued a new executive order which vacated his March 16 order but maintained the provisions of the March 18th order. As a result, the prohibitions on in-person ballot delivery to group residential facilities remain in effect, as do certain changes for canvassing ballots. The Governor extended this order for additional 30 days on August 8, September 6, and October 5. On September 4, Secretary Griswold adopted a modified version of the May 9 emergency rules. The changes between the versions relate to certain hygiene and petition rules, and do not alter the basic conduct of the election.
Secretary Griswold has announced that counties would open 368 ballot drop boxes statewide, up from fewer than 250 in 2018, and 342 voter service and polling centers, an increase of 42 from 2018. In addition, the Secretary is offering counties funding to open their voter centers on Sundays, which is allowed but not required. On September 17, Griswold announced that all voters statewide would have access to comprehensive ballot tracking, and on October 7 she announced that all voters would be able to cure ballot defects by texting with election officials.
Ballots were mailed on October 9, and over 435,000 had been returned through October 15. In person voting began October 19.
Last updated October 19, 2020.
Connecticut requires voters to have an excuse to vote by absentee ballot, but Governor Ned Lamont (D) signed legislation on July 31 establishing a new COVID-19 excuse for absentee voting. Secretary of State Denise Merrill (D) mailed absentee ballot applications to all active registered voters; ballots will come with prepaid return postage; and Secretary Merill purchased a drop box for every town in the state. Although Connecticut traditionally does not offer early voting, all voters are eligible to cast an absentee ballot in person at their clerk’s offices thanks to the legislation expanding absentee eligibility.
August 11 Primary
Governor Lamont postponed the state’s presidential primary twice by executive order: first from April 28 to June 2, then to August 11 to coincide with the state primary. On May 4, Secretary of Merrill (D) announced a plan for the August and November elections to mail absentee ballot applications with prepaid return postage to all registered voters, to include prepaid return postage for all absentee ballots, and to educate voters about the absentee voting option. The plan also included a grant program for municipalities that submit a “Safe Polls Plan” and close all schools on Election Day. Every municipality also was to receive a secure drop box for ballot deposit.
Two days later, Merrill issued an interpretive opinion stating that individuals with pre-existing illnesses that put them at increased risk when exposed to COVID-19 would be eligible to vote by absentee ballot using the statutory excuse of “his or her illness.” Other voters who were deemed eligible to use the illness excuse include those who “may have been in contact with a COVID-19 infected individual,” such as healthcare workers and first responders, “individuals who are caring for someone at increased risk,” and anyone who feels ill or thinks they are ill “because of the possibility of contact with the COVID-19 virus.”
Secretary Merrill then called on the legislature to further expand absentee ballot eligibility by removing restrictive statutory language that requires an applicant to cite “his or her” illness rather than “illness” generally as the basis for the request. In the absence of legislative action, Merrill urged Governor Lamont to use his emergency powers to temporarily strike this language from the statute. Merrill also pressed the legislature to vote for a constitutional amendment to allow early voting and no-excuse absentee voting, while acknowledging that it would not take effect before the November election.
On May 20, Governor Lamont issued an executive order using his emergency powers to modify the state code, permitting all voters to request and cast absentee ballots in the August 11 primary election so long as there was no federally approved and widely available vaccine for COVID-19. This executive order also permitted the use of drop boxes for the return of ballots and permitted municipal clerks to contract with a third-party mailing vendor to send absentee ballots.
The day before the presidential and state primary, Governor Lamont issued Executive Order No. 7MMM, which established a postmark deadline of Election Day and mandated that ballots be counted if received by August 13, two days after Election Day, so long as they were postmarked on time. This order was issued in part as a response to lingering power outages caused by Tropical Storm Isaias.
November 3 General Election
Secretary Merrill’s May 4 election plan remains the blueprint for the conduct of the November general election. Merill mailed absentee ballot applications with prepaid return postage to all active registered voters; included prepaid return postage with all absentee ballots; and established drop boxes across the state.
Governor Lamont issued a proclamation on July 17 calling the legislature to Hartford for a special session. The legislature passed House Bill 6002 a, which Governor Lamont signed on July 31. This bill made the following changes for the November general election:
- Establishes a new COVID-19 excuse enabling all voters to request an absentee ballot.
- Requires clerks to mail ballots to voters within 48 hours of receipt of a valid application.
- Allows ballots to be returned via drop boxes.
Lamont again called for a special session of the legislature in September, resulting in his signing House Bill 7005 c, which allows ballot processing to begin 14 days before Election Day rather than two hours before polls open on Election Day.
Last updated October 12, 2020.
Delaware requires an excuse to vote by absentee ballot, but Governor John Carney (D) signed legislation allowing all registered voters to take advantage of a separate “vote by mail” process in the September state primary and November election. All registered voters received mail ballot applications; ballots were sent with prepaid return postage; and drop boxes have been set up in elections offices. Although Delaware does not usually offer early voting, voters will be able to apply for, receive, and return ballots at Department of Elections offices. As of October 20, 18% of registered voters had requested a mail ballot; in 2016, only 6% of registered voters voted by absentee ballot.
July 7 Presidential Primary
Governor Carney declared a state of emergency on March 12, 2020, and on March 24 and May 7, he issued orders modifying procedures for the state’s upcoming elections. In the March 24 order, Governor Carney announced that while his emergency declaration remains in effect, any individual who is practicing social distancing may vote absentee in the presidential primary, the September 15 state primary, and any special election for statewide or local offices by using the existing excuse covering those who are “sick or physically disabled.” He also postponed the state’s April 28 presidential primary elections, first to June 2 and then to July 7. On May 7, he ordered the Department of Elections to mail absentee ballot applications to all registered Democrats and Republicans for the primaries and to operate a reduced number of Election Day polling places, with at least six per county. The orders also authorized the Department of Elections to begin processing ballots early—at first, up to 10 days before an election, later extended to 30 days before an election—in light of the anticipated increase in absentee voting. Delaware did not experience notable issues in administering the July 7 presidential primary; absentee ballot use was high, and turnout was approximately 23%.
September 15 State Primary & November 3 General Election
On July 1, Governor Carney signed House Bill 346, which set procedures for the September 15 state primary and November general election. H.B. 346 established a process for “voting by mail”—which is distinct from the state’s absentee voting process—whereby all registered voters would receive applications, ballots would be sent with prepaid return postage, and drop boxes would be set up in elections offices.
The League of Women Voters of Delaware and the ACLU of Delaware sued state election officials in state court seeking to establish a postmark deadline of Election Day. Under state law, ballots must be received by 8 p.m. on Election Day in order to be counted. On October 9, the court rejected plaintiffs’ request for a preliminary injunction.
Last updated October 20, 2020.
District Of Columbia
Thanks to legislation passed by the city council and signed into law by Mayor Muriel Bowser (D), the Board of Elections sent ballots to all registered voters. Although the District already offered no-excuse absentee voting, voters normally have to apply for absentee ballots. The District offered 64 early voting locations and has installed 55 drop boxes across the city. On Election Day, there will be nearly 100 vote centers. As of October 20, over 100,000 ballots have been received, representing 32.7% of total turnout in 2016.
June 2 Presidential Primary
Mayor Bowser signed Bill 733 on April 10, directing the District of Columbia Board of Elections to send absentee ballot applications with prepaid return envelopes to all voters for the June 2 presidential primary election. This law also waived the signature requirement for absentee ballot requests, allowing voters to complete and submit their forms electronically without a printer. The Board of Elections encouraged all voters to request an absentee ballot for the primary. It announced on March 27 that the number of vote centers open for early voting would increase from 15 to 20. These 20 vote centers were the only voting locations on Election Day; the District’s 144 precinct-based polling places did not open.
The June 2 election was marked by what Bowser called “failed execution.” The 20 in-person polling places were marred by long lines, with most locations having lines over 90 minutes at 5 p.m., according to the Board of Elections’ tracking website. Some voters waited in line for several hours after polls closed. Many voters also reported not receiving absentee ballots they had requested. Following these issues, the District mailed ballots to all eligible voters for a special election held on June 16.
November 3 General Election
its intention to do); requiring at least 80 in-person vote centers for Election Day; and changing the timeline for required hearings for voters whose provisional ballots have been preliminarily rejected from 2 days after Election Day to 8 to 10 days after Election Day. The District has established 55 drop boxes throughout the city, along with 64 early voting centers and nearly 100 Election Day vote centers.
Last updated November 2, 2020.
All Florida voters are allowed to vote by mail without excuse. Ballots must be returned by the close of polls on Election Day and are verified by signature matching. Defects with ballots may be cured up to two days after the election. Record numbers of voters are expected to vote by mail, and counties have been installing drop boxes in addition to the locations available at early voting sites. As of October 9, over 1.3 million people had voted in Florida, representing 14.3% of the 2016 general election turnout. All of those votes were cast by mail, as in-person early voting cannot begin until October 19.
As a result of litigation, five counties will be offering visually impaired voters accessible mail ballots for the first time; eventually all counties must do so. A settlement reached in another lawsuit required the Secretary of State to educate the public about voting options; to encourage county officials to increase access to mail and early voting; and to improve the online voter registration system. Despite these efforts, the online voter registration system crashed on the last day to register, leading to a one-day extension of the deadline.
Early voting must be offered beginning on Saturday, October 24, and continuing through Saturday, October 31, for eight hours each day. Counties are allowed to start early voting as early as October 19 and continue it through Sunday November 1, and they are allowed to offer as many as 12 hours of voting a day. Only four of Florida’s 67 counties decided not to offer at least one optional day, and of those four, two are offering some optional hours.
Presidential Primary March 17, State Primary August 18
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (R) declared a public health emergency on March 1, 2020. The state’s presidential primary went forward as scheduled on March 17, after a group of civil rights organizations sued unsuccessfully to require the state to extend deadlines for absentee voting and allow curbside voting. Election officials closed or moved numerous Election Day polling places, affecting over 300,000 voters in Pinellas County alone, and many poll workers made the last-minute decision to stay home. Shortly after the election, at least three poll workers tested positive for COVID-19. Of the 1.4 million mail ballots cast, 18,000 were rejected. Mail ballots cast by Black voters were rejected at over twice the rateas mail ballots cast by white voters. DeSantis later granted the request of county officials to reschedule local elections in Pasco County from April 14 to June 30.
Citing the “significant challenges” it encountered during the presidential primary with poll worker shortages and polling places no longer being available, the statewide organization of election supervisors wrote Governor DeSantis on April 7, requesting that he issue an executive order modifying various election procedures for the August 18 state primary and November election. While taking the position that an all-mail election would not be feasible, the supervisors asked for temporary changes that would allow counties to extend the early voting period and change or add early voting sites; allow them to consolidate Election Day polling places; allow more time for ballots to be mailed to voters and give election officials extra time to process requests; and allow absentee ballot counting to start earlier.
In response, the Governor issued an executive order on June 17 that made no changes to the hours or number of locations for in-person voting, whether early or on Election Day, but allowed officials to canvass mail ballots earlier and encouraged state employees to serve as poll workers in both elections by allowing them receive administrative leave for being trained and working on Election Day. The order also encouraged county, municipal and other public employers to match the policy. Finally, the order encouraged schools to close on both Election Days to serve as polling locations and urged teachers and other school employees to serve as poll workers.
In advance of the primary, several counties announced that they would send all voters absentee ballot applications, hoping to increase voting by mail. The application gives voters the option to request ballots by mail for up to two years. Other counties sent informational mailers urging people to apply for an absentee ballot. Some counties provided return postage for the ballots for the primary.
On July 9, counties began mailing state primary ballots to voters who had requested them. In-person early voting began in each county no later than August 8, although several counties took advantage of the option to start as early as August 3. Record numbers of voters cast absentee ballots. In at least some locations, drop box use was unusually high; early voting turnout varied by location. Election Day voting generally went smoothly statewide according to news reports. Broward County had the most reported problems, which included precincts running out of ballots and turning away voters despite having the capacity to print ballots on demand, as well as last-minute polling place changes that left voters confused and possibly unable to vote.
November 3 General Election
Plaintiffs in the presidential primary litigation amended their complaint to demand substantial changes to mail balloting, voter registration, and in-person voting, both early and on Election Day. The case was consolidated with Nielsen v. DeSantis, another federal suit in which plaintiffs asked the court to allow ballots to be counted if postmarked (rather than received) by Election Day; to require the state to pay the return postage on ballots; and to allow paid organizers to collect and return ballots. After the court rejected the Nielsen plaintiffs’ core requests, the parties settled the case. Among other things, the agreement requires the Secretary of State to take the following actions for the November election:
- educate local election officials about providing prepaid return postage, the availability of CARES Act funding, and accessible voting technologies;
- encourage the use of intelligent barcode tracking, drop boxes, and expanded early voting;
- create materials to educate voters about voting and ballot return options, with a particular emphasis on college-age voters, communities of color, and seniors;
- direct local election officials in counties that do not provide prepaid postage to inform voters who inquire about ballot return options that the Postal Service will deliver their ballot without a stamp; and
- improve the online voter registration system to the extent feasible.
Each county has discretion to choose the number and location of early voting sites, as well as to offer as many as six extra days of early voting and up to four extra hours on each day. Most are offering at least some extra early voting. Counties also may decide whether to offer ballot drop boxes beyond those at early voting locations or to prepay return postage on ballots. Broward County, Florida’s second largest, is offering all optional early voting days and hours, 22 early voting locations, two drop boxes in addition to the early voting locations, and is prepaying return postage. Duval County is offering 20 early voting locations, including two new ones, again for the maximum number of days and hours. Hillsborough County is offering 26 sites, again for the maximum number of days. Some locations, like the Amalie Arena and Raymond James Stadium, are new and chosen for social distancing. Palm Beach County is deploying vans to receive mail ballots at eight locations in addition to 17 early voting sites, and is opening three 24/7 drop box sites and paying return postage. Pasco county is opening 14 early voting sites, more than usual, for five optional early voting days and for the all the optional hours. Pasco has chosen new, larger capacity sites including the Wiregrass Ranch Sports Campus, the Veterans Memorial Park Gymnasium, J. Ben Harrill Recreational Complex Gymnasium and the Land O’Lakes Recreational Complex Gymnasium to facilitate social distancing. Florida counties are generally not requiring voters to wear masks, but they strongly encourage them. Miami-Dade County is setting up separate lines for voters without masks.
Florida’s voter registration deadline for the November general election was October 5, and in anticipation some counties stayed open late. The state’s online registration system crashed, and as a result, the state extended the deadline by 24 hours. Again, some counties kept their offices open late. A lawsuit to reopen registration, alleging the deadline extension had been inadequate, was denied. Despite the challenges, some counties were reporting record registrations.
Last updated October 9, 2020.
Georgia has long had no-excuse absentee voting and a lengthy early voting period. The State Election Board has issued emergency regulations for November 2020 allowing the use of ballot drop boxes and allowing ballots to be opened and scanned prior to Election Day. For November 2020, the number of in-person polling places for both early voting and on Election Day will be significantly higher than it was for the primary in June and will be comparable to what has been offered for past general elections. As of October 12, 22% of active registered voters had requested absentee ballots, compared to just 4% who voted absentee in 2016.
June 9 Primary & August 11 State Primary Runoff
Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R) twice postponed scheduled primary elections: first postponing the presidential primary from March 24 to May 19, then postponing both the presidential and state primaries to June 9.
On March 24, Secretary Raffensperger announced that his office would send absentee ballot applications to all active voters for the June 9 primary. Inactive voters, who have not voted in five years and failed to respond to an address confirmation notice, did not receive applications. On April 15, the State Election Board issued a rule allowing counties to establish drop boxes for the primary elections, and on May 18, the Board issued a rule allowing local election officials to open and scan ballots prior to Election Day.
While encouraging Georgians to vote by mail, Secretary Raffensberger noted the importance of in-person voting options for voters with disabilities, those without internet or mail access, and individuals who require language assistance. Nonetheless, more than 80 Election Day polling places were closed or consolidated across the Atlanta metro area alone, where officials also drastically reduced the number of early voting locations. Fulton County, which includes most of Atlanta and several surrounding suburbs, initially reduced both the hours for early voting and the number of early voting sites, from over twenty to just four. After reports of long lines and backlogs in processing absentee ballot requests, county officials twice extended early voting hours to open earlier and close later and opened four additional early voting locations. The county also installed 20 drop boxes.
The election on June 9 featured long lines and issues with the operation of new voting machines for which poll workers had not received in-person training. Thousands of voters never received absentee ballots they had requested. These issues were concentrated in the Atlanta area, although judges ordered polling places to stay open late in at least 20 counties. Secretary Raffensperger blamed county officials for these issues and committed to working with the legislature to give the state greater authority to intervene and “require management changes” at the local level in the future. Despite the issues experienced, turnout was a record high for a primary election.
Three days after the election, State Elections Director Chris Harvey instructed county election directors to give voters additional time to correct missing or deficient signatures on their absentee ballots. Generally, problems with ballots must be cured by the third day after an election; under Harvey’s instruction, voters had three business days after receiving notification of a deficiency. Harvey issued the directive after the Democratic Party of Georgia filed a lawsuit arguing that many voters would not be notified of problems with their ballots until it was too late to correct them.
The August 11 primary runoff election went smoothly, although turnout was low. In Fulton County, 77% of ballots were cast before Election Day, approaching Fulton County Commission Chairman Rob Pitts’ goal of 80%.
November 3 General Election & January 5, 2021, Runoffs
On July 1, the State Election Board issued regulations applicable to the November general election allowing the use of ballot drop boxes and allowing ballots to be opened and scanned prior to Election Day.
In The New Georgia Project v. Raffensperger, a U.S. district judge issued an order requiring the state to accept ballots received by the Friday after Election Day so long as they were postmarked by Election Day; however, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit imposed a stay on Judge Ross’s order, reinstating the Election Day receipt deadline.
In Fulton County, which contains most of Atlanta, local officials have increased the number of voting locations for both early voting (from 4 to 30) and Election Day (from 164 to 255) compared to the June primary. Statewide, 128,000 voters cast ballots on the first day of early voting, compared to 91,000 in 2016. Some voters waited in lines of up to 11 hours.
Georgia will likely have general election runoffs on January 5, 2021.
Last updated October 15, 2020.
In 2019 Hawaii changed its election code to conduct all elections by mail with in-person voting at voter service centers starting with the 2020 elections. The pandemic has not caused the state to change any of its election procedures. Counties mailed ballots to voters October 5-9. Voters must return the ballots by Election Day. Voter service centers open on October 20.
May 22 Presidential Primary and August 8 State Primary
Governor David Y. Ige (D) declared a state of emergency on March 4, 2020. The state’s party-run Democratic presidential primary was designed to be a mail ballot election with in-person registration and voting options on April 4, 2020. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Democratic Party of Hawai’i announced on March 20 that it would cancel in-person voting and mail another round of ballots to voters who enrolled with the Party by April 4. Ballots had to be returned by May 22.
The first state-run election in 2020 was the state primary on August 8, which was the state’s first all mail-ballot election. The change resulted in record turnout. No changes were made to election procedures in light of COVID-19 other than vote center hygiene practices.
November 3 General Election
Hawaii mailed ballots to voters October 5 through October 9. Ballot drop boxes are open in every county, and voter service centers in each county open October 20. Ballots must be returned by 7 p.m. on Election Day.
Last updated October 19, 2020.
Idaho allows all voters to vote by absentee ballot without an excuse. State officials took advantage of this feature to conduct the May 19 state primary entirely by absentee ballot. For November, all absentee ballots will have prepaid return postage. Voters applying for absentee ballots by mail must do so by October 23, and completed ballots must be received by the county clerk by the close of polls on November 3. All counties will offer early voting, through in-person absentee voting that began on September 18 and “Election Day-style” early voting that will be available in many counties October 19-30. The legislature passed a law requiring counties to provide in-person voting opportunities on November 3, but some counties have announced significant reductions in the number of polling locations.
May 19 State Primary Election
Governor Brad Little (R) declared a state of emergency on March 13, three days after the state held its presidential primary. On April 1, he issued a proclamation that suspended the laws requiring in-person voting (both early and on Election Day) for the May 19 state primary election. Instead, the order gave voters until 8 p.m. on May 19 to request an absentee ballot by mail, online via a new application portal, or in person, and ballots were delivered to voters solely by mail. Completed ballots had to be received by the issuing officer by 8 p.m. on June 2, 2020. As Idaho normally allows same-day registration during the early voting period and on Election Day, Governor Little also suspended the statutory deadline for voter registration to allow individuals to register to vote in the primary through May 19.
On the same day that Governor Little issued his proclamation concerning the May 19 primary, Secretary of State Lawerence Denney (R) announced that his office would be sending absentee ballot applications to all registered Idaho voters who had not already requested an absentee ballot. The state provided prepaid postage for all absentee ballots in the primary. Due to issues with the state’s online absentee ballot request system near the deadline to apply, a congressional candidate successfully sued to extend the ballot request deadline for the primary to May 26.
The all-absentee ballot primary saw 39% of registered voters cast a ballot, which represents Idaho’s highest turnout rate for a statewide primary election since 1980.
November 3 General Election
Governor Little called the Legislature into a special session the week of August 24 to address the conduct of the November general election, among other topics. The legislature passed bills, later signed by Governor Little, to require in-person voting opportunities to be provided to voters notwithstanding a declaration of emergency and to allow counties to begin processing absentee ballots seven days before Election Day. A separate bill that would allow Idaho counties to conduct in-person voting at countywide vote centers rather than precinct polling places failed in committee. Secretary Denney announced the state will provide prepaid return postage for absentee ballots for November.
Voters may cast a ballot early through in-person absentee voting, which began on September 18. Many counties will offer “Election Day-style” early voting from October 19-30, with Ada and Canyon counties beginning on October 13. Though the August legislation requires counties to provide in-person voting opportunities (unlike the May primary), counties have announced significant reductions in the number of November 3 polling locations due to difficulties recruiting poll workers during the pandemic.
Last updated October 14, 2020.
Governor J.B. Pritzker (D) signed legislation requiring that absentee ballot applications be mailed to all voters who have voted since 2018, facilitating increased early voting, and establishing a cure process for deficient absentee ballots, among other changes. Over 300 ballot drop boxes have been installed around the state. Early voting began on September 24 with increased hours and will run until the day before Election Day. As of October 21, Illinois voters have cast 1,364,617 ballots, representing around 15% of registered voters; in 2016, 32% of votes were cast early.
March 17 Presidential & State Primary
Governor Pritzker issued a disaster proclamation on March 9, 2020, and Illinois held its federal and state primary elections eight days later. Many polling places were closed or relocated, including 168 in Chicago and 80 in suburban Cook County. Chicago provided extended early voting hours on the four days preceding Election Day. Governor Pritzker ordered that a polling place located in a state-run veterans home be relocated. While voter turnout was down compared to the historic levels of 2016, large increases in absentee and early voting kept overall numbers roughly on par with previous years. Illinois does not require voters to provide an excuse to vote by absentee ballot.
November 3 General Election
- Required the mailing of an absentee ballot application to every registered voter who has voted since November 2018 or registered or updated their registration since March 2020.
- Expanded early voting hours.
- Established an online portal for absentee ballot applications.
- Permitted curbside voting.
- Expanded poll worker eligibility.
- Modified the online voter registration system to allow new registrants to apply for mail ballots while completing their registrations.
- Permitted local boards of elections to establish ballot drop boxes.
- Makes it more difficult for election judges to reject ballots for signature mismatches.
- Established a cure process for defective ballots.
Chicago established 51 voting centers, with one in each ward, for early voting and Election Day, and the city will offer hundreds of Election Day precinct-based polling places. Statewide, local jurisdictions have installed 345 ballot drop boxes.
Last updated November 2, 2020.
Indiana requires a qualifying excuse to vote by absentee ballot, and it is one of just five states that have not granted eligibility to all voters for the November election. Voters who meet the eligibility requirements must return their absentee ballots by noon on Election Day. As a result of litigation, election officials must notify voters if their ballot is missing a signature or if the signature does not match the one on file, and they must provide the voter with an opportunity to resolve the issue. As of October 14, over 500,000 voters had requested mail ballots.
Early voting began on October 6, and will continue through Election Day, including on at least two Saturdays. Early voting dates, locations and hours vary by county. During the first week of early voting, some voters faced lines of 90 minutes or more, and counties are reporting high levels of early voter turnout. Voters are not required to wear masks.
County officials are substantially consolidating polling places around the state.
June 2 State and Presidential Primaries
Governor Eric J. Holcomb declared a public health emergency on March 6, 2020. Two weeks later he postponed the state and presidential primary elections from May 5 to June 2. In that order, he requested the Secretary of State and the Indiana Election Commission take all necessary actions related to the postponement.
In response, the Commission issued Order 2020-37 on March 25, which allowed all voters to vote absentee without excuse, loosened restrictions on third-party ballot return, and made various other procedural changes to the election. The order directed the Secretary of State’s Election Division to make a special form to request an absentee ballot for the June 2 election and to create an online portal for ballot requests, which it did. Marion County, home to Indianapolis and the state’s largest county by population, voted to mail absentee ballot applications to all voters for both the June and November elections. A subsequent order extended the Commission’s prior order, required county officials to follow guidelines for safe in-person voting, and made various additional changes to election procedure for the June primary, the most important of which limited in-person early voting to May 26 through June 1. Ordinarily, in-person absentee voting begins 28 days before the election. Both of these orders were extended by Order 2020-44, so that they would be in effect during the primary.
To encourage recruitment of poll workers, Governor Holcomb issued an order on May 8 announcing that the stipend paid to poll workers for the June 2 primary would not count against any unemployment benefits that workers were receiving. In response to poll worker shortages, a number of counties chose to consolidate voting locations both during the curtailed early voting period and on Election Day.
On Election Day, voters in some areas faced long lines due to polling place closures. Marion County struggled to process the large volume of absentee ballot requests it received, and coupled with mail delays, many voters either received their ballots too late to return them by mail, or did not receive them at all.
November 3 General Election
In early August, the two Democratic members of the Indiana Election Commission published a letter urging the Commission to meet and again suspend the excuse requirement for absentee voting. However, Governor Holcomb expressed opposition to expanding absentee eligibility for November, and the Commission ultimately voted not to suspend the requirement. A lawsuit seeking to require the state to expand absentee eligibility was unsuccessful.
On August 20, a federal judge ruled that Indiana’s practice of disqualifying absentee ballots on the basis of mismatched signatures without giving the voter notice and an opportunity to cure was unconstitutional. The judge ordered the Secretary of State to direct county election officials not to disqualify ballots in this manner, and to “instruct such officials regarding the implementation of notice and cure procedures in time for the upcoming general election on November 3, 2020.” The Secretary issued the guidance on September 4, proactively expanding the cure directive to include missing as well as mismatched signatures.
Finally, Common Cause of Indiana and the Indiana Conference of the NAACP sued to require election officials to accept as timely any ballot that is postmarked by Election Day and received within 10 days of the election. The trial court granted the plaintiffs’ request, but the decision was reversed by the Seventh Circuit on appeal. As a result, ballots must be received by noon on Election Day to be considered timely.
Governor Holcomb again attempted to help counties recruit poll workers by ordering that poll worker pay will not count against unemployment benefits, and the Indiana Supreme Court urged lawyers to serve as poll workers. Nonetheless counties are consolidating polling places, at least in part due to a lack of poll workers. Some are designating arenas and other high-capacity sites as polling places for social distancing. Voting rights organizations are launching a website on October 24 to show early and Election Day polling place waiting times for Marion County, which had particularly long lines during the primary.
Last updated October 27, 2020.
Iowa does not require an excuse to vote by absentee ballot, and Secretary of State Paul Pate (R) sent absentee ballot applications to all voters. This came after new legislation and a directive issued by Pate limited the ability of county election officials to fill in missing information for voters on their absentee ballot applications. Tens of thousands of applications sent to voters by Democratic county auditors were invalidated by court orders as a result. County officials have installed drop boxes throughout the state; however, some have been removed following guidance from Secretary Pate that they may only be placed on county property.
In-person absentee voting in county auditors’ offices began on October 5. As of October 23, 41% of registered voters had requested absentee ballots and 33% had returned them; in 2016, 41% of votes were cast before Election Day.
June 2 State Primary
Iowa held its presidential caucuses on February 3, 2020, over a month before Governor Kim Reynolds (R) declared a state of emergency on March 9 and a public health emergency on March 17. On March 23, Secretary Pate announced an extension of the absentee voting period for the June primary election from 29 to 40 days and expanded eligibility for curbside voting from those with disabilities and who might have difficulty entering a polling place to all voters with risk factors putting them at increased risk of complications from COVID-19. The following week, Secretary Pate announced that he would send absentee ballot request forms with prepaid return postage to all active registered voters ahead of the primary.
Local election officials closed many polling places, but voters set a primary election turnout record, with absentee voting increasing more than tenfold.
November 3 General Election
Governor Reynolds signed legislation on June 25 that limits the secretary of state’s exercise of his emergency powers to actions approved by a group of legislators known as the legislative council. This law was enacted in response to Secretary Pate’s decision to send absentee ballot applications to all voters for the primary. The bill also limits the ability of counties to reduce the number of in-person polling places during states of emergency. After initially rejecting a proposal by Secretary Pate to send absentee ballot applications to all voters, the legislative council approved Pate’s emergency directive.
On June 30, Governor Reynolds signed a budget bill containing provisions that will make it more difficult for voters to apply for absentee ballots. Typically, when voters submitted application forms that were incomplete, local election officials used the registration database to fill in any missing information. Under the new law, county auditors are required to make personal contact with a voter in order to obtain information left off their application. This can include a Social Security number, driver’s license number, or voter identification number, all of which are already accessible to the auditors through the registration system. Voters who do not have access to this number may provide two alternative forms of identifying information.
Meanwhile, the reelection campaign of President Donald Trump (R) and various Republican Party organizations brought successful state court complaints against three Democratic county auditors (in Johnson, Linn, and Woodbury Counties) who sent pre-filled applications to voters despite a directive issued by Secretary Pate barring this practice, and Democratic Party groups sued in state court challenging Pate’s directive. Ultimately, the statutory provision and subsequent directive were upheld by the Iowa Supreme Court. As a result, county auditors have been barred from fulfilling approximately 13,000 ballot requests submitted via invalidated forms.
Secretary Pate also issued a directive allowing counties to begin processing absentee ballots on the Saturday before Election Day rather than one day before, as well as guidance stating that ballot drop boxes may only be placed at county offices, which prompted unsuccessful litigation and the removal of several boxes.
Last updated October 26, 2020.
Kansas will conduct the November general election according to its ordinary rules. All voters are allowed to vote absentee, which is called “advance voting.” Mail ballots must be postmarked by Election Day or returned to a drop box or the clerk by the close of polls on Election Day. Counties could choose to offer in-person advance voting starting on October 14, the same day ballots were mailed. Counties must offer it starting no later than October 24. Some counties have established additional ballot drop boxes, reduced the number of Election Day polling places, or both.
May 2 Presidential Primary
Governor Laura Kelly (D) proclaimed a State of Disaster Emergency on March 12, 2020. The Kansas Democratic Party, which conducted the presidential primary, had planned to mail Democrats ballots on March 30, require them to be postmarked by April 24, and allow in-person voting on Election Day, May 2. In response to the pandemic, party leaders decided to cancel in-person voting, mail an additional round of ballots to new registrants, extend the deadline to request a ballot, and accept any ballot received on or before May 2. The party announced its primary was a success.
August 4 State Primary
In June, Kansas enacted House Bill 2016, a sweeping COVID-19 response law that specifically prohibited the Governor from using emergency management power or any other power to alter election law, including changing the timing or manner of an election. Perhaps as a result, no changes to election procedure were made for the August primary. The Secretary of State announced voters could not be required to wear masks. The five most populous counties in the state mailed applications for advance ballots to all voters for the August 4 election. Many more people voted by mail than in a typical election. The election went relatively smoothly.
November 3 General Election
The Office of Secretary of State Scott Schwab (R) announced that the state will use a portion of the funds it received as part of the federal COVID-19 stimulus package (known as the CARES Act) to reimburse counties that provide return postage for advance mail ballots in the November election. Under Kansas law, counties are not required to provide return postage, but if they choose to do so, they ordinarily must pay for it with their own funds. In addition, the Secretary offered to buy two ballot drop boxes for any county that wanted them. As of October 19, nearly 500,000 people had requested advance mail ballots.
Last updated October 19, 2020.
The Kentucky State Board of Elections (SBOE) has significantly overhauled the state’s election procedures for the November general election. Voters who are concerned about contracting or spreading COVID-19 will be permitted to vote by absentee ballot by selecting the “age, disability, or illness” excuse. The state has also established an online portal through which absentee ballots can be requested. The SBOE is making drop boxes available to counties upon request, and ballots will be considered timely if postmarked (rather than received by) by Election Day. Voters will be notified of problems with their ballots and given an opportunity to cure within six days of Election Day. As of September 11, 7% of registered voters had requested an absentee ballot; in 2016, only 2% of votes were cast via absentee ballot.
The state does not generally offer early voting; however, for November 2020 there will be three weeks of early voting, including on Saturdays. For Election Day, counties have been directed to reduce the number of in-person polling places and establish vote centers.
June 23 Presidential & State Primary
Governor Beshear declared a state of emergency on March 6, and on March 16, he issued an executive order postponing the primary elections scheduled for May 19 until June 23. Two weeks later, the General Assembly passed House Bill 351, which authorizes the governor to modify the manner in which an election is conducted, provided he is acting on the recommendation of the secretary of state during a declared state of emergency. Prior to the bill’s passage, the governor’s power was limited to altering the time or place of an election. The bill also requires the governor and secretary of state to approve any procedures established by the State Board of Elections for conducting a modified election.
On April 24, Governor Beshear issued an executive order adopting recommendations from Secretary of State Michael Adams (R) for the June 23 primary and directing the State Board of Elections to issue emergency regulations to conduct the primary largely by mail. The SBOE regulations, which were ratified by Governor Beshear,
- Allowed all Kentucky voters to cast an absentee ballot using a modified version of the state’s existing procedure for absentee voting during a medical emergency.
- Required prepaid return postage for all ballots.
- Allowed voters to cast an absentee ballot in person at least five days per week between June 8 and June 22.
- Directed county clerks to reduce the number of Election Day polling places.
- Required the creation of an online portal for absentee ballot requests. (Ordinarily, Kentucky voters must request ballot applications from their county clerk.)
- Directed the SBOE to send a postcard to each registered voter informing them of the process for requesting a ballot, and encouraging voters who choose to vote in person to make an appointment.
- Authorized the SBOE to place ballot drop boxes at the offices of county clerks and in county courthouses.
- Required that ballots be counted if postmarked (as opposed to received) by Election Day.
- Authorized county absentee ballot processing committees to begin verifying ballots as early as June 1.
- Required county clerks to make reasonable efforts to notify voters if the signature on their ballot envelope could not be verified, and to provide an opportunity to fix the problem by the sixth day after Election Day.
County officials drastically reduced the number of in-person polling places, from roughly 3700 to only 170. Many counties, including Jefferson County, which contains Louisville, had only one polling place on Election Day. On June 18, U.S. District Judge Charles R. Simpson III denied a request for additional polling places in Jefferson, Fayette, and Kenton Counties.
On Election Day, there were long lines in Fayette County (Lexington), where there were too few check-in stations and delays processing voters who had requested (but in many cases, not received) absentee ballots, as well as in Jefferson County, where a judge extended voting hours by 30 minutes after voters became stuck in traffic outside the county’s only polling place. Turnout was the highest for a primary in Kentucky since the record-breaking 2008 primary election. Although election officials were required for the first time to notify voters if the signature on their absentee ballot could not be verified, they were not required to notify voters of other issues, such as a missing signature or missing inner envelope. Absentee ballot rejection rates were as high as 8% in Fayette County, with thousands of ballots being invalidated in Lexington and Louisville alone due to missing signatures and other ballot defects.
November 3 General Election
Following the primary election, a number of lawsuits were filed seeking to compel the state to extend its emergency plan to cover the November election as well. On August 14, Secretary Adams sent Governor Beshear a letter containing recommendations for the administration of the November general election as laid out in H.B. 351. Beshear incorporated the recommendations into an executive order in which he directed the State Board of Elections to promulgate regulations effecting the recommendations. Those regulations make the following changes:
- Allow all voters to vote by absentee ballot based on concerns about contracting or spreading COVID-19, based on language prescribed by Secretary Adams stating that all individuals with vulnerabilities or who are in potential contact with individuals with vulnerabilities will meet the standard of “not able to appear at the polls on Election Day due to age, disability, or illness.”.
- Mandate in-person early voting including on three Saturdays with procedures that limit direct contact between individuals.
- Allow counties to reduce the number of Election Day polling places, and require that counties’ in-person Election Day voting plans be approved by the Board of Elections, secretary of state, and governor.
- Require the State Board of Elections to purchase drop boxes and make them available to counties.
- Establish a postmark deadline of Election Day for the return of ballots, and require that ballots be received by three days after Election Day.
- Allow precinct election officials to be individuals registered to vote but not as Democrats or Republicans; permit election officials to work in shifts of under 12 hours; and mandate that individuals with prior experience as election officials be given preference in hiring.
- Establish an online portal to accept absentee ballot applications through October 9 that requires voters to provide information sufficient to verify their identities.
- Allow individuals who apply for a ballot by mail and are unable to obtain a photo ID or a copy of a photo ID to vote absentee by attesting that COVID-19 has prevented them from being able to obtain a qualifying document or make a copy of a document already in their possession. Kentucky voters are generally required to provide a copy of a photo ID with their absentee ballot applications beginning this year.
- Allow individuals voting in person who have been unable to obtain a qualifying photo ID due to COVID-19 to cast a ballot so long as they produce a valid non-photo ID or a non-governmental photo ID.
- Require the state to prepay postage for the mailing of ballots to and from voters.
- Allow processing of ballots to begin September 21. Generally, processing cannot begin until Election Day.
- Establish a cure process with a deadline of six days after Election Day. A wider range of ballot deficiencies will be eligible for cure than was the case for the June primary.
Last updated October 5, 2020.
Louisiana requires an excuse to vote by absentee ballot. Due to a district court ruling that the state chose not to appeal, absentee eligibility was expanded to include those who are at heightened risk from COVID-19, are experiencing symptoms, or have been advised to self-quarantine. Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin (R) extended the applicability of the cure process established for the primary to cover the November general election and December runoff. The same district court ruling that expanded absentee voting also extended the in-person early voting period from seven days to ten. There are over 100 early voting sites throughout the state. Some areas experienced long lines, and local election officials made efforts to expand capacity over the course of the early voting period. As of October 26, nearly 800,000 voters had cast their ballots; in 2016, a total of 531,555 voters cast their ballots before Election Day.
July 11 Presidential Primary
Governor John Bel Edwards (D) declared a public health emergency on March 11, 2020. In a series of executive orders, he postponed the presidential and municipal primary elections, first from April 4 to June 20, and then to July 11. Via the same orders, the municipal general elections were rescheduled from May 9 to July 25, and later to August 15.
On April 27, the legislature approved an emergency election plan presented by Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin for the July and August elections. Among other changes, Secretary Ardoin’s plan:
- expanded absentee voting eligibility to those who are at heightened risk from COVID-19, are experiencing symptoms, or have been advised to self-quarantine;
- expanded early voting from seven to thirteen days;
- required relocation of polling places located in senior centers and nursing homes and permit the relocation of certain others;
- permitted the Department of State to assist registrars with the anticipated increase in absentee ballot requests;
- allowed verification of absentee ballots to begin two days before Election Day, rather than on Election Day, in parishes that receive 2,000 or more absentee ballots;
- provided assistance in recruiting National Guard and state employees to serve as election workers; and
- assisted parishes in implementing the CDC’s Recommendations for Election Polling Locations.
A previous plan released by Secretary Ardoin, which would have established access to absentee voting to anyone under stay-at-home orders or concerned about exposure to COVID-19, was rejected by the Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee on April 15.
The Department of State issued an emergency rule on June 16 establishing a cure process for deficient absentee ballot signatures for remaining elections in 2020. Ballot envelopes missing a voter signature or witness signature, containing a signature that appears to be a mismatch (for municipal elections only), or missing other information would be marked as “deficient with opportunity to cure,” and voters would be notified by mail, telephone, and by email. Voters would then have until 4:30 p.m. on the day before Election Day to appear at the registrar’s office to correct the deficiency.
Lawsuits brought by the Power Coalition for Equity and Justice, the Louisiana State Conference of the NAACP, and three Louisiana voters, and by the Southern Poverty Law Center on behalf of the League of Women Voters Louisiana, the Crescent City Media Group, and a group of Louisiana voters sought to eliminate the excuse and witness requirements for absentee voting, expand early voting, and establish a ballot cure process that did not require voters to appear in person to resolve issues with their ballots. The suits were consolidated and then dismissed on June 22.
The number of early votes cast in the Democratic Party primary was nearly double the number in 2016, and the number of mail-in votes for the both major parties combined was four times the number from 2016.
November 3 General Election & December 5 Runoff
On August 17, Secretary Ardoin issued a proposal for conducting the November general election and December runoff. Secretary Ardoin’s plan would establish that any registered voter who tests positive for COVID-19 during or after early voting but before Election Day may utilize the “hospitalization” excuse to obtain an absentee ballot; expand the early voting period from seven days to ten days; expand daily hours of early voting; permit curbside ballot dropoff, with ID required; allow processing of ballots to begin four days before Election Day, as opposed to on Election Day; and increase poll worker pay, among other modifications. Governor Edwards rejected Ardoin’s plan as inadequate, threatening to block it, although he did declare an election emergency on August 18.
In response, Secretary Ardoin announced a series of actions he would take unilaterally, extending the absentee ballot cure process for missing witness signatures, voter signatures, and affidavit information to the November and December elections; advising registrars to consider offering staffed curbside ballot drop-off points at their offices between the end of early voting and Election Day; giving parish election officials more flexibility to relocate polling places; and directing registrars to work with nursing home operators in their parishes to designate a staff member as “temporary staff ” of the registrar to receive appropriate training and facilitate voting for nursing home residents where the facilities remain in lock-down.
In Harding v. Edwards, a group of organizational and individual plaintiffs filed a complaint in federal court seeking waiver of the excuse requirement; extension of the early voting period from seven days to at least thirteen; and the retention of other aspects of the election plan used in June and August. On September 16, Judge Shelly Dick issued an order extending the early voting period from seven days to ten and expanding absentee eligibility to include those who are at heightened risk from COVID-19, are experiencing symptoms, or have been advised to self-quarantine. Secretary Ardoin did not appeal the decision.
The New Orleans City Council won a temporary restraining order against Ardoin over a policy that would have limited the placement of ballot drop-off locations, which must be manned, to registrars’ offices; however, the Orleans Parish registrar of voters said that her office does not have the requisite funds to establish more sites.
Last updated November 3, 2020.
Maine offers no-excuse absentee voting, with a ballot receipt deadline of Election Day. Early voting, in the form of in-person absentee voting in clerks’ offices, generally begins 45 days before Election Day and runs until the third business day before Election Day; for the 2020 general election, Governor Janet Mills (D) extended this period by one day to the second business day before Election Day. Governor Mills also has given municipalities more flexibility to relocate Election Day polling places and to offer fewer voting machines at polling places. As of September 15, 18% of registered voters had requested absentee ballots, surpassing the 14% of registered voters who cast absentee ballots in 2016.
July 14 State Primary
Maine held its presidential primary on March 3, and Governor Janet Mills (D) declared a state of civil emergency on March 15. On March 18, Governor Mills signed Senate Bill 789, which allows the governor to take action considered necessary to facilitate voting in a manner that would preserve and protect public health for the state primary election scheduled for June 9. On April 10, Governor Mills issued an executive order moving the state primary election from June 9 to July 14 and allowing voters to request absentee ballots up to and including on Election Day. While Maine law allows for no-excuse absentee voting, voters normally must provide a qualifying excuse to request a ballot after the third business day before an election.
November 3 General Election
Governor Mills issued an executive order on August 26 requiring a number of changes for the conduct of the November general election. These changes include:
- Capping the number of people that may be inside a polling place at one time at 50; permitting municipalities to place fewer voting booths at each polling place than would usually be required if necessary for adequate distancing; and moving the deadline for public hearings regarding consolidation of polling places from 90 days before Election Day to 30 days before Election Day.
- Moving the deadline for submission of registration applications by third parties and by mail from 21 days before Election Day to 15 days before Election Day. Registration applications may be submitted in person up to and including on Election Day.
- Waiving the requirement that election clerks be a resident of the municipality or county in which they work; however, they still must be residents of an abutting county, and residents must be given preference.
- Allowing absentee ballots to be processed beginning seven days before Election Day rather than the four days provided for in statute.
- Suspending the requirement that municipal clerks facilitate voting by making personal visits to certain residential facilities.
- Empowering the secretary of state to issue guidance in order to facilitate voting, including on the provision of drop boxes.
- Extending the early voting period by one day, from the third business day before Election Day to 5 p.m. on the second business day before Election Day.
On June 23, the Alliance for Retired Americans and Vote.org, along with individual plaintiffs, sued Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap (D) and Attorney General Aaron Frey (D) in state court seeking to compel various changes to the state’s registration and absentee voting procedures for the November general election. The reelection campaign of President Donald Trump (R) joined the suit as an intervenor to defend the status quo, and on September 30, Superior Court Justice William R. Stokes denied the plaintiffs’ motion for a preliminary injunction.
Last updated October 5, 2020.
Governor Larry Hogan (R) rejected the State Board of Election’s proposal to mail ballots to all voters for the November election, citing the difficulties the Board encountered when conducting the June 2 primary by mail. As in all elections, no excuse is required to vote by absentee ballot, and ballots will be considered timely if postmarked by Election Day. Ballots include prepaid return postage this year, and close to 300 ballot drop boxes are being opened statewide. Nearly 1.5 million mail ballots have been requested as of October 14, compared to the approximately 180,000 cast in the 2016 general election. To manage this unusual volume, the SBOE authorized counties to begin counting ballots on October 1, rather than the Thursday after Election Day.
Local boards of election have substantially consolidated neighborhood polling places and converted them to countywide vote centers. The Board also shortened the early voting period from eight to five days, with the last day falling on the Monday rather than the Thursday before Election Day. Voters will be required to wear masks in order to vote.
April 28 Special Election, June 2 Presidential and State Primary
Governor Hogan declared a state of emergency on March 5, 2020. On March 17, he ordered the SBOE to conduct a scheduled special Congressional election by mail, postponed the state and federal primary from April 28 to June 2, and ordered the SBOE to develop a plan to conduct the June primary safely and equitably.
April 28 Special Congressional Election
The SBOE mailed ballots with prepaid return postage to all eligible voters for the April 28 special election. After Governor Hogan pushed back on the Board’s original plan to eliminate all in-person voting, the SBOE announced that it would allow each of the three jurisdictions participating in the special election to open one vote center on Election Day. With Governor Hogan’s authorization, the board also extended the voter registration deadlines to enable more new registrants to vote by mail rather than having to appear in person to register on Election Day.
The SBOE did not execute the mail ballot election flawlessly, as a number of ballots were delivered late or returned as undeliverable. Nonetheless, the effort to shift voters to mail voting appeared to work, as just over 1,000 voters cast their ballots in person on Election Day, compared to the nearly 110,000 who voted by mail. Vote centers were operated under strict public health guidelines, and ballots cast in person were quarantined for one day before being counted. Governor Hogan empowered the SBOE to begin counting ballots 12 days before Election Day.
June 2 State and Presidential Primary
The SBOE’s plan for the June primary generally followed the process for the Congressional special election. The Board mailed ballots to all voters, extended voter registration deadlines, eliminated in-person early voting, established ballot return locations from the beginning of the early voting period through Election Day, and authorized local boards of election to open between one and four vote centers on Election Day for both registration and in-person voting. On May 6, Governor Hogan again empowered the SBOE to begin counting ballots 12 days before the election and required the Board to give maximum possible notice to voters about how they could participate in the primary.
The June 2 election was marred by delays in delivering mail ballots to Montgomery County and Baltimore City voters, which prompted Baltimore officials to open two additional vote centers and increase the number of ballot drop boxes from 5 to 15. Voters experienced long lines at the consolidated polling places, which were forced to remain open well past the normal closing time. Despite these issues, the state saw a surge in overall turnout. Boards of election rejected approximately 35,000 mail ballots out of the nearly 3.6 million cast, or approximately 2.4%. Most were rejected because they arrived too late; approximately 3,300 were rejected because the voter did not sign the ballot envelope.
November 3 General Election
On July 2, the SBOE issued its analysis of the June 2 election and its resulting recommendations for November. Instead of a single recommended approach, the SBOE offered three possible election formats: a traditional election, a hybrid election with less in-person voting and more mail voting, and a mail ballot election, which would involve limited in-person voting but significantly more than in June. On July 8, Governor Hogan responded with a letter directing the SBOE to conduct a traditional election, but encouraging it to mail all voters an absentee ballot application, and to conduct a voter education campaign to drive mail voting, early voting and off-hours in-person voting. Hogan defended his decision to hold a traditional election, citing the SBOE’s poor execution of the two previous elections. On August 3, the Governor demanded the SBOE report why it had not yet mailed the absentee ballot applications to all voters, and what the SBOE would do to ensure that sufficient polling places would open. State Administrator of Elections Linda Lamone responded the next day, detailing the preparatory steps for the application mailing that would occur between August 24 and 31, and thanking the Governor for his poll worker recruitment efforts that had led to over 2,500 people applying to work. On August 5, the SBOE decided to shorten the October deadline to apply for a mail ballot by a week, to October 20.
On August 7th, the SBOE voted to ask the Governor to allow it to replace polling places with 282 countywide vote centers on Election Day and 80 early voting vote centers. In addition, the SBOE proposed shortening the early voting period from eight to five days while moving it closer to Election Day. Hogan chided the SBOE for its decision but authorized it to use countywide vote centers. The Board voted to approve the changes to the early voting period on August 12. Since then, the local boards of elections selected vote center and ballot drop box locations and continued to recruit poll workers. After reviewing and approving the local plans, on September 16 the SBOE published the final list of 318 Election Day and 81 early voting vote centers across the state. Two days later, the SBOE announced the statewide list of 282 drop boxes. The SBOE is running a $1.3 million voter education campaign to inform voters of these changes.
Last updated October 14, 2020.
Under the provisions of House Bill 4820, Massachusetts has sent mail ballot applications to all registered voters. State law requires an excuse to vote by absentee ballot; however, the state established a no-excuse process for “early voting by mail” in 2016 that applies to the November general election. Taking precautionary measures due to COVID-19 has also been deemed a qualifying disability enabling voters to cast an absentee ballot. Municipalities across the state have installed over 300 drop boxes. Also due to H.B. 4820, in-person early voting began on Saturday, October 17, two days earlier than it would in a typical year, and continued through October 30. As of October 21, 41% of registered voters had requested ballots and 25% had returned one; in 2016, 35% of votes were cast before Election Day.
September 1 State Primary
Massachusetts held its presidential primary on March 3, 2020, and Governor Charlie Baker (R) declared a state of emergency on March 10. On March 23, Governor Baker signed into law Senate Bill 2608, which permitted all voters to vote early by mail in elections held on or before June 30.
On July 6, Governor Baker signed House Bill 4820, which made both temporary and permanent changes to the state’s election procedures. Permanently, the bill moves forward the early voting by mail and absentee ballot application deadlines by two days; allows early voting by mail to begin earlier; and allows ballot return via drop box. For the 2020 state primary and general election, the law established the following procedures:
- Established in-person and by-mail early voting. Generally, early voting is only available in biennial general elections.
- Required that mail ballot applications be sent to all registered voters before the state primary and the November general election, with prepaid return postage.
- Allowed submission of mail ballot applications with electronic signatures provided that such signatures were “written in substantially the same manner as a handwritten signature.”
- Required municipalities to offer weekend early voting, beginning the Saturday before early voting would usually begin.
- Established that taking precautions due to COVID-19 was a qualifying disability enabling voters to cast an absentee ballot.
- Allowed more municipal discretion to consolidate polling places.
- Expanded poll worker eligibility.
- Streamlined the in-person voting process by removing a required check-out stage while a ballot is being deposited.
November 3 General Election
In addition to the changes applicable to both the primary and general elections, House Bill 4820 allows general election ballots to be postmarked by Election Day rather than requiring that they be received by the close of polls. Municipal clerks have installed
314 drop boxes across the state.
Last updated November 3, 2020.
After approving sweeping changes to the state’s electoral procedures in 2018, Michigan voters will be eligible to vote by absent voter ballot without providing an excuse for the first time in a presidential election. The Secretary of State’s office mailed every registered voter an absent voter ballot application, and more than 2.5 million voters have submitted ballot requests as of September 29. State election officials are reimbursing localities that provide prepaid return postage for ballots or purchase additional drop boxes to add to the over 900 drop boxes already in place statewide. Voters must return absent voter ballots no later than 8 p.m. on November 3. Proposal 3’s change to absent voter ballot rules also allows Michigan voters to apply for and cast a ballot in person beginning September 24 until Election Day. Clerk’s offices must be open to allow early voting, and some jurisdictions will provide additional early voting locations. Election officials do not plan to consolidate polling locations in November, but some locations may have to operate at less than full capacity due to the need for social distancing.
August 4 Primary
Michigan held its presidential primary on March 10, the same day that Governor Gretchen Whitmer (D) declared a state of emergency due to COVID-19. The conduct of the primary was generally unaffected by concerns related to the virus, but Governor Whitmer issued an executive order shortly thereafter to provide officials an extra month to complete the canvass. Some jurisdictions moved forward with local issue elections scheduled for May 5, while others postponed those elections. Governor Whitmer ordered any elections held on May 5 to be conducted primarily by absent voter ballot with limited in-person voting opportunities. The May 5 elections saw double the normal turnout, with 99% of those ballots cast by mail.
Later in May, Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson (D) announced that her office would mail absent voter ballot applications (applicable to the August 4 primary and November 3 general elections) to all registered voters ahead of the August primary. Several voters sued to prevent the mailings, but those cases ultimately failed. Michigan also debuted an online absent voter ballot request platform in June to assist voters to obtain absent voter ballots.
The August 4 primary saw more than 2.5 million votes cast statewide, representing a 17% increase in turnout compared to the 2018 primary and a 79% increase compared to the 2016 primary. 1.6 million votes were cast by absentee ballot, easily beating the previous record of 1.27 million cast in the 2016 general election. Clerks statewide rejected 10,600 mail ballots, mostly for arrival after the deadline. Secretary Benson called the primary, Michigan’s first statewide election during the COVID-19 pandemic, a “great success.” However, state officials and residents raised concerns over issues related to absent voter ballot counting for the primary in Detroit. 72% of Detroit’s absent voter ballot precincts had ballot count totals that did not match the number of voters noted as having voted on precinct pollbooks. The State Board of Canvassers called for Secretary Benson to oversee Detroit’s November election personally.
November 3 General Election
Responding to the concerns regarding Detroit in the primary, Secretary Benson and Detroit City Clerk Janice Winfrey announced a partnership to ensure the integrity of the November election. The city will open 14 additional satellite clerk offices that will allow eligible residents to register and request and return absent voter ballots beginning October 5. The collaboration also calls for installing more than 30 additional drop boxes throughout the city and recruiting and training at least 6,000 poll workers to ensure every one of the city’s polling places and absent voter counting boards is fully staffed.
Local officials statewide have added drop boxes in most jurisdictions. Currently, over 900 drop boxes are available for absent voter ballot return statewide, and many locations have plans for additional boxes before the November election. As of September 29, over 2.5 million voters had requested absent voter ballots and clerks had issued over 2 million absent voter ballots, representing a 400% increase compared to 2016. The state legislature recently passed a bill, signed by Governor Whitmer on October 6, to allow local jurisdictions to begin opening and pre-processing absent voter ballots beginning at 10 a.m. on November 2 rather than waiting for the opening of polls on November 3. The bill also requires local clerks to notify voters of potential missing or mismatched signatures. This provision dovetails with guidance issued by the State Bureau of Elections in March directing clerks to notify voters of signature issues on their absent voter ballots and to provide an opportunity to cure.
In June, advocacy groups and voters sued state election officials in the Michigan Court of Claims seeking to require officials to accept absent voter ballots postmarked by Election Day and to allow third parties to assist voters in returning completed ballots. On September 18, the court issued a preliminary injunction that requires officials to count absent voter ballots that are postmarked by November 2 and received by the deadline for certification of ballots on November 17. The injunction also allows a voter to designate any person to return their ballot from 5 p.m. on the Friday before Election Day until the close of polls. Following intervention by state Republican lawmakers to appeal the decision, the Michigan Court of Appeals reversed the Court of Claims decision on October 16, thus reinstating the November 3 receipt deadline for absent voter ballot return and eliminating the relaxed third party return provisions for the last weekend of voting.
The changes adopted by Michigan voters in 2018’s Proposal 3 include the ability to vote in person beginning September 24 by applying for and casting an absent voter ballot at the clerk’s office or a satellite voting location. Some jurisdictions will provide satellite voting locations, which may also offer same-day registration (another provision of Proposal 3). To date, election officials have not announced plans to consolidate Election Day polling locations, but officials may lower the capacity of polling places due to social distancing standards. Governor Whitmer’s executive order concerning masks explicitly exempts voters from its requirements, but strongly encourages voters to wear masks when inside polling locations.
Last updated October 17, 2020.
Minnesota has offered no-excuse absentee voting since 2014. During the COVID-19 pandemic, less populous jurisdictions are taking advantage of statutory provisions that allow them to conduct their elections by mail by sending ballots to all active registered voters. Voters will not need a witness or notary to sign their absentee ballot in November due to an agreement reached in ongoing litigation. Though the agreement also calls for officials to accept ballots that are postmarked by November 3 and received by November 10, the enforcement of that provision was rendered questionable five days before Election Day when a federal appeals court ordered Minnesota election officials to segregate all ballots received after 8 p.m. on November 3 until a final ruling can be made on a pending case. Minnesota officials are expanding in-person early voting, which runs from September 18 until November 2, to provide satellite locations, curbside voting, and ballot drop boxes at some locations. Many localities have moved numerous Election Day polling locations and reduced the overall number of polling locations for November.
August 11 Primary
Minnesota held its presidential primary on March 3, prior to the declaration of emergency due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In the lead up to the August 11 state primary, Governor Tim Walz (DFL) and Secretary of State Steve Simon (DFL) expressed support for legislative proposals to expand Minnesota’s use of mail ballot elections during the pandemic, but those proposals would ultimately fail. In May, Governor Walz signed a bill passed by the legislature to provide temporary changes for the August primary and November general elections. The bill allowed election officials to begin processing absentee ballots two weeks before Election Day rather than one week before and extended the deadline for officials to designate polling locations for the 2020 elections from May 13 to July 1 to give local officials additional time to secure polling locations given the necessary health and safety considerations of COVID-19. To limit the potential spread of the virus, the bill prohibited the use of schools as polling places unless no other suitable site is available and authorized local officials to train employees of residential care facilities to administer absentee voting to the facilities’ residents.
Minnesota’s statutory requirement for absentee ballots to be signed by a witness or notary led to concerns regarding unhealthy contact while the virus remains pervasive. Concerned groups and voters filed several lawsuits seeking to eliminate the witness requirement and provide other relief to make mail voting simpler and safer. On June 16, the judge in LaRose v. Simon approved a consent decree in which Secretary Simon agreed to waive the witness requirement and to accept ballots postmarked by August 11 and received by August 13 for the primary. Typically, Minnesota will only accept ballots received by the close of polls on Election Day. The following week, a federal judge rejected a similar agreement after the Republican National Committee and President Trump’s re-election campaign intervened to argue against the proposed decree, with the court stating that the proposal was too broad in relation to the issues raised by the suit. Nonetheless, Secretary Simon announced that Minnesota would abide by the state court consent decree and waive the witness requirement for the August primary.
In another case, the Ramsey County District Court issued a temporary injunction in a suit filed prior to the COVID-19 outbreak that barred the state from enforcing its prohibition against a third party assisting more than three voters to complete and return their absentee ballots. The injunction remained in effect through the August 11 state primary.
The changes to ease absentee voting had a dramatic effect, as absentee voting drastically increased during the August 11 primary, with 543,600 votes (roughly 60% of the total) cast by absentee ballot. More voters cast absentee ballots than cast ballots by any means in the 2016 primary.
November 3 General Election
A week before the conclusion of the August primary, litigants in LaRose v. Simon entered into a consent decree to cover the November election. The parties agreed that voters would not need to have a witness or notary sign their absentee ballot and that officials would accept ballots postmarked by November 3 and received by the officials no later than November 10. In late September, a Republican state legislator and elector filed a federal lawsuit to prohibit enforcement of the consent decree and reinstate the Election Day receipt deadline in time for November. While the district court denied a motion for preliminary injunction, the Eighth Circuit reversed that decision and ordered Minnesota election officials to segregate and not tally absentee ballots received after 8 p.m. on November 3.
On September 4, the Minnesota Supreme Court reversed the portion of the pre-primary temporary injunction relating to third party ballot return, thus reinstating the statutory three ballot limitation on third party return ahead of the November general election.
Secretary Simon announced in mid-September that he will send an absentee ballot application to all registered voters who have not already requested absentee ballots. Also, many less populous jurisdictions are taking advantage of statutory provisions that allow them to conduct the November election by mail by sending ballots to all active registered voters. By October 16, Minnesota had already accepted 911,385 absentee ballots, well exceeding the previous record of 676,722 total absentee ballots accepted in 2016.
Minnesota election laws provide robust early voting opportunities through in-person absentee voting beginning September 18. Voters may request, receive, and cast an absentee ballot at their election official’s office or a satellite location until November 2. Many localities are expanding early voting opportunities by providing satellite locations, curbside voting, and ballot drop boxes.
Election officials had to designate all polling locations for August and November by July 1. Localities have moved numerous Election Day polling locations and reduced the overall number of polling locations. Governor Walz’s executive order concerning masks does not explicitly exempt voters in polling places, but does provide an exemption for removal “when asked to remove a face covering to verify an identity for lawful purposes.”
Last updated October 29, 2020.
Mississippi requires an excuse for both in-person and mail absentee voting and has only modestly expanded eligibility during the COVID-19 pandemic by legislatively establishing absentee-by-mail eligibility for individuals under a physician-imposed quarantine or with a dependent under a physician-imposed quarantine. This legislation also moved the state from a ballot receipt deadline to a postmark deadline for mailed ballots and required that notice be provided to voters in some circumstances if an absentee ballot is rejected. CARES Act funds were allocated for the hiring of over 2000 poll workers. As of October 13, fewer than 60,000 votes had been cast out of nearly 2 million registered voters.
June 23 State Primary Runoff
Mississippi held its presidential and state primaries on March 10, 2020, and a primary runoff election for the Republican nomination in the Second Congressional District was scheduled for March 31. Governor Tate Reeves (R) declared a state of emergency on March 14, and on March 20, he postponed the congressional primary runoff until June 23. Some polling places were moved or consolidated, and turnout was low.
November 3 General Election
Secretary of State Michael Watson (R) initially called on the legislature to establish early voting and took the position that county clerks had wide discretion regarding who could be considered temporarily disabled due to COVID-19. House Bill 1521, signed by Governor Reeves on July 8, made a number of permanent and temporary changes to absentee voting law. The bill:
- Modifies the absentee ballot return deadline to require a postmark by the day of the election and receipt by the registrar no more than five business days after the election. Under previous law, ballots had to be received by the day before the election.
- Established that for 2020, individuals under a physician-imposed quarantine due to COVID-19 or with a dependent under a physician-imposed quarantine could vote by absentee ballot using the disability excuse.
- Provides that absentee ballots may be processed any time on Election Day but may not be tallied until polls close.
- Requires that notice be provided in some circumstances to voters if an absentee ballot is rejected.
- Allows voters to request an absentee ballot for any resulting runoffs with the same application used for the first round of an election.
- Bars voters who have cast absentee ballots from cancelling their absentee ballots and casting a new ballot on Election Day.
- For 2020 only, extended in-person absentee voting by five hours until 5 p.m. on the Saturday before Election Day.
House Bill 1789 became law without Governor Reeves’ signature on July 8. This bill allocated CARES Act funds to counties for the hiring of over 2000 additional poll workers for the November general election.
The Mississippi Center for Justice, the American Civil Liberties Union, and ACLU of Mississippi brought a lawsuit in Hinds County Chancery Court on August 11 on behalf of a group of voters against Secretary Watson, Hinds County Circuit Clerk Zack Wallace, and Rankin County Circuit Clerk Becky Boyd. The plaintiffs sought a ruling stating that all voters who are taking precautions to avoid contracting or spreading COVID-19 may invoke the existing “temporary physical disability” excuse to vote by absentee ballot. On September 2, Chancellor Denise Owens issued an order finding that the disability excuse covers voters with certain chronic illnesses making them especially at risk from COVID-19 and that the COVID-19 excuse established by House Bill 1521 covers voters who are in generally poor health and have been given advice by a doctor to avoid public gatherings. The Mississippi Supreme Court reversed Chancellor Owens’ order on September 17, ruling that preexisting conditions do not qualify as disabilities and that voters had to be under a specific order from their doctor to stay at home in order to be eligible to vote by absentee ballot using the COVID-19 excuse.
Last updated November 3, 2020.
Missouri requires voters to provide a qualifying excuse to vote by absentee ballot, but lawmakers enacted temporary legislation enabling all voters to cast a “mail-in” ballot for the 2020 primary and general elections and allowing certain at-risk voters to cast a traditional absentee ballot by mail or in person.Voters who apply for a mail-in ballot must have the ballot notarized prior to returning it and may only return the ballot by U.S. mail. The notary requirement is waived for at-risk voters who vote by absentee ballot. Voters requesting ballots by mail must do so no later than October 21, and return ballots in time for counties to receive them by the close of polls on November 3. Missouri’s excuse requirement for absentee voting means that in-person early voting is available only to voters with a qualifying excuse. Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft (R) explicitly encourages Missouri voters to vote in person on November 3. Several counties are providing large capacity venues like stadiums and museums to allow for social distancing.
August 4 Primary Election
Missouri held its presidential primary on March 10, three days before Governor Mike Parson (R) declared a state of emergency due to COVID-19. A few days after the declaration of emergency, Governor Parson postponed the municipal elections scheduled for April 7 to June 2. Governor Parson and Secretary Ashcroft resisted calls to expand absentee voting eligibility ahead of the municipal elections. Localities responded to COVID-19 concerns by heavily consolidating polling locations and offering drive-through voting options.
As counties were preparing for the municipal elections, the legislature undertook consideration of temporary legislation to expand mail ballot access. Though the bill passed both chambers of the legislature in mid-May, Governor Parson did not sign the legislation until two days after the June municipal elections.
Senate Bill 631 made mail ballot voting available to all voters for the 2020 elections only. Voters who meet certain criteria (age, pre-existing conditions) that render them “at-risk” for contracting COVID-19 are eligible to vote by absentee ballot and do not need to have their ballot notarized. All voters are eligible to use “mail-in” ballots, but those ballots must be notarized and may only be returned via the U.S. Postal Service. Advocacy groups sued seeking to expand absentee voting eligibility beyond the changes made by Senate Bill 631, but were unsuccessful.
Like the June 2 election, local election officials dealt with the challenges of conducting an election during a pandemic in diverse ways. Secretary Ashcroft’s office worked with local officials to coordinate free notary services for voters using the new “mail-in” ballots. Some counties increased the number of polling places compared to the August 2016 primary, while others reduced the number of locations while providing county voters the ability to vote at any polling location in the county regardless of their address. Secretary Ashcroft praised the conduct of the August 4 state primary, calling it a “job well done” by local election authorities, poll workers, and voters. Of the state’s 4.16 million registered voters, about 33% cast a ballot for the primary, compared to about 25% during the August 2016 primary. Approximately 16% of the votes cast statewide were cast by absentee or mail-in ballot, up from 6% in the August 2016 primary.
November 3 General Election
State officials did not express interest in making additional changes for November based on the conduct of the August primary. Secretary Ashcroft has criticized mail ballot voting and explicitly encouraged Missouri voters to cast their ballots in person. Ashcroft also announced that his office would not distribute 85 available drop boxes to counties to avoid confusion related to the different requirements for the return of absentee and mail-in ballots.
In September, five advocacy groups filed a federal lawsuit against Secretary Ashcroft and other election officials seeking various changes to make mail ballot voting more accessible for November. On October 9, a federal judge granted a temporary injunction allowing voters to return “mail-in” ballots by hand, rather than requiring them to be mailed. The effect of that injunction has been stayed pending appeal of the case to the Eighth Circuit.
Local officials are taking steps to handle the expected increase in mail-in and absentee voting, including opening satellite locations for in-person absentee voting, providing mail ballot tracking, and coordinating notary services for voters. Officials are also lining up polling locations with greater capacity to allow for social distancing and increasing the use of “central polling locations” that allow voters from anywhere in the county to cast a ballot.
Last updated October 23, 2020.
Governor Steve Bullock (D) authorized counties to conduct the November general election as a modified mail ballot election by sending ballots to all active voters and offering in-person absentee voting prior to and on Election Day. Ultimately, 45 of Montana’s 56 counties opted to conduct a mail ballot election; in the other 11 counties, all voters remain eligible to request an absentee ballot by mail or in person. Ballots have been mailed, and in-person voting is available at county offices as well as additional locations in some counties. Two separate courts have blocked the enforcement of a 2018 law that effectively prohibited organized ballot collection efforts. But litigation seeking a postmark deadline for ballots was unsuccessful, leaving the burden on voters to ensure that their ballot is received by the close of polls on Election Day.
June 2 State and Presidential Primary
Governor Bullock declared a state of emergency on March 12, 2020. On March 25, he issued a directive authorizing counties to conduct the June 2 statewide primary as a modified mail ballot election. Counties that opted in would generally follow Montana’s existing procedures for limited mail ballot elections, but they also were required to offer early and Election Day voting using the state’s in-person absentee voting procedures. Every county chose to conduct the June primary according to the modified mail ballot election procedures detailed in the directive.
In 2018, Montana voters approved a ballot initiative that curtailed organized ballot collection efforts by imposing restrictions on the return of mail ballots by third parties. Because of concerns that the new rules would disproportionately impact Native communities, the ACLU of Montana challenged the law in state court on behalf of tribal governments and Native American voting rights groups. On May 20, the court granted a temporary restraining order blocking the law’s enforcement, which remained in place through the June 2 election. On May 22, in a separate state suit brought by the Montana Democratic Party, the court issued a second preliminary injunction against the ballot collection restrictions. Because that suit sought broader relief, the injunction also allowed ballots to be counted if postmarked by Election Day (rather than received by Election Day). However, that portion of the order was stayed by the Montana Supreme Court six days before the primary, and only ballots returned by the close of polls on Election Day were counted.
Consistent with the Governor’s directive, counties began offering in-person absentee voting on May 4, and on May 8, they sent every registered voter a ballot with no return postage required. During an ordinary mail ballot election, counties are not required to offer in-person absentee voting except to certain same-day registrants, in-person absentee voting is required, and ballots would have been mailed on May 13. No in-person voting was offered on Election Day other than at the county election office. To minimize the need for in-person, same-day registration, the Governor’s directive also extended the deadline for regular voter registration from 30 to 10 days before Election Day. Montana voters turned out in record numbers for the June primary.
November 3 General Election
On August 6, Governor Bullock authorized counties to conduct the November general election by mail, provided they follow certain modified procedures similar to those for the primary. Mail ballot election counties must offer in-person absentee voting starting October 2 and continuing through Election Day. In addition, these counties must mail the ballots by October 9, which is the absentee ballot mailing deadline, rather than the later deadline that typically applies in mail ballot elections. The ballot materials must clearly instruct voters that they do not need to provide return postage. Regardless of how a county conducts the November election, the ordinary voter registration deadline is extended to 10 days before Election Day. Counties with Native American lands within them must offer in-person absentee voting on tribal land if requested, and are encouraged to work with Native American voting rights groups. Finally, counties are encouraged to provide voter education to promote early and mail voting, and to offer drive-thru registration and voting.
Ultimately, 45 of Montana’s 56 counties opted to hold the November election as a modified mail ballot election. On September 2, the Trump campaign and various Republican organizations sued to invalidate Bullock’s order and require the counties to hold traditional elections, but the litigation failed.
The other two cases from the spring continued, ultimately resulting in two separate permanent injunctions against the state’s restrictions on third-party ballot return. But the Montana Supreme Court left in place the state’s Election Day deadline for mail ballots to be received by election officials and for voters to cure any problems with their ballots. On October 14, the Blackfeet Nation settled a lawsuit filed against Pondera County only days before; as a result, the county will offer in-person early voting and an Election Day ballot drop box on the reservation.
Last updated on October 19, 2020.
Nebraska allows any registered voter to cast a ballot by mail (known as “early voting” in Nebraska). Election officials sent early voting ballot applications to all Nebraska voters ahead of the May primary and November general elections. Nebraska law allows counties with fewer than 10,000 residents to conduct their elections by mail ballot, and approximately 51,000 voters in 11 counties and select precincts will receive ballots in the mail automatically. Voters who want early voting ballots mailed to them must request them by October 23, and voters must return ballots so election officials receive them by the close of polls on November 3. In-person early voting in county election offices, which was suspended for the May primary, began on October 5 and will run through November 2. Counties have announced few November 3 polling location changes to date.
May 12 Primary Election
Governor Pete Ricketts (R) declared a state of emergency due to COVID-19 on March 13, 2020. Thereafter, county officials began planning to conduct the May 12 state primary election, which included the presidential and down-ballot primaries. Following the lead of Nebraska’s most populous counties, Secretary of State Robert Evnen (R) announced that his office would mail early voting ballot applications to all Nebraska voters who did not receive an application from their county election officials, except in those counties and precincts that mail ballots to all voters automatically as allowed by state law. Secretary Evnen also announced that in partnership with the Nebraska Association of County Officials, his office would purchase and install ballot drop boxes outside every county election office that did not have one.
On April 7, Governor Ricketts issued an executive order related to the primary. The order waived requirements for county offices to be open for in-person early voting, except by appointment for voters who required the use of an ADA accessible ballot marking device or who required physical assistance to complete their ballot. The order also waived requirements for county offices to be open to the public for in-person voter registration. Election officials changed polling locations and urged residents to vote by mail, but polling places remained open on Election Day, and the Secretary of State’s office actively recruited poll workers. The day before the election, Governor Ricketts announced that National Guard volunteers would serve as poll workers in eight counties due to poll worker shortages. He also issued an executive order waiving statutory requirements that poll workers must reside in the precinct or county in which they serve.
Secretary Evnen reported that Nebraska broke a 48-year old record for ballots cast in a primary election on May 12, with more than 492,000 ballots cast. Over 75% of the ballots were cast by mail, which allowed Election Day polling places to run safely with much smaller crowds than normal.
November 3 General Election
Given the success of the primary, Nebraska officials made few changes for the November general election. Governor Ricketts and Secretary Evnen both expressed confidence in the integrity of Nebraska’s existing election procedures. As they did for the primaries, Nebraska’s three most populous counties announced plans to send all registered voters postcards in late July or August to allow them to request an early voting ballot for the November general election by mail. Secretary Evnen later announced that all registered voters statewide will receive early voting ballot applications in the mail for the November general election. In August, the legislature passed a bill to increase in-person voting opportunities and provide ballot return drop boxes for voters in counties conducting elections by mail ballot and to give early voting counting boards three extra days to process mail ballots prior to Election Day.
Unlike in the primary, Nebraska will provide voters the usual period for in-person early voting at county elections offices from October 5 to November 2. Counties intend to provide sufficient Election Day voting locations for November 3, but counties have announced some polling place relocations due to COVID-19.
Last updated October 13, 2020.
As a result of Assembly Bill 4, which Governor Steve Sisolak (D) signedinto law, all active voters were mailed a ballot; voters may designate any third party to return their ballot; counties were required to establish ballot drop boxes, as well as certainminimum numbers of polling places and early voting centers; and specific procedures have been established for contacting voters whose ballots have been rejected in order to facilitate an existing cure process. Clark County, which contains Las Vegas, offered early voting at over 30 locations, with 17 additional locations available on specific days. Early voting was available seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., with an extra hour (until 8 p.m.) on the final Friday of early voting. On Election Day, Clark County will be required to have at least 100 vote centers, and Washoe County, which contains Reno, must have at least 25. As of October 22, over 370,000 votes had been cast out of 1,742,000 registered voters; in 2016, nearly 70% of votes were cast early.
June 6 State Primary
Nevada held its presidential caucus on February 22, 2020, and Governor Sisolak declared a state of emergency on March 12. On March 24, in partnership with Nevada’s 17 county election officials, Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske (R) announced a plan to conduct the June 9 primary election by mail. Nevada law allows the secretary of state to designate any precinct as a vote-by-mail precinct at the request of a county clerk, and Secretary Cegavske and the county clerks agreed to follow this process for every precinct in the state. All active voters were sent ballots in the mail with return postage prepaid, and in-person voting on Election Day and during the early voting period was to be limited to one location per county.
On April 16, a group of Nevada voters and Democratic Party organizations filed a lawsuit challenging the legality of Secretary Cegavske’s plan for conducting the state primary. In Corona v. Cegavske, plaintiffs alleged that the mail voting plan unlawfully excluded inactive registered voters and provided inadequate opportunities for in-person voting. The plaintiffs withdrew their motion for a preliminary injunction on May 5 after the Clark County Registrar agreed to send ballots to inactive registered voters; add two additional in-person polling locations; increase safeguards for voters in signature matching and curing of defects; and deputize field agents to collect voted ballots. Clark County, which includes Las Vegas, contains 81% of inactive registered voters in the state and operated 172 polling places in the 2018 primary.
Overall turnout in the June 9 primary exceeded normal levels by about 7%, and 98% of ballots were cast by mail or at a drop-off location. Nonetheless, the limited number of polling places resulted in hours-long lines in Las Vegas and Reno.
November 3 General Election
On August 3, Governor Sisolak signed Assembly Bill 4, which established a framework for conducting elections during declared states of emergency. For this November (and any future affected elections):
- All active voters were mailed a ballot.
- Voters may designate any third party to return their ballot. Typically, voters may only designate family members.
- Counties were required to establish ballot drop boxes.
- Counties also were required to establish certain minimum numbers of polling places and early voting centers depending on their populations, as well as on tribal lands and in certain senior communities as requested.
- Procedures were established for determining whether there is a reasonable question of fact regarding the validity of a voter’s signature on a ballot envelope.
- Specific procedures were established for contacting voters whose ballots have been rejected. Previously, county clerks were given discretion as to how to contact voters.
A.B. 4 required at least 25 early voting centers and 100 Election Day vote centers in Clark County (Las Vegas), and 15 early vote centers and 25 Election Day vote centers in Washoe County (Reno). Clark County offered early voting at over 30 locations, with 17 additional locations available on specific days. Early voting was available seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., with an extra hour (until 8 p.m.) on the final Friday of early voting.
Last updated November 2, 2020.
New Hampshire requires an excuse for absentee voting; however, Governor Chris Sununu (R) signed legislation establishing concern about COVID-19 as a valid excuse to vote by absentee ballot. Although the state traditionally does not offer early voting, all voters will be able to request and cast an absentee ballot in their clerk’s office thanks to the expansion of absentee eligibility.
September 8 State Primary & November 3 General Election
New Hampshire held its presidential primary elections on February 11, 2020. Governor Sununu declared a state of emergency a month later on March 13. On April 10, Secretary of State Gardner and Attorney General MacDonald issued a memorandum to New Hampshire election officials stating that all voters may utilize the existing disability excuse to vote by absentee ballot in all elections held in 2020. A week later, Secretary Gardner clarified that voters also may register to vote by mail under a disability excuse. Generally, individuals without a specific excuse must register to vote in person.
Governor Sununu vetoed a bill on July 10 that would have permanently established no-excuse absentee voting and online voter registration. On July 17, Sununu signed House Bill 1266, which made the following changes for the remainder of 2020:
- Modified the absentee ballot application for the remainder of 2020 to make concern about COVID-19 a valid excuse to vote by absentee ballot.
- Allowed New Hampshire residents to register to vote by mail.
- Allowed requests for both the state primary and November general election to be made with one application form.
- Allowed verification of absentee ballots to begin on the Thursday, Friday, Saturday, or Monday prior to Election Day.
- Changed the earliest time that absentee ballots may be tabulated from two hours after the opening of polls to one hour before the opening of polls.
Last updated October 15, 2020.
The extent of the COVID-19 pandemic in New Jersey resulted in significant changes to election procedures. The November general election, like all 2020 elections, will be conducted primarily by vote-by-mail ballots. County clerks sent vote-by-mail ballots to all active registered voters beginning on October 5. Voters may return their ballots by mail or at one of the required drop box locations. Ballots must be postmarked by November 3 and received by county boards by November 10. Voters also may complete their vote by mail ballot at a polling location on November 3 or vote by provisional ballot. County officials have expressed disagreement with the decision to limit in-person voting opportunities in November.
May 12 Elections and July 7 State Primary
Governor Phil Murphy (D) declared a public health emergency and state of emergency on March 9, 2020. Ten days later, Governor Murphy issued an executive order postponing several local special elections and school board elections to coincide with general municipal elections on May 12. The order also provided that all elections scheduled for May 12 would be conducted exclusively via absentee ballot (known as “vote-by-mail ballots” in New Jersey). Clerks sent vote-by-mail ballots with prepaid return postage to all registered voters (both active and inactive), and there were no in-person polling locations for the May 12 elections. The election took place with some difficulty. Most notably, roughly 10% of the ballots cast statewide and nearly 20% of the ballots cast in the Paterson city council elections were rejected, with the most common reason being a determination that the voter’s signature did not match the one on file.
On April 8, Governor Murphy issued an executive order postponing the presidential and state primary elections scheduled for June 2 to July 7. All other elections scheduled between May 13 and June 2 were moved to July 7 as well. Six days later, Murphy signed a bill passed unanimously by the legislature codifying the postponement. In May, Murphy issued an executive order requiring the July 7 primary election to be conducted primarily by vote-by-mail ballot. Every active registered Democratic and Republican voter automatically received a vote-by-mail ballot with prepaid return postage. Unaffiliated and inactive voters received a return postage prepaid vote-by-mail ballot application. To the extent possible, counties were required to procure at least five ballot drop boxes and place them in accessible locations. Counties also were required to open at least one Election Day polling location in each municipality, as well as a minimum of 50% of the usual polling locations countywide if a sufficient number of poll workers were available. Voters who appeared at a polling location on Election Day were offered a provisional ballot (except for voters with disabilities). All ballots postmarked by July 7 and received by a board of election by July 14 were counted. (Typically, New Jersey law requires vote-by-mail ballots to be postmarked by Election Day and received within 48 hours of the close of polls.)
Soon thereafter, advocacy groups filed a federal lawsuit seeking to establish standardized procedures for signature comparison on vote by mail ballots and to require county boards to notify voters with potential signature issues and provide the voters an opportunity to cure the issue. The suit led to an agreement for the July 7 primary to notify voters of ballot rejection due to non-matching signatures within 24 hours of rejection and to provide an opportunity for voters to cure those ballots through July 23. Under the agreement, election officials received written guidance concerning signature evaluation that creates a presumption that the signatures being compared match.
The July 7 primary did not report the same issues related to ballot rejection as were reported in the May elections. The day after the primary, Governor Murphy suggested that the November general election may be conducted in a similar manner.
November 3 General Election
On August 14, Governor Murphy issued an executive order requiring the November general election to be run predominantly by mail ballot in a manner very similar to how the July primary was run. All active registered voters will automatically be mailed a vote-by-mail ballot with prepaid return postage. Inactive voters and new registrants may apply for vote-by-mail ballots as well. The order requires counties to provide at least 10 ballot drop boxes, if possible. Counties must provide at least one in-person polling location in each municipality, and must provide at least 50% of their normal in-person polling locations overall, if possible. Voters may return their vote-by-mail ballot to their polling place on Election Day, or may vote in person by provisional ballot. Ballots will be counted if postmarked by Election Day and received by November 10 at 8 p.m. Ballots without a postmark and received within 48 hours of the closing of polls will likewise be considered valid.
The following Tuesday, President Trump’s reelection campaign and Republicans filed a federal lawsuit to prevent the enforcement of Murphy’s order. In response to the lawsuit, the legislature passed a bill to codify the temporary provisions of the August 14 executive order into statutory law. The legislature also passed permanent bills to provide more time for vote-by-mail ballots postmarked by Election Day to be delivered to county boards of election and to create a process to notify voters of issues with their absentee ballots and provide them with an opportunity to cure such issues. Governor Murphy signed all three bills on August 28. The Trump campaign lawsuit has proven unsuccessful to date.
To facilitate no-contact voter registration ahead of the November election, New Jersey launched its online voter registration portal on September 4. County officials from both major parties have expressed disagreement with state officials over the lack of in-person voting opportunities and have urged them to enact changes to the predominantly vote by mail election. Similarly, state legislators have introduced bills to require in-person early voting and traditional Election Day voting opportunities. But, no changes have been announced since the passage of legislation codifying the procedures from Governor Murphy’s order.
Last updated October 14, 2020.
New Mexico enacted legislation that makes temporary changes to both mail and in-person voting for the November general election. Existing law allows all voters to request an absentee ballot, but the temporary legislation allows counties to send ballot applications to voters, shortens the deadline to apply for a mail ballot to October 20, requires voters to provide the last four digits of their Social Security number on their ballot, requires the Secretary of State to enable ballot tracking, and creates a pre-Election Day cure process for mail ballots. Counties began mailing ballots with prepaid return postage on October 6. Ballots must be returned by 7 p.m. on Election Day. As of October 15, voters had requested nearly 360,000 mail ballots.
For in-person voting, the legislation authorizes counties to convert certain precincts to mail ballot precincts and not offer polling places; requires counties to convert their precinct-based polling places into countywide vote centers; and requires polling places to be provided on Native lands. Early voting began in clerks’ offices on October 6, and will expand to other locations on October 17. The number of alternate locations and their operating hours will vary by county.
June 2 State and Presidential Primary
Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) declared a public health emergency on March 11, 2020. New Mexico held its presidential and down-ballot primaries on June 2. County clerks, supported by Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver (D), petitioned the New Mexico Supreme Court for the ability to conduct the June election as a mail ballot election. The Court denied the petition, instead instructing Secretary Oliver to send an absentee ballot application to all voters. Secretary Oliver opened the state’s online absentee portal a month earlier than usual and worked with county clerks to bolster their capacity for processing mail ballots.
The election featured record levels of absentee voting, but the high volume caused some difficulties delivering ballots to voters. In-person voting was conducted pursuant to a state health department order. Election Day went smoothly, without long lines, and overall turnout broke records. However, there were concerns that the elimination of 21 early voting sites and 167 polling places would disproportionately impact Native American voters.
November 3 General Election
On June 26, the state enacted Senate Bill 4a, which established the special procedures for November. The Secretary of Health issued a public health order for in-person voting on September 3; it did not address mask wearing. At least 10 counties, including the state’s four most populous, chose to mail absentee ballot applications to all their voters, as authorized by Senate Bill 4a.
Although counties are converting their precinct-based polling places to vote centers and may convert certain precincts to mail ballot precincts, the largest counties are not consolidating polling places. Bernalillo County, the state’s largest by population, is opening 18 early voting centers and 70 Election Day vote centers, which is one more than in 2018. Doña Ana County, the state’s second largest, is offering seven early voting centers and 40 Election Day vote centers, which is the same number of Election Day polling places as in 2018. Santa Fe, the third largest county, is opening seven early voting sites, two of which are new, and 30 Election Day sites, which is more than in 2018.
Last updated on October 15, 2020.
New York heads into the November election anticipating that a record number of voters will cast mail ballots, as the state has expanded absentee ballot eligibility to all voters and made applying for ballots much easier. Officials will accept ballots postmarked by Election Day, rather than the pre-COVID deadline of the day before Election Day, and voters will be allowed to return ballots to early voting and Election Day polling locations without waiting in line. Lawmakers also have established new procedures allowing voters to cure ballot defects and limiting reasons for ballot rejection. Early voting begins October 24 and ends November 1; boards of election have already begun sending out mail ballots.
June 23 Primary
COVID-19 hit New York, including its Boards of Election, particularly hard in the spring. Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) declared a state of emergency on March 7, 2020, the first of over 60 COVID-19 orders, more than a dozen of which impacted elections. By April 3, dozens of NYC Board of Elections workers caught the disease, and two died.
Changes to the Ballot
In orders dated March 28 and March 29, Governor Cuomo postponed the presidential primary and several special elections from April 28 to June 23, when they could be consolidated with other state and federal primaries. On April 24 and 25, Cuomo cancelled the special elections for state offices and Queens borough president that he had previously moved to June 23, while allowing the special election for Congressional District 27 to proceed. Two candidates for Queens borough president sued to reinstate that election, but on May 18, their effort failed. On April 27, the New York State Board of Elections cancelled the presidential primary. Andrew Yang promptly sued. On May 5, a federal judge held that the cancellation was unconstitutional and reinstated the primary, a decision affirmed two weeks later by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.
Changes to the Absentee Process
In addition to the frequently changing ballot, COVID-19 stricken boards of election also contended with simultaneous, similarly piecemeal changes to the mail voting process.On April 9 Cuomo authorized all voters to use the “temporary illness” excuse for the June 23 primary, based on the potential for contracting or spreading COVID-19. In addition, the order allowed voters to submit their ballot applications electronically, without needing to submit a signed application. At that time, New York law required voters to submit a signed application to receive a ballot, or if they requested a ballot by letter, to submit one with their ballot. On April 24 Governor Cuomo ordered local boards of elections to mail absentee ballot applications with prepaid return postage to all eligible voters for the June 23 elections, later clarifying that these applications could be drafted to limit ballot requests to the June 23 election, and that any prior applications requesting a general election ballot or placement on the permanent absentee list would be effective for the June election only. With a May 1 order, the Governor made additional changes for June 23, allowing voters to apply for a mail ballot by phone without a follow up signed application, requiring boards of election to include prepaid return postage for absentee ballots, and requiring them to offer accessible voting machines at their offices for that primary. On May 22, a disability rights coalition filed a federal lawsuit seeking to have accessible absentee ballots available, and on June 3 the State Board of Elections announced new accessible absentee voting procedures. On June 7, Governor Cuomo signed Senate Bill 8130, which for 2020 only, allows absentee ballots to be counted if postmarked by Election Day, rather than the day before Election Day, and extended the Governor’s easing of the absentee application process to the November general.
Problems with the June 23 Election
The June 23 election was marred by lines of two hours or more in some locations, including polling places that had to remain open after the 9 p.m. closing hour to enable those in line to vote. The lines were attributed to polling place consolidations, insufficient staffing, broken machines and similar issues. Problems were reported across New York City and elsewhere in the state with voters being given only one of two ballots, or the wrong ballot entirely. Training was blamed for some issues.
Record numbers of people voted by mail, but thousands who requested ballots did not receive them by Election Day. Because ballots could not be counted until after Election Day, final results of the June 23 election were delayed. Absentee ballot rejection rates were unusually high—reaching 28% in parts of Brooklyn—as many ballots arrived late, lacked a postmark, or were missing a voter signature. A group of candidates and individual voters sued to block the disqualification of ballots that the post office failed to postmark. On August 3, the judge granted a preliminary injunction requiring boards of election to count ballots that lacked a postmark but were received on or before the second day after the election. The State Board of Elections initially indicated that it would appeal, but it eventually ordered the ballots counted, and certified the results on August 6.
November 3 General Election
While the June primary ballots were still being counted, litigation and the legislature focused on the November election. On July 8, the League of Women Voters sued the State Board of Elections seeking an injunction that would allow voters to address problems such as a forgotten signature on the ballot envelope, require statewide standards for absentee ballot disqualification, and block New York’s signature matching process for absentee ballots as it is currently conducted. The League’s complaint details New York’s history of rejecting ballots and itemizes numerous flawed rejections. Meanwhile, the disability rights litigation continued, ultimately resulting in an August 19 injunction requiring statewide accessible ballots with myriad process protections in time for the November election.
On August 20, Governor Cuomo signed three bills into law that impact the November election. One law allows every voter to vote absentee using the existing illness excuse through January 1, 2022. The second allows voters to apply for an absentee ballot more than 30 days before each election through the end of 2020. As a result, Boards of Election are processing applications on receipt, and ballots began to be mailed on September 18. This change should improve boards of elections’ ability to get ballots to voters in a timely manner. A third new law attempts to solve part of the ballot rejection problem in the June primary by requiring ballot return envelopes to have barcodes that can be used to determine when a ballot was mailed, requires the boards of election to count ballots that are returned by mail without a postmark (or barcode data) but received by the day after Election Day, and makes the postmarked by Election Day return deadline, rather than the day before Election Day, permanent.
On August 21, Governor Cuomo signed a fourth election-related bill, which addresses many of the League of Women Voters’ concerns by requiring boards of election to contact voters about ballot defects such as a missing signature, and to give them a chance to correct the issue. On August 24, the Governor issued an executive order that in part modified these provisions. Specifically, the order shortens the cure period for ballots received after Election Day, and it requires boards of election to attempt to give notice by phone or email first, and by mail only if the other two methods are not available. On September 17, the League and the State Board of Elections reached a temporary settlement that clarifies both the mechanics of the new cure process and what ballot ‘defects’ lead to ballot rejection and thus a need for cure. For example, under the settlement, New York will count a ballot if the voter signs the affirmation envelope anywhere, not only on the intended line. In addition, the settlement requires New York to train ballot canvassers in signature matching.
Governor Cuomo’s August 24 order makes other significant changes as well. First, it provides that voters can request absentee ballots by phone, internet or electronically, and follow-up absentee ballot applications are not necessary. These changes track ones ordered for June. Relatedly, an online application portal opened on September 1. Second, the August 24 order required boards of election to mail all registered voters information on or before September 8 that includes information on absentee, early, and Election Day voting. Third, by September 8 the State Board of Election had to develop a uniform absentee ballot envelope that clearly indicates where voters should sign, and local boards of election must use it. Fourth, boards of election are instructed to do everything possible to count ballots as soon as possible, including reviewing returned absentee ballot envelopes before Election Day to identify defects and objections. Last, the order required local boards of election to submit plans to the state board by September 20, identifying staffing and canvassing needs so the state board may help as feasible.
On September 9, Governor Cuomo ordered boards of election to allow voters to return absentee ballots to early voting locations, polling places, and their offices without having to stand in voting lines. Although New York law already allows absentee ballots to be hand-delivered to these locations, this order ensures they will function like drop boxes for the absentee voter, and will shorten lines for in-person voters.
While most of the changes made to date relate to absentee voting, New York jurisdictions are making in-person voting changes as well. Early and election day polling places are being chosen for their ability to facilitate social distancing, poll workers are being recruited, and voters and workers will be required to wear masks.
Last updated October 5, 2020
North Carolina allows any voter to request an absentee ballot without needing an excuse, and was the first state to begin mailing ballots for November to voters on September 4. New legislation, litigation, and guidance from the State Board of Elections have streamlined the absentee voting process by creating a system for voters to request ballots online, requiring only one witness (rather than two) to sign an absentee ballot, and requiring county boards to notify voters of issues that could lead to the rejection of their absentee ballots and provide an opportunity to cure the issue. Mailed ballots must be postmarked by November 3 and received by the county elections board by November 12. The State Board also issued an emergency order to expand the availability of one-stop early voting, which runs from October 15 to October 31. Most counties have expanded the availability of weekend early voting hours, including Sundays. The State Board set a September 19 deadline for transfer of voters to an adjacent precinct and provided detailed health and safety guidelines for Election Day polling locations.
March 3 Primary and June 23 Congressional Runoff
North Carolina held its primary, including presidential, federal, state and local offices, on March 3, a week prior to the declaration of emergency due to COVID-19. On March 19, the State Board of Elections issued an emergency amendment to the regulations describing the Executive Director’s emergency authority, clarifying that a catastrophe arising from natural causes includes a disease epidemic. The following day, Executive Director Karen Brinson Bell issued an emergency executive order to postpone the Republican primary runoff election in the 11th Congressional District from May 12 to June 23. The order temporarily allowed counties to transfer voters to a non-adjacent precinct with prior approval from the Executive Director. Brinson Bell’s order also required county boards of election that closed their offices to the public due to the pandemic to provide a secured and locked container available to the public for the acceptance of voter registration forms, absentee ballot request forms, and other documents. On March 30, the State Board of Elections announced that online voter registration was available on its website through a partnership with the DMV.
Executive Director Brinson Bell sent a letter to Governor Roy Cooper (D) and various North Carolina lawmakers on March 26 recommending statutory changes to address the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on state elections. Her proposals included allowing voters to request absentee ballots by email, fax, and an online portal, providing return postage for absentee ballots, reducing or eliminating the witness requirement, allowing election officials more time to process absentee ballots, and providing local officials greater flexibility in the location and hours for “one-stop” (early) voting. On June 12, Governor Cooper signed House Bill 1169 to enact some of the recommendations, including new options to request absentee ballots (including an online portal), reducing the usual requirement for two witnesses for an absentee ballot to one witness for elections held in 2020, providing greater flexibility in poll worker recruitment, and allowing county boards to begin processing absentee ballots two weeks earlier.
November 3 General Election
North Carolina historically sees a high percentage of its votes cast by early “one-stop” voting (in 2016, over 3.1 million votes, representing nearly half of North Carolina registered voters, were cast via early voting). Executive Director Brinson Bell issued an emergency order on July 17 concerning “one-stop” voting for the November election. Bell’s order requires all counties to provide at least one early voting location for every 20,000 registered voters (rather than the usual minimum of one per county) and to provide expanded weekend early voting hours. It also allows counties to provide early voting hours beyond those required by statute during weekdays. The order also establishes a deadline for counties to assign Election Day voters to an adjacent precinct. Many counties plan to provide more locations than normal and to provide hours for voting on each day of the early voting period, including Sundays. This year’s early voting period will last 17 days (October 15-31) rather than the 10 days of early voting allowed in 2016.
In May, Democracy North Carolina, the League of Women voters, and several North Carolina voters filed a federal lawsuit seeking various changes to both absentee and in-person voting, including the extension of voter registration deadlines; the provision of ballot drop boxes; elimination of the witness requirement; additional methods to request absentee ballots; and a notice and cure process for absentee ballots deemed deficient. With respect to their cure process claim, plaintiffs noted that in the March primary, approximately 15% of the total mail-in ballots statewide were rejected, including 19% of the ballots submitted by Black voters. The court granted a preliminary injunction in which it found the lack of a statewide curing procedure to be constitutionally inadequate and prohibited election officials from rejecting absentee ballots with errors that are capable of remediation without first providing the voter with notice and an opportunity to be heard related to the potential rejection. On August 21, the State Board of Elections issued guidance to county boards concerning the implementation of a system to notify voters of absentee ballot deficiencies and provide them with an opportunity to cure, as required by the injunction.
A separate lawsuit filed shortly before the issuance of the cure guidance sought numerous changes to procedures for the November election. On September 22, the parties proposed a consent agreement to allow counties to accept ballots postmarked by Election Day as long as they are received by 5 p.m. on November 12 (the statutory receipt deadline would be November 6), expand the types of mail ballot deficiencies that can be cured by a certification form rather than a replacement ballot, establish separate ballot drop-off locations at each one-stop early voting location and county board office that may be located outdoors, and relax rules regarding the log kept for third party ballot return. The state court approved the consent agreement on October 2. Republican state lawmakers and the Trump campaign and Republican committees filed separate federal lawsuits to prevent the enforcement of the agreement. These new suits were transferred to the judge presiding over the Democracy North Carolina suit who set a hearing for October 7 to determine how the consent agreement interacts with the injunction issued in that matter and to consider the new suits. On October 14, the federal court approved all aspects of the consent agreement except the ability for a voter to cure a missing witness signature on an absentee ballot by a certification form. The State Board of Elections issued updated guidance regarding ballot cure to implement procedures consistent with the federal and state court orders. The Republican plaintiffs in both federal suits unsuccessfully appealed the district court’s ruling to the Fourth Circuit and the U.S. Supreme Court.
Early voting activity suggests a large increase in mail ballot voting in 2020. As of September 30, over 1.1 million voters had requested absentee ballots and voters had returned more than 300,000 ballots. By comparison, fewer than 200,000 voters cast mail ballots in 2016. The State Board issued guidance to counties concerning the safe operation of one-stop early voting locations and Election Day polling places. Voters reported waiting as long as five hours in some locations on a record-breaking first day of early voting. The State Board reported that roughly 333,000 voters cast a ballot on the first day of early voting, doubling the number of first-day voters in 2016 and besting the single day record of 304,000 set on November 4, 2016. By the close of the early voting period on October 31, more than 4.5 million voters had cast a ballot, representing over 95% of the total turnout for the 2016 general election. Counties have not announced plans to consolidate or eliminate Election Day polling locations.
Last updated November 2, 2020.
North Dakota allows all voters to vote by absentee ballot without an excuse. County officials have the option to mail absentee ballot applications to all voters in the county’s central voter file, and many have opted to do so for November. North Dakota law does not establish a deadline for absentee ballot applications, but completed ballots must be postmarked or dropped off in person by November 2. Though Governor Doug Burgum (R) suspended statutes requiring in-person polling locations for the June primary, those statutes will be in effect in November. Counties have the option to establish early voting precincts, and those who do will offer voting from October 19-November 2. State officials encouraged counties to offer in-person voting with a countywide “vote center” model, and only 115 of the normal 225 Election Day polling locations will be open on November 3.
June 9 State Primary
Governor Doug Burgum (R) declared a state of emergency on March 13, 2020, three days after the Democratic and Republican parties held their presidential caucuses. On March 26, he issued an executive order urging counties to conduct the June 9 state primary election as a mail ballot election using the procedures set forth in the North Dakota Century Code. In a mail ballot election, all voters listed in the central voter file are sent a ballot application and must complete the application in order to receive a mail ballot. The order also encouraged counties to establish ballot drop box locations for the primary and suspended provisions requiring in-person polling locations during a mail ballot election. The order directed the Secretary of State to assist counties by sending mail ballot application forms, including prepaid return postage, to voters in the central voter file. Counties could begin processing returned ballots on June 4, rather than waiting until June 8. As of the date of Governor Burgum’s order, 33 counties already had authorized mail ballot elections. Eventually, all 53 counties opted to conduct the June 9 primary by mail ballot, and each county provided at least one ballot drop box location.
In May, advocacy groups and a North Dakota voter filed a suit in federal court challenging North Dakota’s signature matching procedures for verifying absentee ballots. The suit sought to require election officials to notify voters about signatures deemed “non-matching” and provide voters with an opportunity to cure prior to rejection of an absentee ballot. The court issued a preliminary injunction in early June requiring election officials to implement court-approved notice and cure procedures before rejecting ballots due to a questioned signature in the June primary.
The primary election saw roughly 158,000 votes cast, which represents the second highest turnout for a primary in the state’s history.
November 3 General Election
On August 25, Governor Burgum issued an executive order rescinding his March 26 order, thus reinstating requirements for counties to provide in-person polling locations even if they choose to conduct an election by mailing absentee applications to all voters. Based on the success of the June primary, several counties announced they would continue to conduct elections primarily by mail. Secretary of State Al Jaeger (R) recommended that each county run the November election using a vote center model instead of designated precinct model. Under a vote center model, residents could vote where it’s most convenient within the county rather than needing to vote at a specific location. Forty-two of the state’s 53 counties have announced they will conduct their election by mail, meaning active voters will automatically receive absentee ballot applications. The state has sent out roughly twice as many absentee ballots as it did in 2016.
Counties announced plans to offer in-person voting with a vote center model and additional locations for in-person early voting. Every county except one (Divide) will offer at least one drop box for absentee ballot return. State election officials announced that every county will offer in-person voting locations for the November election, but the state will only open 115 of the typical 225 polling locations.
Last updated October 15, 2020.
Ohio allows any registered voter to apply for and cast an absentee ballot, and begins mailing absentee ballots to voters on October 6. Ohio election officials sent an absentee ballot application to every registered voter before the November election, as they have ahead of every general election since 2012. By October 6, over 2.1 million voters had requested absentee ballots, nearly double the number requested by the same time in 2016. Despite the upswing in mail ballot demand, Secretary of State Frank LaRose (R) has resisted attempts by county officials to provide multiple ballot drop off locations. Ohio will offer its normal early voting schedule at county board of elections offices beginning on October 6 and running until November 2, including Saturday and Sunday hours on the last two weekends before November 3. Elections officials have announced polling location changes, health and safety guidelines, and expanded curbside and outdoor voting options to avoid a repeat of the March 17 primary, in which all in-person polling locations were closed.
March 17 Primary
Ohio originally scheduled its primary election, including the presidential primary and primaries for other federal, state, and local offices, for March 17. Following Governor Mike DeWine’s (R) declaration of a state of emergency on March 9, election officials began last minute relocation of many polling locations, especially those in high-risk locations like senior living facilities. Due to election officials’ inability to react quickly enough to ensure voter health and safety, voters would eventually sue to postpone the primary to a later date, a proposal backed by Secretary LaRose. That suit was unsuccessful, but Department of Health Director Dr. Amy Acton eventually ordered all in-person polling locations closed for March 17. The Ohio Supreme Court upheld the order against a legal challenge at 4 a.m. on the morning of March 17.
Lawmakers reacted to the inability to complete the primary on March 17 by extending absentee voting through April 28 as part of a comprehensive law passed by the General Assembly on March 25 and signed by Governor DeWine on March 27. House Bill 197 allowed limited in-person voting opportunities for individuals with disabilities and those who did not have a home mailing address. All other voters were required to request a ballot by mail. The bill required the Office of the Secretary of State to send every registered voter a postcard with information about how to request and cast an absentee ballot. It also required that local boards of election provide prepaid return postage for the ballots, as well as secure drop boxes outside their offices to facilitate the safe return of absentee ballot applications and absentee ballots.
November 3 General Election
Based on the experience of the all-absentee primary, Secretary LaRose published an op-ed calling on the legislature to enact several changes for the November general election. Specifically, LaRose recommended allowing voters to request absentee ballots online; automatically sending voters absentee ballot applications; providing return postage for absentee ballot applications and ballots; establishing an absentee ballot request deadline that allows the post office enough time to deliver ballots to voters; and enhancing election infrastructure for in-person voting. Legislation to enact changes for the November election stalled in the Ohio legislature. Similarly, litigation to provide additional methods for absentee ballot applications and to standardize signature matching has proven unsuccessful.
In June, LaRose announced that funding was approved to send every registered Ohio voter an absentee ballot application for the November general election, as Ohio has done for every general election since 2012. LaRose sought funding from the Ohio Controlling Board to provide prepaid postage for absentee ballots in November, but that request was denied. On October 6, the day early voting began, Secretary LaRose announced that county boards of elections had received 2,154,235 absentee ballot applications, nearly twice the number requested by the same time in 2016.
The loudest controversy in the November election cycle concerns ballot drop boxes. The legislation passed after cancellation of in-person voting for the primary required each county to provide a drop box for ballot return. Based on the experience, several counties, especially the more populous ones, considered providing drop boxes in multiple locations. On August 12, Secretary LaRose issued a directive to all county boards of election, based on his interpretation of the Ohio Code, authorizing them to provide a single ballot drop box outside each board’s office for the November general election. The directive prohibited counties from providing additional drop boxes.
Shortly thereafter, advocates filed state and federal lawsuits seeking to prohibit the enforcement of his directive and to authorize counties to provide more than one drop box at their discretion. LaRose and other state officials vigorously opposed these suits. Cuyahoga County announced a plan to set up ballot drop off locations staffed by bipartisan teams of county election employees at six libraries throughout the county, but LaRose immediately directed them to not implement that plan.
On September 15, a Franklin County judge ruled that LaRose’s directive was arbitrary and not supported by any provision of Ohio law. LaRose’s office announced that the court’s ruling did not invalidate his directive. The next day, the judge issued a preliminary injunction explicitly prohibiting the enforcement of LaRose’s directive, but stayed its effect pending an appeal by LaRose. On October 2, the Ohio Court of Appeals ruled that LaRose’s interpretation that the statute prohibited additional drop boxes was unreasonable. However, the appellate court also found that the trial court should not have issued the preliminary injunction prohibiting enforcement of the directive. The court ruled that while the statute does not require LaRose to prohibit additional drop boxes, it also does not require him to allow additional drop boxes. A few days later, LaRose issued a new directive that allows counties to provide multiple drop boxes or bipartisan ballot collection teams, but only outside the office of the county board of elections. Days later, a federal judge issued a preliminary injunction prohibiting LaRose from enforcing the “one location per county” rule in his directive. LaRose appealed that decision to the Sixth Circuit, which stayed the lower court’s decision pending appeal. Eventually, the federal plaintiffs dropped their suit.
Election officials have taken a number of steps to provide voters with sufficient opportunities, unlike in the primary, to vote in person for the November election. LaRose and other officials made poll worker recruitment a point of emphasis early in the cycle. Programs created incentives for state and county employees, attorneys, accountants, and private sector employees to serve as poll workers. LaRose created an online tracker for county-level information regarding poll worker needs and recruitment. However, as of the end of September, county officials were still seeking 19,000 more poll workers statewide.
County officials are also expanding options for curbside and outdoor voting and securing polling locations to comply with comprehensive health and safety guidance issued by LaRose. While some counties have announced relocation of certain polling places, no county announced a substantial reduction in the number of Election Day polling places by the beginning of early voting on October 6. Early voting in Ohio is offered at county board of elections offices only, and the first day of early voting saw hours-long lines at many locations. Over 193,000 voters cast ballots during the first week of early voting, representing nearly triple the amount who did so in 2016.
Last updated October 23, 2020.
Oklahoma will conduct the November election with relatively few changes to facilitate safe voting in the pandemic. Voters will have the option to provide a copy of their ID with their ballot rather than having it notarized, and certain at-risk voters will have a third option of having the ballot witnessed. But the state also criminalized most forms of third-party ballot return and further restricted the ability of notaries to witness ballots outside their home counties. Litigation challenging the witness and notary requirements, the Election Day ballot return deadline, and the ban on third-party ballot return was dismissed on September 17. Record numbers of people are expected to vote absentee. Early voting begins the Thursday before Election Day and continues through that Saturday.
June 30 Primary and August 25 Runoff
The state conducted its presidential primary on March 3, with no changes to election procedures as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Indeed, Governor J. Kevin Stitt (R) first declared a state of emergency two weeks later on March 15, 2020. Numerous local elections were scheduled for April 7, but the Oklahoma State Election Board declared an election emergency due to COVID-19 on March 18, authorizing localities to postpone their elections. The state primary was scheduled for June 30.
Oklahoma does not require voters to provide an excuse to vote absentee, but casting an absentee ballot is difficult compared to the process in many states. Voters generally must have their mail ballot signature notarized, or in the case of physically incapacitated voters or certain nursing home voters, witnessed by two individuals.
On May 4th, in a suit brought by the League of Women Voters, the Oklahoma Supreme Court interpreted existing law as allowing voters to cast an absentee ballot without notarization or witnesses. In response to the decision, Oklahoma enacted Senate Bill 210, which reinstated the notarization and witness requirements. The bill also created special rules for elections held within 45 days of a state of emergency relating to COVID-19, which allow voters to provide a copy of their photo ID with their absentee ballot rather than having it notarized. They also redefine “physically incapacitated voters” to include certain voters at increased risk from or impacted by COVID-19, providing those voters with the additional option of having their ballot witnessed rather than notarized. Finally, the rules allow the absentee ballots of nursing home residents to be delivered to an official of the facility, rather than brought on site by election officials. The Oklahoma State Election Board issued emergency order 2020-03 to effectuate the nursing home rules. In an effort to recruit additional poll workers, the legislature enacted Senate Bill 1779, which gave state employees up to three days of paid administrative leave to work at the polls. This law also criminalized ballot return by third parties, with limited exceptions for spouses and incapacitated voters, and placed additional conditions on the ability of notaries to witness more than 20 ballots.
A record number of people applied for absentee ballots for the June primary. In-person voting went smoothly statewide, according to press reports. Some polling places were consolidated; Tulsa county offered 238 polling places instead of 260. Over 3,600 absentee ballots were rejected, representing 3.6% of the 96,128 cast. Approximately two thirds of those ballots were rejected because they were not received by the close of polls on Election Day; other ballots lacked the required proof of identity or were missing the voter’s signature.
The new provisions also applied to the August 25 runoff primary, and again absentee voting was high and some polls closed. News coverage of the runoff focused on results only; no mention was made of long lines or other problems.
November 3 General Election
On August 28, Governor Stitt extended the state of emergency for another 30 days. As a result, the temporary rules altering the state’s ballot notarization requirement will remain in effect through the November election. Shortly after the Senate Bill 210 and Senate Bill 1779 were enacted, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the Oklahoma Democratic Party sued to allow all voters to cast absentee ballots without notarization, witnesses, or photo ID; to extend the ballot return deadline; to require the state to provide prepaid return postage for ballots; and to eliminate restrictions on third-party ballot requests and return. No relief was granted before the June 30 primary, and on September 17, the court refused the plaintiffs’ requests and dismissed the case. As of October 5, no appeal has been filed.
Last updated October 5, 2020.
Oregon became the first state to conduct elections exclusively by mail ballot in 2000. This year, clerks will mail ballots to voters between October 14 and October 20. Ballots returned by mail must be received by the county clerk by 8 p.m. on November 3. Voters also may return their ballot to any of Oregon’s 346 official election drop boxes by the same deadline. Those ballots will be returned to the county of the voter’s permanent mailing address.
In April, Secretary of State Bev Clarno (R) announced that return postage will be provided for all ballots this year. The May 19 primary (including presidential and down-ballot races) proceeded as scheduled under Oregon’s existing vote by mail system. Similarly, state officials have announced no additional changes for the November general election. Responding to the wildfires ravaging Oregon in September, Secretary Clarno provided voter information concerning how voters may divert their mailed ballots to a temporary address or have them held at the voter’s local post office.
Last updated October 14, 2020.
In October 2019, Pennsylvania enacted Act 77 to make mail-in ballots available to all voters without the need for an excuse. The state supreme court recently ruled that counties may provide drop boxes for ballot return and that ballots will be considered timely if postmarked by Election Day and received by the elections office within three days after the election. As of September 22, over 2 million mail-in ballots have been requested for November, over 18 times the total amount requested in 2016. Voters also will be able to vote early by applying for and casting a mail-in ballot at their election office, and some jurisdictions plan to open satellite election offices as additional early voting locations until the mail-in ballot request deadline on October 27. County officials hope to avoid the heavy Election Day polling place consolidation that marked the June 2 primary.
June 2 Primary
Pennsylvania’s spring primary (including the presidential primary and primaries for federal, state, and local offices) was postponed from its originally scheduled date of April 28 to June 2 by the passage of Act 12. In addition to postponing the election, Act 12 temporarily authorized counties to move precinct polling places to non-adjacent precincts and otherwise consolidate precincts to eliminate up to 60% of polling locations without court approval. The act also made some permanent changes to Pennsylvania election law to facilitate absentee voting, including allowing county officials to begin processing returned ballots at 7 a.m. on Election Day rather than waiting until polls close.
County officials significantly consolidated polling places following the passage of Act 12. Philadelphia and Allegheny counties reduced from more than 2,100 polling locations to fewer than 500. As Election Day approached, voter confusion and ongoing concerns related to the COVID-19 pandemic were exacerbated by curfews, travel restrictions, and election office closures stemming from protests following the killing of George Floyd. Polling locations in some areas reported long lines. The same issues prompted advocacy groups and some county officials to seek an extension of the mail ballot return deadline to allow ballots postmarked by June 2 to be accepted for the primary. Governor Tom Wolf (D) would eventually sign an executive order allowing six counties to accept ballots postmarked by June 2 and received no later than 5 p.m. on June 9.
More than 1.4 million mail-in ballots were cast in the primary. The unprecedented number of mail-in ballots and the extended deadlines in certain jurisdictions resulted in Pennsylvania needing over two weeks to complete its ballot count. Nearly 2.9 million votes were cast in the primary, with that total almost evenly split between in-person voters and mail ballot voters.
November 3 General Election
Following the June primary, Governor Wolf and the Department of State recommended several legislative changes ahead of the November election. They sought to allow clerks to begin pre-processing mail-in ballots three weeks before Election Day, to accept ballots that are postmarked by Election Day, and to give county officials more time and greater flexibility in appointing poll workers. The Department of State has taken some proactive steps, including providing prepaid return postage for mail-in ballots, issuing guidance to county officials regarding the use of ballot drop boxes, and prohibiting counties from rejecting mail-in ballots based on signature comparison. Nearly 2.5 million of Pennsylvania’s 8.9 million registered voters have requested a mail-in ballot for November.
The experience of the June primary, the ongoing controversy around such issues as drop boxes, and Pennsylvania’s status as a likely battleground state for the presidential election led to a raft of lawsuits during the summer. Advocacy groups, the Trump campaign, and the state Democratic Party all filed suits seeking changes and clarification for the November election. The uncertainty created by the competing suits led Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar to petition the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to exercise “extraordinary jurisdiction” to decide one of the pending state cases and resolve many of the issues presented by the federal litigation. After the Pennsylvania Supreme Court agreed to take up the case, the federal judge presiding over the Trump campaign’s case agreed to abstain from ruling on that matter pending the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s decision. On September 17, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that counties may provide alternative ballot drop-off locations, including drop boxes. The ruling also requires counties to accept ballots postmarked by Election Day and received by 5 p.m. on November 6 and upholds the existing statutory requirement for poll watchers to serve only in their county of residence (rebuffing one of the requests of the Trump campaign’s suit). The U.S. Supreme Court denied a request by Republican state lawmakers to stay the portion of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s ruling that extends ballot receipt deadlines. The judge presiding over the Trump campaign’s federal suit eventually dismissed the case. A separate case involving the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s “extraordinary jurisdiction” affirmed the legality of the guidance prohibiting counties from rejecting ballots due to signature comparison.
Republican state lawmakers renewed their request for U.S. Supreme Court review of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s decision extending the ballot receipt deadline. As that request is still pending, the Department of State issued guidance to county boards to segregate all mail-in ballots delivered by the U.S. Postal Service after 8 p.m. on November 3 until 5 p.m. on November 6 and to take no action on them until the counties receive further guidance. On October 28, the Supreme Court denied a motion for expedited review of the case before the election. Three justices of the Court joined in a statement suggesting that the Court could still take up the issue after the election.
Following November 3, the Trump campaign filed numerous lawsuits challenging procedures for observers in ballot counting centers and the use of provisional ballots by voters with rejected mail-in ballots. To date, these suits have been mostly unsuccessful.
Last updated November 10, 2020.
Though Rhode Island statutes include a list of excuses for voters to vote by mail ballot, the State Board of Elections advises that if the voter “may not be able” to go to the polls on Election Day, no specific reason is necessary to select that excuse and obtain a mail ballot. State officials have encouraged the use of mail ballots for 2020 elections. Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea’s (D) office sent mail ballot applications to all active registered voters, and those applications were due by October 13. Mail ballots must be received by the State Board of Elections or placed in a drop box by the close of polls on November 3. Rhode Island enacted legislation this year to provide a form of in-person early voting in which voters may go to their local board of canvassers to apply for and cast an emergency mail ballot. Election officials are attempting to secure sufficient Election Day polling locations in response to lower than expected demand for mail ballot voting.
June 2 Presidential Primary
Governor Gina Raimondo (D) declared a disaster emergency on March 9, 2020. At the request of the Board of Elections and Secretary Gorbea, Governor Raimondo issued an executive order postponing the April 28 presidential primary to June 2, 2020, and requiring that it be conducted as a predominantly mail ballot election. In response, Secretary Gorbea announced that her office would send a mail ballot application with prepaid return postage to all registered voters.
In April, Governor Raimondo issued an executive order adopting the Board’s recommendations to facilitate a mail ballot election on June 2. The order suspended witness and notary requirements for mail ballot certification, extended the statutory deadline to apply for mail ballots by one week, and allowed local boards of canvassers to begin processing mail ballots six days earlier than under existing law. The Board of Elections authorized ballot return drop boxes to be placed at the 39 local boards of canvassers statewide and all 47 Election Day polling locations. Voters in the June 2 presidential primary could return their ballot at any drop box, regardless of the voter’s city or town of residence. Over 83% of the 123,875 votes cast for the June 2 primary were mail ballots.
September 8 State Primary
In July, the Elections 2020 Task Force, co-chaired by Secretary Gorbea and State Board of Elections Chairwoman Diane Mederos, issued its list of recommendations for the safe conduct of the September 8 state primary and November 3 general elections. The recommendations include sending all active registered voters a mail ballot application for the general election with prepaid return postage, eliminating the witness or notary requirement, implementing 20 days of early in-person voting, purchasing secure mail ballot drop boxes for all communities, allowing mail ballots postmarked by Election Day to be accepted, consolidating polling places, and various measures to increase voter outreach and education.
Shortly after the release of the Task Force recommendations, the Rhode Island legislature passed bills, later signed by Governor Raimondo, that created in-person early voting at a voter’s local board of canvassers beginning 20 days before Election Day. But the Senate failed to act on a bill passed by the House that would have made substantial changes for the September primary and November general elections, including sending mail ballot applications to every qualified voter, allowing voters to vote by mail ballot without needing to cite a statutory excuse, and waiving witness and notary requirements for mail ballots.
In July, advocacy groups filed a federal lawsuit seeking to prevent election officials from enforcing the witness and notary requirement for mail ballots in the September primary and November general elections. Six days later, the court approved a consent decree in which the state agreed not to enforce the requirement in the upcoming elections. Subsequent attempts by the Republican National Committee and Rhode Island Republican Party to invalidate the consent decree were unsuccessful.
The Secretary of State’s office received more than 11 times the number of mail ballot applications ahead of the September primary as were received for the same primary in 2016.
November 3 General Election
On August 28, the State Board of Elections submitted a set of proposals to Governor Raimondo to assist the conduct of the November general election, which was expected to be predominantly a mail ballot election. The next week, Governor Raimondo issued an executive order implementing many of these proposals, including providing more time for verification of mail ballots before Election Day and requiring officials to notify any voter whose mail ballot may be rejected and giving the voter an opportunity to cure the issue. In October, Governor Raimondo issued an executive order providing an additional 10 days beyond the earlier order for mail ballot verification. Secretary Gorbea also announced that her office would send mail ballot applications to all active registered voters ahead of the November general election.
State officials intended to close approximately 130 polling locations statewide due to increased demand for mail ballots. By early October, mail ballot request rates indicated that likely usage of mail ballots will be only about half of the amount projected. Officials are working to replace some of the locations originally scheduled to be closed for November. Voters preferring an in-person option may also take advantage of the new early voting option at their local board of canvassers beginning October 14.
Last updated October 15, 2020.
South Carolina legislatively established no-excuse absentee voting for 2020. The same legislation established an early voting period beginning on October 5. The state’s witness signature requirement for absentee ballots was temporarily waived by a federal district court; however, the U.S. Supreme Court ultimately reimposed the requirement with a two-day grace period for ballots already sent by voters. The state agreed to provide prepaid return postage on absentee ballots via a joint stipulation signed by both parties to the witness-signature litigation. Attorney General Alan Wilson (R) issued an opinion stating that election managers may impose mask requirements at their polling places. As of October 22, 21% of registered voters had returned their ballots; in 2016, 24% of votes were cast before Election Day.
June 9 State Primary
South Carolina held its presidential primary on February 28, two weeks before Governor Henry McMaster (R) declared a state of emergency. In late March, South Carolina Elections Commission Executive Director Marci Andino sent a letter to Governor McMaster, Speaker of the House Jay Lucas (R), and Senate President Harvey Peeler (R) urging state leaders to consider establishing no-excuse absentee voting, early voting, and/or a full vote-by-mail system for the duration of the pandemic. She also suggested various changes to make absentee voting easier and more accessible to voters.
On May 12, the legislature passed Senate Bill 635, which allowed all voters to cast an absentee ballot by mail or in person for the June 9 primary and June 23 runoff. The bill also allowed verification of absentee ballots to begin the day before Election Day. Ordinarily, voters need a valid excuse to vote absentee, and election officials may not begin verifying ballots until 9 a.m. on Election Day. Across the state, 257 polling places were relocated or consolidated out of approximately 2200.
In a pair of consolidated cases brought by plaintiffs including the ACLU, the NAACP Legal Defense & Education Fund, and various Democratic Party organizations, U.S. District Judge Michelle Childs issued an order prohibiting the state from enforcing the witness-signature requirement for the June primary.
On June 9, voters reported long lines and receiving incorrect ballots. Officials attributed the problems to inexperienced pollworkers, inadequate online training provided by the state, and too few polling places. Governor McMaster committed to doing “whatever is necessary to be sure that when people go to the polls they know they’re not going to have an unpleasant experience” in advance of the November election.
November 3 General Election
On July 17, the executive director of the South Carolina Election Commission again wrote a letter to the state’s legislative leaders on behalf of the commission recommending some combination of the following policies for the November general election: establishing a “state of emergency” excuse for absentee voting; allowing online applications for absentee ballots; removing the witness requirement for absentee ballots; providing election officials with more time to process absentee ballots; allowing curbside voting at designated locations rather than at polling places; allowing voters with disabilities, first responders, and medical personnel to use the electronic ballot delivery tool available to UOCAVA voters; establishing early voting; and establishing a full vote by mail program.
Governor McMaster signed House Bill 5305 into law on September 16. This bill:
- Allows all voters to vote by absentee ballot so long as a state of emergency exists within 46 days of Election Day.
- Established absentee ballot application deadlines of 5 p.m. ten days before Election Day, if submitted by mail; 5 p.m. on Friday, October 30, 2020, if submitted in person by the voter or an authorized representative; or 5 p.m. on Monday, November 2, 2020, for a voter who appears in person. Typically, applications sent by mail must be received by 5 p.m. on the fourth day before Election Day, and In person, 5 p.m. on the day immediately preceding Election Day.
- Established an early voting period beginning on October 5. Generally there is no early voting.
- Permitted authorities to begin processing absentee ballots at 7 a.m. two days before Election Day. Typically, ballot verification does not begin until 7 a.m. on Election Day.
- Instructed the state elections commission to develop recommendations for counties to conduct election activities safely, including, to the extent possible, physical separation within election offices of ballot drop-off and in-person early voting.
- Instructed the state elections commission to conduct a voter education campaign.
In Andino v. Middleton, Judge Michelle Childs issued an order waiving the witness requirement for the November general election, which was then stayed by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals on September 24. On September 28, the Fourth Circuit, sitting en banc, reinstated the district court order. The U.S. Supreme Court granted defendants’ request for a stay on October 6, blocking implementation of the district court order while the defendants’ appeal is pending before the 4th Circuit.
On October 12, Attorney General Wilson issued an opinion stating that election managers may impose mask requirements at their polling places.
Last updated November 3, 2020.
South Dakota has not made any major changes to its election procedures for November. All voters may vote by absentee ballot without excuse, and ballots returned by mail must be received by the close of polls on Election Day. This year, voters who applied for an absentee ballot could email a photo of their ID to their county auditor as an alternative to having the application notarized or including a physical copy of their ID with the application. As of October 19, over 165,000 mail ballots have been requested. Early voting began in county auditors’ offices on September 18.
June 2 State and Presidential Primaries
Governor Kristi Noem (R) declared a state of emergency on March 13, 2020. On March 31, she signed House Bill 1298, which postponed the local elections scheduled between April 14 and May 26, and required affected political subdivisions to reschedule those elections for June.
In advance of the June 2 primary, Secretary of State Steve Barnett (R) announced that his office would send an absentee ballot application to all voters who had not already requested a ballot and were not being mailed an application by their county. The application gave voters the option to request a ballot for each election for the remainder of the calendar year. South Dakota law requires voters to have their applications notarized or to include a copy of their photo ID. Secretary Barnett announced that voters would be permitted to take a photo of their ID using their phone or camera and email it to their county auditor. Barnett reported that nearly five times as many voters cast absentee ballots in the June 2 election compared to the 2016 primary. Because ballots cannot be counted before Election Day, Minnehaha County found the canvass particularly challenging, even though it started counting earlier than usual on Election Day. Minnehaha is home to Sioux Falls and is the state’s most populous county.
November 3 General Election
In a radio interview, Barnett indicated that his office would not mail another round of ballot applications before the November election. The option for voters to apply for a mail ballot by emailing a photo of their ID remains in effect. Minnehaha County has installed two ballot drop boxes for the November election. A few other counties also offer drop boxes.
Last updated October 19, 2020.
Tennessee held its presidential primary on March 3, 2020, nine days before Governor Bill Lee (R) declared a state of emergency. The state primary took place on August 6, and will be followed by the general election on November 3. A temporary injunction allowed all eligible voters to use the disability/illness excuse to vote by absentee ballot in the primary, but the injunction was reversed on appeal and will not apply to the November election.
Before adjourning in early April, lawmakers rejected amendments to election bills that would have expanded absentee voting. However, House Bill 2362 expanded eligibility for service as a poll worker and established a procedure for last-minute changes to polling places during emergencies. The Senate Democratic Caucus published a letter to Governor Lee and Secretary of State Tre Hargett (R), urging them to develop a plan for the upcoming elections that would allow all voters to cast an absentee ballot, increase the number of days and locations for early voting, and require voting precincts to be approved by county health officials. Through a spokeswoman, Secretary Hargett expressed reservations about expanding absentee voting, citing costs and the fact that some vulnerable populations, including those over 60 years old, already may vote by absentee ballot. On May 12, Elections Coordinator Mark Goins told the media that in consultation with the office of Attorney General Herbert Slatery III (R), he determined that “the fear of getting ill does not fall under the definition of ill” for purposes of invoking the state’s illness excuse for absentee voting eligibility.
Instead, the Division of Elections in the Office of the Secretary of State issued a COVID-19 Contingency Plan compiling recommendations for sanitary in-person voting; increasing the availability of early voting; and handling an increase in absentee ballots. As part of a broader communications plan, every voter 60 and older will be mailed information about absentee voting, and election officials are encouraged to plan as though all voters over 60 years old will vote absentee. The state also plans to replicate the tracking information available for military and overseas voters for all absentee voters. At the same time, the Division is encouraging counties to maintain the same number of polling places to promote social distancing.
On June 4, a Tennessee chancery court judge granted a temporary injunction in a set of consolidated cases ordering the state to make absentee voting available to all eligible voters for the duration of the pandemic by allowing voters to select the existing disability/illness excuse. The Tennessee Supreme Court denied the state’s request to halt implementation of the order while the state’s appeal was heard. The Supreme Court of Tennessee reversed the chancery court injunction on August 5, the day before the state primary, but ordered that absentee ballots cast for that election under the terms of the injunction be counted.
A similar suit in federal court also challenges Tennessee’s rules restricting absentee ballot eligibility, prohibiting organizations and volunteers from distributing absentee ballot applications to voters, and allowing the rejection of ballots based on a perceived signature mismatch without allowing voters to fix the problem. U.S. District Judge Eli Richardson denied plaintiffs’ request for a preliminary injunction for the August primary.
Local election officials announced a number of changes for the August primary. In Davidson County, which includes Nashville, officials announced that they would open all ten of the county’s early voting locations for the entire early voting period, while in Shelby County, home to Memphis, election administrators considered moving or consolidating polling places. The number of votes cast early in the state primary was more than double the early vote in 2016, and a record number of absentee ballots were cast.
Last updated on August 31, 2020.
Texas law limits absentee voting by mail to voters who can provide one of the statutory excuses, which include age (65+), disability or illness, absence from the county of residence during the entire early voting period and Election Day, and confinement for various reasons. Voters must apply for a mail ballot by October 23, and must return completed ballots by mail in time to be postmarked by November 3 or by hand before the close of polls on November 3. State officials successfully opposed attempts to expand access to mail ballot voting during the pandemic through litigation or local executive action. Governor Greg Abbott (R) has also limited the ability of counties to provide alternative locations for mail ballot drop off. Separately, Governor Abbott expanded the in-person early voting period by moving up the start date by six days. Early voting will be available October 13-30. Many counties have increased the number and capacity of early voting locations and are providing expanded hours, including weekends. Counties are preparing for record turnout this November, with some announcing increases in the number of polling places. Many Texas counties participate in the Countywide Polling Place Program, which allows voters to cast a ballot at any polling location in the county.
Spring Elections and July 14 Primary Runoff
Texas conducted its combined presidential and state primary election on March 3. Ten days later, Governor Abbott issued a proclamation of a state of disaster due to COVID-19. Abbott followed up with several proclamations allowing local jurisdictions with elections scheduled for May 2 to postpone those elections until November 3, postponing several special purpose elections and, most notably, postponing the statewide primary runoff election from May 26 to July 14.
Shortly after the proclamation of a state of disaster, the Texas Democratic Party and a group of voters filed state and federal lawsuits seeking to expand absentee ballot eligibility to all voters by interpreting the existing “disability” excuse – which applies to any voter whose sickness or physical condition “prevents the voter from appearing at the polling place on election day without a likelihood of . . . injuring the voter’s health” – to include the possibility of contracting COVID-19. On April 17, a Travis County judge agreed with the plaintiffs that the disability excuse applied to voters who lack immunity to COVID-19 and issued a temporary injunction prohibiting Travis County officials from rejecting the absentee ballot applications of voters who select the disability excuse as a result of the pandemic, and prohibiting state officials from directing or advising local election administrators to reject such applications.
Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) appealed the ruling. He also issued a letter to county election officials in which he rejected the court’s interpretation and cautioned that officials who encourage voters to use the disability excuse may be subject to criminal prosecution for election fraud. After several counties expressed their agreement with (and intent to follow) the Travis County court’s ruling, Paxton filed a petition in the Texas Supreme Court to prohibit clerks in five major counties from approving absentee ballot applications based on fear of exposure to COVID-19. On May 27, the Texas Supreme Court issued an order expressing agreement with the Attorney General’s interpretation that a lack of immunity to COVID-19 is not, by itself, a physical condition that would qualify a voter to vote by absentee ballot.
Meanwhile, a federal district court judge also issued a preliminary injunction in the related federal case that would allow all Texas voters to vote by absentee ballot for the duration of the pandemic. On June 4, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals stayed the effect of the preliminary injunction pending appeal, and the U.S. Supreme Court declined to vacate the stay on June 26. The Fifth Circuit agreed to expedite the appeal, but would not hear oral argument until August 31, thus leaving the existing limitation on mail ballot voting in place for the July 14 primary runoff.
On May 11, Governor Abbott extended the in-person early voting period for the July 14 primary runoff election by a week. Counties across the state reported greatly increased in-person early voting turnout for the July 14 primary runoff elections compared to similar elections in 2016. The Texas Democratic Party announced that 955,735 voters cast ballots in the Democratic primary runoff overall, besting the previous record of 746,641 cast in 1994.
November 3 General Election
On July 27, Governor Abbott issued a proclamation extending the early voting period for the November general election by six days and suspending a Texas statute that only allows voters to return a mail ballot to the clerk’s office on Election Day. Voters may now return ballots in person prior to Election Day. Conservative activists sued unsuccessfully to prevent the enforcement of Abbott’s proclamation. Based on the expanded period for mail ballot return, some counties announced plans to offer multiple locations for voters to return mail ballots in the period leading up to November 3. On October 1, shortly before the beginning of absentee voting, Governor Abbott issued a proclamation prohibiting counties from providing more than one location for voters to hand-deliver mail ballots. Abbott’s decision resulted in several lawsuits seeking to allow counties to provide multiple drop-off locations. On October 9, a federal judge issued a preliminary injunction prohibiting Abbott from enforcing the portion of his proclamation that limits counties to one ballot drop off location. State officials appealed that ruling to the Fifth Circuit, which has stayed the lower court’s ruling pending appeal. On October 15, a Travis County District Court judge granted a temporary injunction prohibiting enforcement of the one drop-off location limit. The Third Court of Appeals upheld that decision on October 23, but the Texas Supreme court eventually reversed the decision and dissolved the trial court injunction, allowing Abbott’s “one location” rule to stand.
Though other litigation seeking to streamline absentee voting and enhance in-person voting safety was unsuccessful, a federal judge presiding over litigation filed prior to the COVID-19 outbreak issued an order prohibiting Texas election officials from rejecting mail ballots with perceived mismatching voter signatures without first notifying the voter of the issue and giving them a meaningful opportunity to cure the issue. Secretary of State Ruth Hughs (R) has appealed that decision to the Fifth Circuit. The Fifth Circuit has stayed the effect of the district court’s injunction pending appeal. The Fifth Circuit also decided the outstanding case concerning absentee ballot eligibility. On September 10, a divided panel of the Fifth Circuit vacated the district court’s preliminary injunction, thus reinstating the limitations on mail ballot eligibility under Texas law.
The expanded period of early voting and the continued limitation on mail voting has led some county officials to create innovative plans to maximize voter opportunities safely. Harris County, Texas’ most populous, approved a plan to triple the number of early voting locations (from 40 to 120) and increase the number of Election Day polling locations by 58 for the November election. The early voting plan also calls for extended hours to 10 p.m. on some days and one 24-hour period of voting that will be available at seven locations. The county plans to provide drive-through voting options at nine locations and massive vote centers at two Houston sports arenas. The county also announced plans to mail ballot applications to all of its 2.4 million registered voters.
Following the announcement of the plan to mail ballot applications to all Harris County voters, Secretary of State Ruth Hugh’s (R) office sent a letter to Harris County election officials directing them to cease mailing applications and threatening referral to the Attorney General for legal action if the officials failed to cease the mailings. On August 31, Attorney General Paxton sued on behalf of the State of Texas to prevent the mailings. In response to the lawsuit, Harris County Clerk Christopher Hollins announced that his office would only send applications to registered voters who are 65 or older while the suit was pending. A Harris County judge denied Paxton’s motion for a temporary injunction to prevent Harris County from mailing applications to all voters. Paxton’s appeal to the Texas Court of Appeals was unsuccessful, but, on October 7, the Texas Supreme Court ultimately prohibited Hollins from mailing applications to all registered voters. However, the Texas Supreme Court refused to grant petitions that sought to prevent drive-through voting in Harris County.
Texas election officials expect record turnout for the general election. Nearly a third of all Texas counties now participate in the Countywide Polling Place Program, which allows a voter to cast a ballot at any Election Day voting location in the county regardless of the voter’s address. Officials in various counties have announced increases in the number of polling locations and the use of high capacity voting locations, including sports arenas, outdoor stadiums, and a motor speedway, to accommodate the expected volume of voters while providing space for social distancing. The first days of early voting saw record turnout, with over 1 million votes cast statewide (combining in-person early voting and mail ballot return) on October 13 when early voting began. Texas surpassed its total voter turnout for the 2016 election by the close of the early voting period on October 30, with over 9.7 voters casting ballots before November 3.
Last updated November 2, 2020.
Prior to the outbreak of COVID-19, Utah officials enacted legislation to make vote-by-mail elections mandatory statewide beginning in 2020. Nearly all the state’s counties opted into this system over the last several years and have mailed ballots to all active voters in previous elections. For November, ballots will automatically be sent to all registered voters (even those who have requested not to receive one by mail). Legislation requires counties to provide in-person early voting and Election Day voting locations, unlike in the June 30 state primary, and allows counties to establish outdoor voting sites. The law also makes ballot drop boxes available statewide. Voters returning their ballots by mail must make sure the ballot is postmarked by November 2 and received by the county board by the day before the county canvass. Voters may also return mail ballots to polling locations and drop boxes by the close of polls on November 3.
June 30 State Primary
Governor Gary Herbert (R) declared a state of emergency on March 6, 2020, three days after the state held its presidential primary. Prior to the declaration of emergency, the Utah legislature unanimously passed House Bill 36, which requires all elections in Utah to be conducted primarily by mail, effective May 12.
In April, the legislature unanimously passed and Governor Herbert signed House Bill 3006 to enact temporary changes for the June 30 state primary election. The bill prohibited in-person registration (including same day registration by provisional ballot) as well as most in-person voting, while authorizing counties to conduct drive-up “mobile voting” with certain safeguards in place. (San Juan County was exempt from these restrictions due to a settlement agreement with the Navajo Nation.) County officials sent a ballot to every voter affiliated with a party holding a primary, even if the voter had requested to not receive a ballot by mail. Counties provided drop boxes for the return of mail ballots and accessible in-person voting options for voters with disabilities and their caretakers. The bill extended the ballot postmark deadline to Election Day (rather than the day before Election Day) for the June 30 primary, and it allowed an additional week for county officials to complete the canvass.
Following the bill’s passage, seven counties, including Salt Lake County, opted to offer drive-up voting on June 30, which was available only to voters who did not receive their ballot in the mail. The final canvass of the primary reported a 37% turnout rate, which is significantly higher than typical primary turnout for Utah elections.
November 3 General Election
In August, state officials enacted temporary legislation concerning the conduct of the November election. The bill requires in-person voting locations, but allows counties to provide outdoor polling locations, which may include walk-up, drive-up, and drive-through options. The bill also requires counties to provide drop boxes for mail ballot return and authorizes counties to install additional drop boxes if officials deem it necessary to ensure timely return of ballots. Ballots will be sent automatically to all registered voters, even if they had previously requested to not receive a ballot by mail. Unlike in the June primary, the statutory postmark deadline of the day before Election Day would remain effective for the November election. The bill also makes permanent changes to Utah election law by allowing third parties to return the mail ballots of their household members and allowing voters who require assistance due to age, illness, or disability to authorize a third party for ballot return.
Counties have announced plans to provide larger capacity voting locations, including arenas and theaters, to facilitate social distancing. County officials will provide approximately 160 drop boxes statewide for ballot return. In-person early voting will take place during the statutory period which runs weekdays October 20 through October 30, with more populous counties providing multiple early voting locations.
Last updated October 18, 2020.
Secretary of State Jim Condos (D), through an emergency directive, enacted several changes for the November election. Most significantly, municipalities must mail absentee ballots to all active registered voters. Although Vermont never requires an excuse to vote by absentee ballot, voters typically must submit an application. Secretary Condos’s emergency directive also empowers town clerks to establish “drive-thru” voting and to hire poll workers who are not residents of their town. Vermont’s early voting period, in which voters may cast absentee ballots in person at their town clerk’s offices, began 45 days before Election Day and is unchanged for 2020.
August 11 State Primary
Vermont held its presidential primary elections on March 3, 2020, and Governor Phil Scott (R) declared a state of emergency on March 13. On March 30, Governor Scott signed into law House Bill 681, which allows the secretary of state to exercise the following powers when acting with the agreement of the governor:
- Require town clerks to send mail ballots to all registered voters;
- Create early or mail ballot collection stations;
- Permit clerks to process and begin counting ballots beginning 30 days before the day of an election;
- Permit drive-up, car window collection of ballots by election officials;
- Extend the time for clerks to process and count ballots; and
- Extend voting hours on the day of an election.
In July, Governor Scott allowed Senate Bill 348 to become law without his signature. This bill allows the secretary of state to unilaterally exercise the powers granted jointly to him and the governor by H.B. 681. Governor Scott had been “uncomfortable” with the idea of ordering a vote-by-mail election in November at that point, preferring to wait until after the August 11 state primary to make a decision.
Secretary Condos issued a directive on July 20 ordering the following changes for the August 11 state primary:
- Candidates and campaign staff were barred from collecting and returning completed ballots other than those belonging to family members.
- Towns could conduct drive-through voting.
- Towns could establish outdoor polling places, provided there was an indoor alternative at the same location that could be used in the event of inclement weather.
- Towns could hire poll workers who were not residents of that town.
- Towns were required to establish procedures to accommodate individuals who refused to wear masks in locations where they were required by allowing them to vote either outside the polling place or somewhere inside at a safe distance from others.
The state primary saw record turnout, widespread adoption of mail voting, and no reported issues.
November 3 General Election
Secretary Condos’ July 20 directive also applies to the November general election, and conduct of the November election will largely mirror the August primary, with the significant difference that all active registered voters will be mailed ballots for the general election.
Last updated October 15, 2020.
Virginia enacted legislation in the spring that will allow all voters to vote by absentee ballot in the November election without needing an excuse. Election officials also have agreed to waive the normal requirement to have a witness sign a voter’s absentee ballot. These changes have led to a dramatic upswing in mail ballot requests, with nearly 900,000 mail ballots already requested for the November election. For the first time, mail ballots will be considered timely if postmarked (rather than received) by Election Day, provided they are received by the elections office by noon on the following Friday. The switch to no-excuse absentee voting allowed voters to begin early in-person voting on September 18. Early voting will continue at local election offices and satellite locations (where available) until October 31. Legislation enacted during the special session requires ballot drop boxes at all election offices, satellite early voting locations, and Election Day polling locations. Virginia localities have not announced plans for significant Election Day polling place reduction or consolidation.
June 23 Primary
Virginia conducted its presidential primary on March 3, before the declaration of emergency related to COVID-19. In years in which presidential elections will be conducted, Virginia holds primary elections for congressional races on the second Tuesday in June. Governor Ralph Northam (D) used his statutory authority to postpone the June 9 primary elections to June 23 by executive order. The primary took place prior to the effective date of the legislation authorizing no-excuse absentee voting. But, the Department of Elections notified voters that any voter could use the then-existing reason “my disability or illness” to vote by absentee ballot in the primary.
On April 17, the ACLU and the League of Women Voters filed a lawsuit in federal court to block enforcement of Virginia’s requirement for a witness to sign an absentee ballot. The suit alleges that the witness requirement has a disproportionate effect on voters over 65, disabled voters, and African-American voters. On April 28, Attorney General Mark Herring (D) announced a consent decree, later approved by the court, in which the state agreed not to enforce the witness requirement for the June 23 primary.
November 3 General Election
Governor Northam called for additional changes for the November general election prior to the special legislative session that began in late August. Northam’s request included providing prepaid return postage for absentee ballots, authorizing ballot drop boxes, notifying voters of issues with returned ballots, and allowing the voter to cure such issues. The General Assembly passed a bill to enact these changes for the November election, and Governor Northam signed the bill on September 4. The new law requires local election officials to place a ballot drop box at the elections office, all satellite early voting locations, and all Election Day polling places. Voters may drop off absentee ballots during office hours or hours in which voting is being conducted.
Additionally, state officials and plaintiffs in the litigation concerning the witness requirement for absentee ballots entered a consent decree to waive the witness requirement for the November election, as was done for the June primary. The combination of changes to make voting by mail more accessible have led to greatly increased use of mail ballots for the November election. As of September 21, nearly 900,000 mail ballots had already been requested, compared with approximately 262,000 total mail ballots requested in 2016. Ballots may be returned by the voter directly to the local election office, in a drop box, or by mailing the ballot so that it is postmarked by Election Day and received by the election office by noon on the following Friday.
No-excuse absentee voting has transformed Virginia’s 45-day absentee voting window into an in-person early voting period. In-person early voting proved popular over the first weekend, with long lines at election offices and over 36,000 early votes cast in two days. Many jurisdictions will offer satellite early voting locations later in the early voting period, which ends on Saturday, October 31. In-person voters no longer will be required to present photo ID, thanks to a new law that relaxed the state’s voter ID requirement.
Last updated September 28, 2020.
Washington conducts its elections by mail, offering in-person voting at countywide vote centers starting 18 days before Election Day (October 16 this year). Washington has not changed its election procedures for November, however vote centers have been moved to higher capacity locations, ballot drop boxes have been added, and Secretary of State Kim Wyman (R) issued a regulation requiring counties to use first class postage on ballots sent within 15 days of Election Day to ensure timely delivery.
March 10 Presidential Primary, April 28 Local Elections, August 4 State Primary
Washington’s Governor Jay Inslee (D) proclaimed a state of emergency on February 29, 2020. The presidential primary took place on March 10, but like all Washington elections, the primary was conducted by mail, with vote centers open for in-person voting over an 18-day period. Secretary of State Kim Wyman (R) urged voters to use a wet sponge or cloth rather than saliva to seal their ballot envelopes and said that the people processing the ballots would have protective gear. No major changes were announced with respect to the state’s vote centers.
After the presidential primary, Washington conducted several local levy and bond elections by mail on April 28. Of the 30 local districts with scheduled elections, 15 chose to rescind their elections after Governor Inslee rejected a request from Secretary Wyman and county election officials to cancel the elections statewide, which would have enabled those jurisdictions to reschedule their elections for August 4 or November 3. Washington held its state primary on August 4. Counties acted to make in-person voting safe; for example, Thurston County offered drive-through voting rather than indoor voting at its courthouse. Voting went smoothly; Secretary Wyman certified record turnout.
November 3 General Election
Other than Secretary Wyman’s first class postage regulation, no changes have been made for the November election. Ballots have been mailed and vote centers are open. Ballot drop boxes are filling up at record rates as people return their ballots.
Last updated on October 19, 2020.
Voters in West Virginia normally need an excuse to vote by mail, but Secretary of State Mac Warner (R) issued regulations authorizing all voters to select the existing illness excuse because of the threat of COVID-19. Warner further facilitated absentee voting by opening an online application portal. As of October 13, about 10% of voters had requested an absentee ballot. Secretary Warner has been helping counties recruit poll workers, expecting many or even most people to vote in person. People who do vote in person must wear masks. Early voting begins on October 21, and will be offered Monday through Saturday until October 31.
June 9 State and Presidential Primary
West Virginia Governor Jim Justice (R) declared a state of emergency on March 16, 2020. Governor Justice postponed the presidential and state primary election from May 12 to June 9, and authorized the postponement of municipal elections scheduled between June 1 and June 9 until after the primary.
On March 19, Secretary of State Mac Warner (R) announced that all voters would be eligible to request and cast an absentee ballot in the primary election by selecting the excuse of “illness, injury or other medical reason which keeps me confined.” The following day, he issued regulations to allow this change. These regulations remain in effect for the duration of the state of emergency. A week later, Warner directed county clerks to mail all voters absentee ballot applications. Senate Bill 94, which was signed by Governor Justice on February 3, 2020, allowed voters with disabilities to vote electronically in the June primary and future elections, using the technology already offered to military and overseas voters.
November 3 General Election
The COVID-19 emergency continued into the fall, and thus the emergency regulations allowing everyone to vote absentee remain in force. Although Secretary Warner decided not to mail voters absentee ballot applications for the November election, he announced that he would open an online absentee ballot application portal on August 11. In addition, some counties decided to mail their voters applications, including Lincoln and Ohio counties.
Both the state and counties have invested in poll worker recruitment. Secretary Warner announced a partnership with United Way and ran a successful social media campaign. Randolph County raised poll worker pay, as did Summers County.
To date, no widespread polling place consolidation has been announced, either early or for Election Day. In fact, Kanawha County, the state’s largest, is offering eight early voting sites this year, while it offered six in 2018.
Last updated October 19, 2020.
Wisconsin conducted its election according to its normal rules, and voting reportedly occurred smoothly statewide. Because the election result was very close, the Trump campaign asked for a recount in two heavily Democratic-voting counties. The recount is ongoing. Trump campaign representatives are reportedly objecting to every ballot in some districts, and most of the ballots in the others. The recount is seen as a prelude to litigation.
Wisconsin allows all voters to cast mail ballots, but state law requires voters to submit photo ID the first time they apply for a mail ballot; to obtain a witness signature on the ballot envelope; and to ensure that the ballot is received by the close of polls on Election Day. All of these rules were litigated heavily, but on October 8 the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit decided that all of the statutory restrictions would be in place for the November general election. Plaintiffs appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, but on October 26 the Court announced it agreed with the Court of Appeals.
Approximately 1.3 million of Wisconsin’s three million voters returned absentee ballots by mail, and another 650,000 voted absentee ballots in-person before Election Day. To ease the burden on the Postal Service, many municipalities installed drop boxes. Wisconsin offers early voting, but a federal appeals court recently lifted an injunction against a state law. That decision significantly restricted the early voting period. Poll worker shortages resulted in polling place closures and sometimes long lines in the April, May and August elections. For November, efforts were made to open as many polling places as possible, site early and Election Day voting in large capacity places that facilitate social distancing, and utilize drive-thru and other outdoor voting options.
April 7th Spring Election and Presidential Primary
Wisconsin held its spring election and presidential primary on April 7, 2020, despite calls from state and local officials and advocacy groups to postpone the election and an effort by Governor Tony Evers (D) to suspend in-person voting until June 9. A record number of Wisconsin voters chose to vote absentee in the April 7 spring election–ten times the normal number–but some requested ballots were never received; some returned ballots were not clearly postmarked and thus were not counted; and litigation that briefly changed the witness signature requirements resulted in voters casting valid ballots that were later invalidated. Ultimately, a total of more than 23,000 ballots were invalidated for various reasons. Due to poll worker shortages, even with the deployment of the National Guard, many polling places were closed or moved, leading to long lines at open locations. At least 52 voters tested positive for COVID-19 within two weeks of the election.
Procedures for the spring election and presidential primary were heavily litigated. On March 18, 2020, the Wisconsin Democratic Party and the Democratic National Committee filed a federal lawsuit to extend the online and mail-in voter registration deadline and suspend certain absentee voting requirements in light of the pandemic. Two other cases seeking similar relief were consolidated with this case. The district court extended the deadline for online voter registration in an initial ruling and issued a preliminary injunction on April 2 extending the deadlines to apply for an absentee ballot (from April 2 to April 3) and for receipt of absentee ballots returned by mail (from Election Day to April 13).
The April 2 order also suspended Wisconsin’s requirement that a witness observe the absentee voter complete the ballot and sign the absentee ballot envelope. The following day, a panel of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated the witness requirement but otherwise allowed enforcement of the district court’s order. On April 6, the day before the election, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that ballots received after Election Day could be counted only if postmarked on or before Election Day. Although several other parties sued over the spring election, only one other case had a concrete impact. Dane and Milwaukee Counties advised voters that COVID-19 allowed them to assert “indefinitely confined” status and thereby avoid the photo ID requirement for an absentee ballot application. The Legislature sued, and the Wisconsin Supreme Court ordered the counties to retract the guidance.
While the litigation played out, Governor Evers called a special session to consider delaying the election to May 19 and converting it to an all-mail election. The Legislature convened as ordered but adjourned within seconds, without taking up any legislation. On April 6, Governor Evers issued an executive order to suspend in-person voting until June 9, continue absentee voting, and order a new special session for April 7. The Wisconsin Supreme Court immediately enjoined the order as exceeding the Governor’s power except for its call for a new special session.
May and August Elections
A special election to fill a U.S. House of Representatives vacancy in Congressional District 7 on May 12 was held without controversy, with many people voting by absentee ballot. Poll worker shortages nonetheless meant the National Guard was again deployed to the polls. Wisconsin offers early voting, and as a result of litigation, for the past several years people could vote more than a month before the election, including in the April and May elections. However, in June the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals restored Wisconsin’s limits on early voting, which meant voters could not start early voting in the August primary until July 27. The August 11 partisan primary went smoothly according to news reports. The largest cities opened many more polling locations in August than April, although again, the National Guard were needed to staff the polls. The spring litigation that went up to the Supreme Court continued, and two new cases were filed and then consolidated with it. No decisions issued that impacted either the May or August elections.
November 3 General Election
Concerned about COVID-19’s impact on people’s willingness to vote in person in November, local election officials and later, the Wisconsin Election Commission (WEC), decided to mail absentee ballot applications, instructions and return envelopes with prepaid postage to registered voters. Partially as a result, the WEC expected as many as two million people to vote absentee by mail in November, which would be ten times the mail voting in November 2016. The actual number of ballots returned by mail was closer to 1.3 million, but the total number of absentee ballots cast was closer to two million because early voting is conducted as in-person absentee voting.
Litigation over Wisconsin’s relatively difficult mail ballot procedures continued after the spring election as a single, consolidated case, which resulted in a September 21 order that would have extended the deadline to register to vote by mail or online and the deadline to return mail ballots, and would have made several other, smaller changes to the November election. The Wisconsin Legislature and the Republican Party appealed the decision, however, and on October 8 the Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit decided to block the September 21 order. When asked, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed with the Seventh Circuit. As a result, the November election was conducted without judicial modification of Wisconsin’s election laws.
Outside the litigation context, the WEC has tried to improve the absentee process by upgrading its database, redesigning the ballot envelope, putting barcodes on ballot envelopes so voters can track their ballots, and encouraging clerks to review absentee ballot envelopes on receipt to enable voters to cure defects. Finally, many municipalities installed drop boxes to provide voters with additional ballot return options.
In-person voting was also different. In an effort to open as many polling places as possible, municipalities increased poll worker pay and funded recruitment efforts, and the WEC worked with the National Guard. To facilitate social distancing, municipalities offered outdoor and/or drive-thru voting, as well as early voting in various stadiums. Voters were not required to wear masks, although clerks could require election workers to wear them.
Last updated November 23, 2020.
Wyoming allows all voters to vote by absentee ballot with an excuse. Wyoming law does not establish a deadline for applying for an absentee ballot, but the voter must return the ballot to the county clerk, whether by mail or in person, by the close of polls on November 3. Voters may apply for and cast absentee ballots in person at the office of the county clerk beginning September 18. Several counties have announced significant polling consolidation or relocation for November 3.
August 18 State Primary
Governor Mark Gordon (R) declared a state of emergency and a public health emergency on March 13, 2020. The previous day, the Wyoming Democratic Party announced that it would conduct its presidential caucus, previously scheduled for April 4, entirely by mail. All voters who were registered as Democrats on March 20 were automatically mailed ballots for the caucus and were required to return them to the Wyoming Democratic Party by April 17.
On May 1, Secretary of State Edward Buchanan (R) issued a directive requiring all counties to consolidate to between one and seven polling locations for the August 18 state primary. Secretary Buchanan’s office mailed an absentee ballot application to all registered voters ahead of the primary. Laramie County, Wyoming’s most populous, saw a seven-fold increase in the number of absentee ballots requested for the August primary as compared to the 2016 primary. On August 4, Secretary Buchanan issued a directive to all clerks allowing them to process absentee ballots during business hours on the Thursday and Friday before the primary. Wyoming law generally prohibits clerks from processing absentee ballots until polls open on Election Day.
The August 18 primary saw the highest primary turnout ever for a presidential election year, with around 61% of registered voters casting a ballot. Approximately 38% of the ballots were cast by mail.
November 3 General Election
State officials have not announced changes for the November election similar to those made for the August primary. Absentee voting, by mail and in person, began on September 18. Counties have announced polling place consolidation and relocation similar to that seen in the August primary, but Secretary Buchanan’s directive requiring consolidation does not apply to the November election. As of October 15, more than one-fifth of the state’s registered voters had already cast a ballot.
Last updated October 15, 2020.