Much has been written about the success of temporary policies states put in place for mailed-out ballot access during the 2020 election due to the pandemic. The resulting use of those ballots, and the percentage of the popular vote they represented was indeed stunning.
But an untold story, until now, is how rapidly voters across the country have had their access to mailed-out ballots improved on a permanent policy basis. Here are some of the details that drive the accompanying graphic.
Since 2018, eleven states have dramatically improved their voters’ access to mailed-out ballots. Those improvements roughly split between the move from “excuse required” up to “no excuse” (2 – Michigan, Pennsylvania), from “apply every time” to an option for “permanent absentee” (4 – Illinois, Maryland, New Jersey, Virginia), to a full “vote at home” model (5 – California, Hawaii, Nevada, Utah, Vermont) where all registered voters are now automatically mailed a ballot every election.
Combined, those eleven states with improved access account for over 69 million registered US voters, or almost 33% of all US registered voters. And again, this is over just a four-year period.
Looking inside the data provides additional insights.
- Over 18% of all registered US voters now automatically receive a ballot in the mail for every election.
- Almost 1/3 of all US registered voters have the option to always receive a mailed-out ballot for every election if they opt-in to “permanent absentee” status or live in a “vote at home” state.
- About 2/3 of US registered voters live in states where “no excuse” is required for anyone to obtain a mailed-out ballot.
- If you take the people either age 60+ (Tennessee) or 65+ (Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas), states that require an excuse except for those older voters and add them to the “no excuse required” total, you end up with close to 75% of all US voters able to access a mailed-out ballot easily. On the age-waiver issue, there are lawsuits under way challenging how that policy makes ballot access harder for those under 60 or 65, and so may violate the 26th Amendment’s equal protection provisions.
- Finally, the number of voters in states where everyone must supply an acceptable excuse to obtain a mailed-out ballot is now down to just 16% of registered US voters.
The message is clear: Voters value better access to their ballots, especially policies that allow them to vote at home, on their schedule, with time and resources at hand to research candidates, races and ballot measures. Those states continuing to restrict access will increasingly find themselves isolated from the rest of the country’s election policies, and find their voters increasingly frustrated with those artificial barriers to voting put in their way.