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70% of states offer mail and early voting, new report says

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A new report examining voting access across all 50 states and Washington, D.C., finds that more than 70% of states offer all voters access to a mail ballot and early voting, while 15 others lag in the methods available to cast a ballot.

The data from the Center for Election Innovation and Research (CEIR), provided first to CBS News, shows that 35 states, plus Washington DC, provide the most access. Those states, colored green in the chart below, offer either all mail elections or no-excuse mail voting, along with access to some form of early in-person voting. These states span the political spectrum, including deep-blue states like California, battleground states such as Michigan and Republican strongholds like Wyoming.  

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Eight states, shaded yellow, fall into a middle category for access: they require an excuse to vote by mail, but they offer early voting. 

Seven states, colored red, are the most restrictive and do not offer either early voting or mail options for any voter: Alabama, Connecticut, Indiana, Mississippi, Missouri, New Hampshire and South Carolina.

“The states that aren’t making it easy to vote, that aren’t making it incredibly easy to get a mail ballot for those that choose to without a reason, that aren’t offering ample opportunities to go vote early in person are behind the vast majority of the country,” said David Becker, executive director and founder of CEIR. “They’re out of touch with the 21st century voter and some of them are trying to move into the 21st century.”

Connecticut, Delaware and New York are among the states working to expand access to mail-in and early voting. 

The metrics used to classify the states provide a “basic baseline” for voting access, Becker said. If all 50 states can hit those metrics, “voters will have a much more accessible system.”

Offering voters the ability to vote early or by mail doesn’t just make voting more accessible –  it also improves election security, Becker said, noting that voter fraud is exceedingly rare, but a longer voting period provides safeguards against foreign interference and cyberattacks in elections. It’s easier to fix a problem that arises before Election Day than something that comes up mid-morning on Election Day. 

“It’s more important than ever not to concentrate voting within a single 12-hour period. That makes us very insecure,” Becker said. “States that allow for more voting over a longer period of time have much more secure systems.”

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Within the high-access states there are differences beyond the metrics in the CEIR report. These include different requirements for photo ID and various deadlines for registering to vote and methods available to do so. 

The states also offer different time frames for early voting. Some offer just a few days, while others offer several weeks. It’s still not easy to compare just based on total days because states might offer fewer days than others, but provide access to early voting on the weekend or during longer hours each day.

While a longer early voting period provides more opportunities, Becker said there tends to be less of a difference between access once states offer at least a week of early voting, especially in elections held under normal circumstances. Two weeks is likely better than one, and three weeks may be slightly better than two, but at least one week is commendable.

“If you’re offering a week of early voting, you’re doing a pretty good job,” Becker said. “What we’ve seen in states is where they offer a lot of early voting many, many days what you often see is a big spike on the first day and then not much activity until roughly about a week before the election.” 

Election reform has been a contentious issue in state legislatures around the country and the GOP has rallied around the issue of “election integrity.” According to the Brennan Center for Justice, as of April 1, five bills have been signed that would restrict voting access and 55 restrictive bills were moving through 24 legislatures. Thirty-one legislatures are considering a combined 112 bills that would expand access to voting.

In addition to sizing up where states stand on access to mail and early voting, Becker said it’s important to analyze the direction states are moving when they amend their election laws. New Jersey, for instance, changed its law to allow for three to nine days of early voting, a modest amount compared to other states, but that still made voting more accessible. While Georgia remains in the green, Becker said it “slightly took a step back” with its new election law.

Becker raised serious concerns about Texas, which is among the states advancing voting restrictions. The state senate recently passed SB 7, a bill that would give more power to partisan poll watchers, ban drive-through voting, set limits on early voting hours and create strict rules for how polling places can be distributed.  Texas state Senator Bryan Hughes said that the legislation standardizes election rules for all Texans. 

“Texas is yellow right now and it would likely remain yellow, even after SB 7, but it would be getting worse,” Becker said. “It’s a bill that would very much set Texas back.”

One state Becker praised for election reforms was Kentucky, which only offered no-excuse mail voting and early in-person voting in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The GOP-controlled legislature passed a law with Democratic support that provides for three days of early voting, among other pandemic expansions that voters liked. 

“They looked at what worked, together, in a bipartisan way, and passed a law that enshrined most of (the pandemic changes) as permanent policy,” Becker said. “Is Kentucky the best state to vote in the country? No…Are they moving in the right direction? Absolutely.” 

Even for states providing the greatest amount of access to voting, Becker stressed that the work is not done. 

“There are things that each of these states, every single one of them, even the ones at the very top of that access, can be considering to make access more convenient while maintaining levels of integrity that they have,” Becker said. 

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