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Index 04

Safe Voting

Storming State Capitols
March 2022

Overview:

The COVID-19 pandemic significantly changed the way Americans were expected to vote and how state and local election officials were expected to respond to their needs. Vote-by-mail options were significantly expanded in 2020, and these options are now widely recognized as necessary and safe tools to help voters who face barriers to in-person voting. In the 2016 general election, 23% of all ballots were cast by mail. In 2020, that number climbed to 43% of all ballots cast.

Components of this index include the ability of voters to cast ballots outside of polling sites, apply for ballots if required, receive mailed ballots, and access ballot drop off sites with or without the assistance of another person submitting the ballot.

Observations:

The pandemic caught many states unprepared to create safe voting processes, especially in ways that would eliminate various systemic barriers that marginalized or disenfranchised voters confront when casting their ballots. Most had “excuse” or “no-excuse” absentee ballot laws, which allowed states to issue temporary expanded parameters in 2020 to enable more voters to use this voting method during the pandemic. In 2021, some state legislatures responded by either codifying temporary orders or other methods to effectively create “no-excuse” absentee voting. Other states failed to act in either direction, allowing improvements to access made in 2020 to expire. Meanwhile, an increasing number of states have been passing new restrictions, such as limiting or banning drop boxes, which will confuse voters on where to submit their completed ballots if they choose to vote by absentee ballot.

Overall findings:

For this index, 21 states received a low confidence rating, 20 states received a medium confidence rating, and nine states and the District of Columbia earned a high confidence rating that voters will be able to access safe voting methods. The findings show that many more states need to increase voter participation through vote-by-mail to meet the emerging needs of Americans. The question of whether voters are confident they can engage in safe voting has become increasingly important as we enter the third year of the pandemic in 2022.

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