States' Overall Grades for Early Voting and Vote-by-Mail Access

An African American man puts an envelope into a mailbox
Bob Rogers, a resident of Virginia, votes by mail in the 2020 election. Photo by Casey Atkins/Campaign Legal Center.

Campaign Legal Center (CLC) released a report grading states on their 2021 legislative sessions on Aug. 11, 2021. This is the first report to zoom in on how states have changed their vote-by-mail and early voting laws this year, finding that seven states enacted restrictive laws in the first half of the year.

The report uses a 10-point scale to grade the performance of all states that have completed their legislative sessions, examining the impact of changes caused by COVID-19 and detailing which states are making those changes permanent.

The report details how the new bill would positively impact the 13 states included in the report who currently require an excuse to vote by mail, and the 16 states included in the report that don’t currently have a two-week early voting period.

At least four states that passed restrictive laws in the first half of this year would have been subject to preclearance – which would have required them to prove to the U.S. Department of Justice or a federal court that their laws did not discriminate against voters of color – if the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act were in place.

CLC’s report findings include:

  • Racial impact: With the exception of Maryland, the legislatures in states with the highest Black populations that changed their vote-by-mail and early voting policies each made changes for the worse: Alabama, Georgia and Louisiana.
  • COVID-19 Impact: The COVID-19 pandemic led several states to expand access to vote-by-mail and early voting. During the 2020 elections, 10 states changed their laws to allow voters to vote by mail either generally or because they feared contracting the coronavirus. Only one of the 10 states that expanded vote-by-mail eligibility in 2020 is in the process of making that expansion permanent: New York. One of the four states that extended its early voting period during the pandemic permanently established three days of early voting through a bipartisan election reform package: Kentucky.
  • Partisan Impact: In 2020, we saw an expansion of vote-by-mail in red and blue states alike. Five of the 10 states that expanded vote-by-mail eligibility in 2020 were states that the Republican candidate, former President Donald Trump, won by 10 or more percentage points. Trump also won every one of the four states that expanded their early voting periods in response to the pandemic.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced early Wednesday his plan for floor action in September on a revised version of the For the People Act, signaling that it will be a top priority after the Senate returns from recess.

Federal intervention would have succeeded in preventing dozens of states from passing laws this year that severely curtail millions of Americans’ freedom to vote. Voting rights legislation must be addressed urgently by Congress before more damage is done.

The expansion of vote-by-mail and early voting opportunities were key to the 2020 election having the biggest election turnout in a century. States should be working to expand these opportunities so that voter turnout can continue to improve.

Our democracy works best when voters are able to exercise the freedom to vote in safe and accessible elections.

The Status of Vote-by-Mail and Early Voting in 2021