Policy Studies Governance

Summary of 2021 Election Legislation

Matt Germer
Resident Elections Fellow, Governance Program

Key Points

Georgia, Florida and Texas received substantial attention for their election legislation this year, but they were far from the only states to make changes to how their citizens vote. Nearly every state made some kind of change to who can vote, how to vote or how votes are counted.

At a high level, Republican states made changes toward cleaner voter rolls, limiting access to early and absentee voting, giving states more control over elections and indicating tougher penalties for fraudulent election activity. Meanwhile, Democratic states focused on expanding voter registration, increasing access to early and absentee voting and restoring voting rights.

While Republicans largely sought to clamp down on absentee voting, not every state fell in line. Utah and Kentucky, for example, each passed bills to make absentee voting easier and more transparent.

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Lessons from the 2021 Elections

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In 2021, election legislation is dominating politics to a greater extent than any year in recent memory, as politicians not only rehash the results and processes of the 2020 election but also work to establish policies for the future.

Throughout 2021, legislators across the United States introduced more than 1400 bills that either expand or restrict voting rights, with dozens ultimately making their way to governors’ desks and signed into law.

This paper provides a brief overview of some of those enacted laws, with an emphasis on legislation that impacts elections in the following ways:

  1. Voter registration, particularly the maintenance of accurate voter rolls, automatic voter registration and voting rights restoration.
  2. Early voting, particularly the availability of mail-in absentee ballots, early in-person voting and ballot drop boxes.
  3. Election administration, particularly the balance of oversight power between local and state officials as well as harsh punishments for certain election activity.

While these topics are not exhaustive of all election legislation, they do represent some of the most contentious and important election law issues addressed by state legislators in 2021. The legislation summarized in this paper is intended to provide a sense of direction and scope; not every provision contained in these bills will be included in the summaries. Finally, although state legislatures experienced a frenzy of debate and activity in 2021 regarding post-election audits and claims of election fraud, the topic has been handled elsewhere and is not included in this paper.

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