Stateline

In State After State, Voters Face Barriers to the Ballot Box

In State After State, Voters Face Barriers to the Ballot Box
Stateline Jun3
A voter in Cleveland casts her absentee ballot during the Ohio primary.
Tony Dejak/The Associated Press

Voters in every state face obstacles to casting a ballot. The Center for Public Integrity and Stateline teamed up to explore the challenges. Here’s a breakdown of what’s happening, with more states added as we report them. 

Arizona

Republican legislators moved aggressively to place new restrictions on voting after the U.S. Supreme Court weakened the federal Voting Rights Act’s oversight of Arizona in 2013. It has limited early voting and has adopted some of the harshest restrictions in the country on people who’ve been convicted of a crime, disenfranchising 4.3% of the state’s adult population. A court fight over the state’s restrictions on absentee ballot collection is headed to the Supreme Court and could open the door for a further erosion of the Voting Rights Act.

California

California will decide in a statewide referendum this November whether to grant voting rights to nearly 50,000 people who are on parole in the state. It’s among a series of measures the state has taken in recent years to expand access to voting. But disruption to polling place locations and failure to comply with federal Voting Rights Act requirements that voting information be available in other languages continue to be barriers for some California residents.

Connecticut

Outside of the South, Connecticut has some of the strictest limits on voting in the country, including no provision for early voting, and allowing absentee ballots only if a voter is ill, disabled, has a religious objection, or will be out of town on Election Day. The state is allowing fears of COVID-19 to be used as an excuse for absentee balloting this fall, but the move is temporary. A change in the state constitution would have to be made to enact permanent changes.

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Florida 

After residents in a statewide referendum restored the voting rights of 1.5 million people who have been convicted of crimes, Florida’s Republican-controlled legislature and governor passed what advocates have called a “poll tax,” requiring that they pay all court fees, fines and restitution associated with their cases before they can vote. Reliability of the mail and voter awareness about the state’s requirement that absentee ballots be received by Election Day to count is also a concern in Florida. Ballots that arrive after Election Day, no matter when they’re postmarked, will be thrown out.

Iowa

November will be the first presidential election under a voter ID law that Iowa’s legislature passed in 2017 and that voting rights advocates say will disproportionately keep people of color from casting ballots. The state has been proactive this year in mailing absentee ballot applications to voters, but a dispute between state and local election officials over how far to go in assisting voters with the details of those applications has been the subject of court battles

Kentucky

Voters in Kentucky will be able to cast an absentee ballot for any reason this November under a temporary provision adopted due to concerns about COVID-19. The state has also restored the right to vote for more than 170,000 citizens who have prior felony convictions. But Kentucky’s Republican-controlled legislature passed a new requirement in March that voters must present a government-issued photo ID to be able to cast a ballot this year.

Maryland

More early voting centers and secure drop boxes have been deployed for the November election in Maryland after 30,000 ballots during the state’s primary this year were tossed out after arriving late. Voting rights advocates are trying to spread the word about alternatives to relying on the mail. 

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Michigan

As a key battleground state in the November presidential election, Michigan is seeing an array of court battles over almost every aspect of absentee balloting and provisions to accommodate concerns about COVID-19 in how voting takes place. The most consequential is a fight over whether absentee ballots should be counted as long as they are postmarked by Election Day, or only if they’re received by then.

North Dakota

North Dakota is unusual in that it doesn’t have a voter registration system. Instead, it has adopted strict requirements for presenting photo ID at the polls that have disenfranchised Native American voters who do not have traditional addresses. November’s election will be the first test of a settlement the state reached over legal challenges to that law that called for outreach to provide more IDs on tribal lands. 

Pennsylvania

Court battles over secure drop boxes for absentee ballots, whether so-called “naked ballots” mistakenly sent in without being inside a security envelope will be counted and a host of other issues related to this November’s election are still playing out in the battleground state of Pennsylvania. The state traditionally required that absentee ballots be received before polls close on Election Day, but the state Supreme Court has ruled that they must be postmarked by then, and can be received up to three days later to count.  

Tennessee

A court decision has allowed limited provision for Tennessee voters this fall who want to cast an absentee ballot due to concerns about COVID-19. Otherwise, the state’s Republican-controlled legislature has been aggressive in restricting access to voting, including making it a crime to share absentee ballot application forms unless you are an elections official. 

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Texas

After the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013 weakened the Voting Rights Act’s oversight of states with a history of discriminating against voters based on race, Texas closed more than 700 polling places. It continues to be one of the most difficult states in which to register to vote, and it isn’t allowing residents to use COVID-19 concerns as an excuse for absentee balloting this fall. 

Virginia

Voters in Virginia no longer have to show a photo ID to vote, and can now cast an absentee ballot for any reason. These are among reforms that have led to a surge in early voting in the state this fall. Residents still must register to vote 3 weeks prior to the election, however, and Virginia is one of just three states in the country that still permanently disenfranchises people with felony convictions. 

Wisconsin

After Republicans took power in 2010, Wisconsin adopted a series of new restrictions on voting, including a strict voter ID law that researchers say prevented as many as 12,000 predominantly Black residents in Milwaukee and Madison from voting in 2016. The changes, which are the subject of ongoing court battles, have also reduced the state’s window for early voting. 

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