Common-Sense State Election Reforms

Just The Facts Issue Brief

Vote By Mail/No-Excuse Absentee Voting

Prior to the 2020 election and before COVID-19, five states voted entirely by mail.Ballots were sent to registered voters and either returned by mail or dropped off. In 33 states, absentee ballots were issued upon request, without the voter having to provide a reason why he or she couldn’t vote in person. With COVID, at least 39 states allowed either voting by mail or no-excuse absentee voting.

Arguments in favor of vote by mail/no-excuse absentee voting

  1. It increases voter turnout. The 159 million votes cast in the 2020 election represented an increase of 16% over 2016, and 41% of those votes were mail-in or no-excuse absentee ballots.
  2. Voters like it. According to a Pew Research Center Survey, 65% of Americans say voters should be able to vote early or absentee without providing a documented reason.
  3. It saves money. Another Pew study from Colorado, which has an across- the-board vote-by-mail system, found that it saved taxpayers an average of 40%.
  4. It can be secure and reliable. Every state that has full or partial vote-by- mail or no-excuse absentee voting has carefully devised ways to keep these methods secure. Despite an unprecedented search for fraud and/ or abuse, no evidence of widespread fraud has been found in mail-in and no-excuse absentee voting.

Non-Partisan Election Administration and Redistricting

The contested 2020 presidential election and subsequent campaigns of well-funded “stop-the-steal” candidates for state offices that oversee elections have focused attention on the lack of safeguards against party or candidate loyalists holding key state election administration offices. The United States is the only country that uses partisan elections to select election officials, and most states also allow state legislators chosen in partisan elections to redraw congressional and state legislative districts.

Two Alternative Models

U.S. jurisdictions could look to bodies that aid in the appointment of judges and in drawing district boundaries as possible models for safeguarding our elections. Twenty-three states and Washington, D.C. rely on judicial nominating commissions to assist in the appointment process for state supreme court and some lower court judges, and 10 more use them in some manner. A similar process could be used to appoint election officials.

Independent redistricting commissions play a role in state legislative redistricting in 16 states and congressional redistricting in 10.Commissions in Arizona, California, Colorado and Michigan, determine district boundaries independent of state legislatures.

Here are key attributes of these commissions that could help ensure the non-partisan administration of elections:

  • Appointment processes that prevent control by one or both political parties.
  • Appointment processes include relevant stakeholders such as civil society organizations, professional associations, political independents and third parties.
  • Commission membership guidelines prevent or limit conflicts of interest.
  • Explicit criteria to guide commission work and output.
  • Transparency requirements for commission work.
  • Mechanisms for review by or appeal to branches of state government.
  • Commissions must be given constitutional status to protect their functions and composition.

Status in Connecticut

In Connecticut, the partisan general assembly redraws congressional and state legislative district lines every decade. A back-up commission is convened only if legislators are unable to approve a map by a two thirds margin in each chamber.

Much of the information in this brief comes from the Election Reformers Network (ERN), which is an excellent source for information on election reform issues.

Connecticut Compact is an initiative of American Compact, Inc., a 501(c)3 non-profit seeking to build consensus on pressing challenges and opportunities in selected states, starting with Connecticut.

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