How absentee/mail-in voting will work in this year’s elections

Welcome to the Monday, April 10, Brew. 

Here’s what’s in store for you as you start your day:

  1. How and when voters must return absentee/mail-in ballots this year
  2. New Mexico updates voting rights for people convicted of a felony
  3. A look at recent state supreme court activity

How and when voters must return absentee/mail-in ballots this year

Eight states—Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin—are holding statewide elections this year.

Over the past few weeks, we’ve brought you information about voter registration deadlines, early voting periods, and absentee/mail-in ballot request deadlines in this year’s elections.

Today, let’s look at when and how absentee/mail-in ballots must be returned.

Of the eight states holding elections this year, Washington is unique in that it uses automatic mail-in voting, where every registered voter is sent an absentee/mail-in ballot ahead of the election.

Voters complete and return ballots before a specified deadline. Voters can mail in their completed ballots or deliver the ballots in person to an election office or a dropbox if such a system exists.

Regardless of how voters return their ballots ballot, the return deadlines are all the same in seven of the eight states holding statewide elections this year: Election Day. In Louisiana, voters must return absentee/mail-in ballots the day before the election.

In 2022, 44 states set their return deadlines on Election Day, and four set them the day before. Only Arkansas had a different deadline, requiring voters to return their ballots four days before Election Day.

When returning an absentee/mail-in ballot by mail, the return deadlines are either received—meaning election officials must receive the ballot by the deadline—or postmarked—meaning the voter must place the ballot in the mail by the deadline.

Thirty-five states have received deadlines, including Kentucky, Louisiana, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.

Fifteen states, including Mississippi, New Jersey, Virginia, and Wisconsin, have postmarked deadlines.

When returning an absentee/mail-in ballot in person, certain states dictate who can drop off that ballot.

In 13 states, including Mississippi, state law defines who is allowed to return a voter’s absentee/mail-in ballot.

In 25 states, including Kentucky, Louisiana, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Virginia, voters can choose who they’d like to return their ballot.

And in 11 states, including Washington and Wisconsin, state law does not specify who is or is not allowed to return a voter’s ballot.

The table below shows the various election dates, return deadlines, and return types for the eight states holding statewide elections this year.

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New Mexico updates voting rights for people convicted of a felony

On March 30, New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) signed House Bill 4 (HB 4) into law, amending multiple election rules, including provisions relating to voting rights for people convicted of a felony.

Previously, New Mexico allowed people convicted of a felony to vote only after completing their sentence, parole, and probation.

Now, those rights are restored after leaving prison, meaning those individuals will be able to vote while on parole or probation.

This is the third major change to voting rights for people convicted of a felony this year. 

Minnesota similarly restored voting rights to people convicted of a felony who have completed their prison sentence on March 3.

And in Virginia, Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) announced on March 22 that he would not continue the policy of automatically restoring voting rights to people convicted of a felony. The state does not provide for the restoration of rights, but Youngkin’s three predecessors, Ralph Northam (D), Terry McAuliffe (D), and Bob McDonnell (R), used their authority to restore those rights.

Including New Mexico, 21 states restore voting rights for people convicted of a felony after they finish their prison sentences. Thirteen of those states’ governments have Democratic trifectas, six have Republican trifectas, and two have divided governments.

 In 17 states, people convicted of a felony must wait until they have completed their parole or their parole and probation. This includes two Democratic trifectas, 10 Republican trifectas, and five divided governments.

In Maine, with a Democratic trifecta, and Vermont, with a divided government, people convicted of a felony never lose their voting rights.

And in 10 states, there is at least one type of felony where those convicted do not automatically regain their voting rights or, in some cases, may never regain those rights. This includes one Democratic trifecta, six Republican trifectas, and three divided governments.

New Mexico’s HB 4 is one of the 2,401 pieces of election-related legislation we are tracking this year. At this point in 2022, we were tracking 2,494 such pieces of legislation, 3.9% more than this year.

States have enacted 95 election-related bills so far this year—4% of those introduced. This is down from 2022, when states had enacted 125 bills by the start of April.

For more election-related developments, subscribe to The Ballot Bulletin, our weekly newsletter that delivers the latest updates on election policy. Every week, we track legislative activity, big-picture trends, recent news, and in-depth data from our Election Administration Legislation Tracker.

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A look at recent state supreme court activity

State supreme courts issued 131 opinions between March 27 and April 2, accounting for 8% of the year-to-date total of 1,640.

This year, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has issued the most opinions at 115, followed by Delaware with 105, and Hawaii with 94.

Twenty-seven states’ supreme courts have issued fewer than 25 opinions, and the North Carolina Supreme Court has issued none.

Here’s a look at some of this year’s opinions issued:

  • The Iowa Supreme Court reversed a lower court’s ruling that reinstated a plaintiff’s age discrimination claim in a lawsuit alleging wrongful termination and workplace harassment;
  • The Texas Supreme Court ruled that, since the plaintiff—an offensive lineman training with the Dallas Cowboys—resided in Dallas at the time of his injury, his workers’ compensation benefits suit should be heard in Dallas County; and,
  • The Colorado Supreme Court held that the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission lacked jurisdiction to resolve “bona fide disputes of contract interpretation.”

Supreme courts in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Texas, and Delaware regularly end the year as some of the country’s most active courts. Collectively, they accounted for 26% of all opinions issued in 2021 and 2022 and, to date, 26% of those issued this year.

If you want to learn more about the country’s state supreme courts, check out our 2020 study identifying the partisan balance on each court here. We also identified which justices ruled together most often in our Determiners and Dissenters report here.

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