Enacted ballot collection bills make mostly small changes, several states considering new restriction and penalties

Ten states are considering legislation related to ballot collection, or ballot harvesting, while three states have enacted legislation on the topic so far in 2023. In 2022, seven states enacted bills while 15 others considered legislation. The number of bills and states considering ballot collection measures is smaller in 2023 than last year. 

Most legislation introduced this year makes small changes to existing laws, although several states are considering more substantial changes. Active, bipartisan-sponsored bills in Rhode Island and Wyoming, two states that do not currently specify whether someone may return ballots on behalf of another voter, would add restrictions to ballot collection. Elsewhere, Republican-sponsored bills in three states currently allowing voters to choose someone to return their ballot (Nebraska, Oregon, and Virginia) would narrow or limit the authorized individuals who may return another voter’s ballot.

Eight of the 12 bills in 2023 legislative sessions were sponsored by Republican legislators, two were sponsored by Democrats, and two had bipartisan sponsorship.

Mississippi, New Mexico and South Dakota have enacted legislation related to ballot collection. 

In Mississippi, Republican-sponsored SB2358 creates new penalties for an existing ban on third-party ballot collection. 

In New Mexico, Democratic-sponsored SB180 expands the list of persons authorized to return another voter’s absentee/mail-in ballot as part of a larger package of election modifications. Existing law prohibits anyone not an immediate family member from collecting and delivering a ballot. The bill adds domestic partners, grandchildren, grandparents, or persons “with whom the voter has a continuing personal relationship” to the definition of “immediate family.”

In South Dakota, Republican-sponsored HB165 requires election officials to “keep a record of the authorized messenger requesting an absentee ballot to be delivered to another voter.” In South Dakota, an authorized messenger may return another voter’s absentee ballot.

Iowa and South Carolina were the only states to make significant changes to their ballot collection laws in 2022 legislative sessions. 

In Iowa, both SF413 and SF568 restricted ballot collection to “an individual who lives in the same household as the registered voter, the registered voter’s immediate family member,” or an individual serving as a caretaker or registered delivery agent for a blind or otherwise disabled voter. 

In South Carolina, S0108 instituted a photo-ID requirement for an individual authorized to return another voters’ ballot and limited the number and prohibited anyone from returning more than five ballots in addition to their own. 

Also last year, Florida increased penalties for illegal ballot possession from a misdemeanor to a felony. Oklahoma added a prohibition on [d]istributing an absentee ballot application or request to a voter using the official letterhead of a candidate or elected official” to an existing ballot harvesting ban. 

Of the 22 states that currently have a Republican trifecta, 11 states specify or otherwise limit who may return another voter’s absentee ballot, while four others do not have any law related to ballot collection. Of the 17 Democratic trifecta states, three specify or otherwise limit who may collect and return absentee ballots, while five states’ statutes do not reference ballot collection. 

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