Biggest Change in Voting Laws Related to Absentee Ballots, County Officials Say

February 17, 2022 by Dan McCue
Biggest Change in Voting Laws Related to Absentee Ballots, County Officials Say
A ballot drop box in a district neighborhood.

WASHINGTON — For all the talk about changes to election laws since the 2020 presidential election, the most meaningful change will likely be in the particulars of absentee voting, attendees of this year’s National Association of Counties were told this week.

According to the Brennan Center for Justice, at least 19 states enacted 33 laws between the November 2020 election and September of last year that make it harder for Amer­ic­ans to vote.

At the same time, lawmakers in at least 25 states enacted 62 laws with provi­sions that expand voting access.

The result, according to data discussed at this week’s NACO meeting at the Washington Hilton, was three more states with all-mail voting plans, increased digitization of registration, stiffer voter ID laws and new early voting schedules.


During a presentation to association members on Tuesday, Wendy Underhill, director of elections and redistricting at the National Conference of State Legislatures, said as the dust settled about the same number of reform bills were enacted in the wake of the 2020 election as in previous years.

“So it did not turn out to be a blockbuster year in terms of election legislation, and most of the laws were kind of in line with what we’ve seen over the past 20 years,” Underhill said.

“What was new and different was that there was a lot of attention on the details relating to absentee voting,” she said, adding, “Details became important in a way they haven’t been before.”

Reporting from the conference, Charlie Ban, the association’s digital news editor and senior writer said the greater attention to detail related to absentee ballots fell into three critical areas: where drop boxes can be located; who can pick up the ballots, and the deadline by which the ballot must be received — depending on the state, either by Election Day or afterwards, so long as it is postmarked by Election Day.


Another issue that could impact the November 2022 election is an ongoing supply chain issue related to paper and all things made from it, from Starbucks coffee cups to ballots and envelopes.

For years, one of America’s prime imports was waste material such as plastics and waste paper, which China would take and, to an extent, recycle. Much of the waste China received however, never made it back to the U.S. as packaging or a key component of a consumer product.

That led to a mess at China’s landfills and surrounding waters, and in 2018, the country banned the import of most plastics and other materials that were not up to newly imposed purity standards.

Paper goods are still imported from China and elsewhere, of course, but a lot of that product is ensnared in the supply chain slow downs that struck other goods late last year.

At the same time, U.S. paper mills are still reporting a shortage of workers, and the domestic industry is still shaking off last year’s extreme cold snap in Texas which led to the suspension of the production of resins used in paper cups and other products.

Aaron Flannery, of the Maricopa County, Arizona, Recorder’s Office told the association’s Finance, Pensions and Intergovernmental Affairs Steering Committee this week that “not only is there a paper shortage, but the cost of paper is going up as well.


Tammy Patrick, senior advisor of elections for the Democracy Fund, warned those at the Feb. 12 meeting that any elections office ordering paper in late summer for the November election “may not get it.”

Dan can be reached at [email protected] and at https://twitter.com/DanMcCue.

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