Elections 101

Voting Rights and Voter Suppression: Call your State Election Official

Created in partnership with Access Democracy

Your statewide election official often sets election standards for the entire state. This office can clarify confusing points of state election law, update standards to reflect modernization efforts, and provide additional resources at the state and local level to run elections. Let your statewide election office know you appreciate the importance of the office and ask them to use their power to make it easier for all eligible Americans to vote.

State and federal laws—like the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) and the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA)—set standards for how elections are run, and none of the questions you’ll be asking should be unfamiliar to the election officials you are meeting with.

These conversations will help you learn more about how elections are administered in your state–making you a better advocate. They will also let the state election official know that citizens, like you, are engaged and are supportive of policies that make voting easier.

Remember: The best way to use this guide is to read through all of it, and decide which parts raise the issues most important to ensuring equal access to voting in your state. You don’t have to ask your state election official about every issue below!

**Remember to Fill Out the Survey at AccessDemocracy.us/Indivisible with What You Learned**


Each state has a government official or elections board that is charged with managing elections statewide. In most states, the Secretary of State fills this role. You can look up your state election official here.

Although the specifics vary by state, the state election official or board is typically charged with administering the statewide voter registration database, developing the process for testing voting equipment, and making sure local officials follow election laws.


Make a plan to call or meet with your statewide election official or a member of his or her staff to ask how he or she is working towards fair, equal, and easy access to the ballot. There may be instances where your statewide official or their staff is unwilling to arrange a time to talk with you. These statewide election officials tend to be elected to office, so they are open to the same tactics and requests your groups have been using on Congressional officials: calls, protests, and public pressure.



Why Is Easy Access to Voter Registration Important?

Can I register to vote online?

If yes → Great! What is the deadline for online registration?
How are you educating voters in the community about the option to register to vote online?
How have you ensured that the online registration system won’t crash, particularly when many people in our state are visiting the site close to the registration deadline?
Is information about online registration available in Spanish [or other commonly spoken languages in our state]?

If no → Why not? Thirty-six states and D.C. already have online voter registration. Allowing online voter registration makes it easier for citizens to register, is more secure than registering on paper, reduces transcription errors, and saves states money.
What would it take to get online voter registration in our state (a new law, a regulatory change)?
Can we count on you to support efforts to bring online registration to our state?

Do we have automatic voter registration?

If yes → Great!

If no → Why not? Nine states and D.C. already have this. It makes it much easier for citizens to register and reduces transcription errors, which makes for cleaner voting rolls. This is a key step in modernizing our election system.
Can we count on you to support automatic voter registration efforts in our state?

How can a voter confirm that she is registered and that her voter registration information is up-to-date?

Does our state offer same day registration?

If yes → Great! Thank you for making voting easier. Including information about same day registration in voter education materials and training all poll workers about same day registration can help ensure voters’ access to the ballot and make for an efficient Election Day!

If no → Why not? Many states have same day registration and studies show that it has a positive effect on turnout.
Can we count on you to support same day registration efforts in our state?

What other voter outreach and education do you do?

If yes → Do you have programs that reach out to students? Voters with disabilities? Non-English speaking members of our community? New citizens? Individuals with criminal convictions who are now eligible to have their voting rights restored?

Would you join me in taking a position to support expanded access to voter registration in our state?



Why Is Fair and Accurate Voter Roll Maintenance Important?

How is a voter notified that she has been removed from the rolls? How can a voter who has been incorrectly removed correct the problem?

No eligible voter should be removed from the rolls. It’s so important for a voter to be able to correct any mistakes if she is improperly removed.

Do you use the Interstate Voter Registration Crosscheck Program?

If yes → You may be aware that Crosscheck’s flawed methodology has been found to incorrectly flag potential double registrants. According to a Rolling Stone study, 1 in 6 Latino voters, 1 in 7 Asian-Americans, and 1 in 9 African-Americans in Crosscheck states were flagged as potential double registrants. There are many other ways of ensuring that voter rolls remain up-to-date. Please take steps to end the use of Crosscheck in our state.

If no → Great! As you know, there are many ways of keeping our state’s voter rolls remain up-to-date, which helps ensure efficient election administration and avoid polling place problems.

Would you join me in taking a position to support fair and accurate maintenance of voter rolls?



Why Is Easy Access to the Ballot Important??

Once a citizen is registered to vote, she still must overcome one final hurdle before being able to exercise her right to vote: she actually has to cast her ballot! For many Americans, the option to vote only on a weekday during business hours doesn’t make sense: work and family responsibilities make getting to the polls very difficult. In fact, according to a report published by the U.S. Election Assistance Commission in 2016, 41% of all the votes cast nationally were cast before Election Day. In its 2014 report, the bipartisan Presidential Commission on Election Administration applauded the trend towards offering more opportunities for pre-Election Day voting and recommended that more states offer such opportunities. Despite this, 13 states still require a specific excuse to vote absentee and do not have any form of early voting. These states can expand the right to vote by offering early voting and making available to all citizens the option to vote by mail. See what your state offers here.

In addition, election officials should be certain that the locations and times they offer for voting are equally available to communities across the state. This includes flexible voting hours, and polling places that can be easily accessed (including by public transit). Polling place closures and limited voting hours disproportionately affect communities of color. A study by the Center for American Progress (CAP) found that, in the 2016 election, “in states with histories of voting discrimination there were 868 fewer polling places operating on Election Day.”

Administrative decisions on polling locations, hours and staffing have an enormous impact on access to the ballot—particularly for voters of color. Targeted choices to under-resource polling locations in communities of color can prevent communities of color from exercising their right to vote. As the NALEO Education Fund wrote in their report Latino Voters at Risk: Assessing the Impact of Restrictive Voting Changes In Election 2016:

“Election administrators’ discretion to set aggressive registration list maintenance policies, to close or consolidate polling locations, to provide insufficient resources for polling places in underrepresented communities, and to neglect the provision of language assistance throughout the election process has already made it more difficult for many Latinos and underrepresented voters to participate in elections.”

While the NALEO report was focused on Latino communities, similar patterns of habitual under-resourcing of polling places and other voter access issues can also be seen in neighborhoods with large African AmericanNative American, and Asian American and Pacific Islander populations.

Early Vote

Early vote expands access to voting for working Americans, and for those with childcare or elder-care responsibilities. Early voting is when the state offers in-person voting for a period in advance of Election Day. Thirty-seven states and D.C. offer some form of early voting. While that is an encouraging number, in recent years, states have started to reverse the trend by cutting back on early voting. The Brennan Center reported in February 2016:

“[S]tarting in 2011, several states started restricting early voting. In North Carolina, the legislature slashed seven early voting days, removing times that were especially popular among African Americans. Among these: the Sunday before the election, used by churchgoers for a ‘Souls to the Polls’ drive. In the prior election, more than one-quarter of all African-American voters in the state had voted on those days. In 2012, Florida dramatically reduced early voting. After exceptionally long lines—which disproportionately impacted African Americans and Hispanics—prevented 200,000 from voting and caused a national outcry, the legislature backtracked and reinstated most of the days it had eliminated. Overall, eight states have new laws cutting back on early voting days and hours.”

In many states, the law gives some flexibility to local election officials about where to offer early vote, and the days and hours it will be available. These officials should be encouraged to offer early vote to the fullest extent they are able under the law, including—where the law permits it—early in the morning, later in the evening, and on Saturdays and Sundays. Click here to see if your state offers early vote.

No-Excuse Absentee / Vote by Mail

Making voting more flexible helps enfranchise people who cannot get time away from work, who have a disability or are mobility impaired, who have family obligations that prevent them from voting in-person, and countless others. Vote by mail is one way to create additional opportunities for voters to exercise their right to vote in the way that is most comfortable and convenient to them. In addition, vote by mail can save states money because they do not need to have as many polling locations and staff. More convenient voting options may also increase turnout.

Absentee voting by-mail was originally developed as an alternative way to vote for people who would be away from their polling place on Election Day. Initially, most states only allowed voters who had certain legally-defined reasons to vote absentee. Now, 27 states and D.C. have no-excuse absentee voting—which means all voters, regardless of reason, can vote absentee. These states generally require voters to apply for an absentee ballot.

Three states, Oregon, Washington, and Colorado, conduct their elections by mail. In these states, every voter gets a ballot in the mail without having to apply. (However, voters may still vote in person if they wish.) Many other states allow voting by mail in certain limited circumstances. Click here to see what your state offers.

Note: Federal law does not guarantee time off work to vote, but many states have passed laws giving workers some protection when they take time off to vote. The AFL-CIO has a comprehensive list of state laws on time off to vote, available here.

Do we have early voting and/or vote by mail in our state?

If yes → Great! Have you provided guidance to localities on providing early voting to the fullest extent possible, including the full range of days and hours? Where is this guidance made available?

If no → Why not? Please advocate for early voting and vote by mail in our state. Early voting and vote by mail increase opportunities for a citizen to vote. The bipartisan Presidential Commission on Election Administration recommended in 2014 that states expand pre-Election Day voting.

Will you join me in taking a position to support expanded access to voting before Election Day, either in person or by mail?



Why Are Restrictive Voter ID Laws Harmful?

What ID does our state require to vote?

If no photo ID → Great! Restrictive ID laws disenfranchise millions of Americans.

If photo ID required → Why is photo ID required?
What should voters who don’t have a photo ID do?
What photo ID does your office provide for voters?
Is that photo ID free?
What support is there for voters who cannot afford the fees associated with the ID or the underlying paperwork (like a birth certificate)?
How long does it take to acquire the photo ID issued by your office?
Can we count on you to support efforts to remove photo ID requirements?



Why Are the Mechanics of Election Administration Important?

What kind of voting machines do we use in our state? Are there are any planned changes?

Do you make electronic poll books available in our state? Are there plans to introduce electronic poll books?

What steps are you taking to safeguard our elections from cyberattacks?

Thank you. The recent revelations about Russian interference in the 2016 election make clear that we must take this threat seriously.

Do you have the resources you need to protect our election infrastructure from cyberattacks?

Would you join me in taking a position to support strong protections for voter privacy and security?

Remember to Fill Out the Survey at AccessDemocracy.us/Indivisible with What You Learned