Ready for vote by mail? National study analyzes, compares policies among 50 states

September 1, 2020

In a national scorecard analyzing how state policies will either enable or inhibit the ability of individuals to vote by mail, the Brookings Institution gives most states in the Midwest a passing grade, in large part because of their rules on witness signatures, the timeline for accepting ballots, and the delivery of vote-by-mail applications. The highest grades went to U.S. states (nearly all in the West) that are automatically sending ballots to registered voters. No state in the Midwest is taking this approach.

However, as of late August, Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Nebraska, Ohio and Wisconsin were among the states planning to send vote-by-mail applications to registered voters, Brookings researchers found. In another four Midwestern states — Kansas, Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota — voters do not need an excuse to request an application. With the exception of Wisconsin, no Midwestern state requires voters to include a witness signature with their mail-in ballots, and only Wisconsin and South Dakota require that a copy of a photo ID be included with a voter’s application and/or ballot.

The Brookings Institution also examined the options for individuals who chose to vote by mail. For example, Michigan, Nebraska and Ohio are among the states that will provide drop-off boxes for voters, as an alternative to using the mail to return completed ballots. (In some states, decisions on the use of drop-off boxes are left to local administrators.) The scorecard gives Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, North Dakota and Ohio high marks for their policies on when mailed-in ballots will be accepted — namely, if they are postmarked by Election Day, and even if they are received beyond five days of Election Day.