Democracy in Review: Responsive Government’s 2024 Election Policy Progress Reports
This month, Responsive Government released our second ever Election Policy Progress Reports, a 50-state review of how each state has, or hasn’t, made their election laws more responsive and accessible for voters and election administrators alike.
2024 will be a critical year for our democracy. In the last two years, state legislatures around the country have considered thousands — and adopted hundreds — of new policies impacting how elections are administered and how voters cast their ballots. Now, with primary elections underway and a federal election around the corner, we have the opportunity to see how these new changes impact the election experience in real time.
From sweeping voting rights legislation in Minnesota and New Mexico to Secure Automatic Voter Registration (SAVR) — including at Medicaid and the Department of Corrections — in Michigan, some states chose to take incredible strides towards building a more representative democracy in 2023. On the flip side, some state legislatures unexpectedly rejected policy improvements that would have positively impacted millions of voters, such as the failure of SAVR in California and Illinois.
You can view the full 2024 Election Policy Progress Reports from Responsive Government here, but here are a few of our highlights and takeaways.
Note on Method
Before we dive in, it’s important to note that our scores are not a state by state comparison. (To view this kind of analysis, you can check out Movement Advancement Project’s Democracy Maps, MIT’s Election Performance Index, or Campaign Legal Center’s State Scorecards.)
In Responsive Government’s progress reports, we measure a state against its own performance year to year, because we believe that regardless of how a state stacks up against its neighbors, every state should be making incremental progress each year — there are endless opportunities, large and small, to make our elections more effective.
Responsive Government first categorizes states across three tiers based on the overall existing climate for pro-voter policy. Then, our team grades each state based on three criteria: legislative improvements made or setbacks experienced in making elections more secure; helping election administrators do their jobs; and creating an efficient experience for eligible voters.
A Perfect Score
This year, three states received an unprecedented perfect score of A+: Minnesota, Michigan, and New Mexico. Notably, all three states passed SAVR in 2023.
In Minnesota, the state restored the right to vote to more than 50,000 formerly incarcerated Minnesotans and passed the Democracy for the People Act, a package of incredible voting rights provisions, like SAVR (including through Medicaid), pre-registration, and expanded language access.
In Michigan, the legislature passed a law bringing secure automatic voter registration to the state’s DMVs, Medicaid offices, and Tribal governments. It also is the first state to expand SAVR to its Department of Corrections. Beyond SAVR, Michigan passed an impressive list of election improvements, from pre-registration for 16- and 17-year olds to expanded early voting to enhanced mail ballot tracking.
New Mexico’s legislature passed a Voting Rights Act that included SAVR, new dropbox availability, protections for Indigenous voters, and a number of other pro-voter policies.
All three states are categorized by Responsive Government as middle-tier states, demonstrating that even in states that don’t have the most pro-voter climate, bipartisan cooperation and smart, innovative policy can lead to commonsense improvements that impact millions of voters.
Two Failing Grades
Two states received a failing grade of F in this year’s progress reports: South Dakota and North Carolina. Comparing the progress of Michigan and Minnesota to the backsliding of North Carolina, also a middle-tier state, provides a mini case study on the diverging paths states can take when it comes to strengthening or decaying their democratic process.
The North Carolina Legislature twice overrode Gov. Cooper’s veto to pass new laws that harm the state’s voters and election administration overall. SB 749 alters the makeup of county boards of elections from five to four members by removing the governor’s power to appoint members, making them evenly split down party lines. The power now instead falls on the North Carolina State Legislature. This could lead to partisan gridlock that, for example, prevents counties from being able to approve early voting sites.
SB 747 shortens the deadline to return absentee ballots by three days, bans private funding for elections, and requires voters that use same day registration during the early voting period to have their address verified by USPS before their ballot will be counted, among other provisions. Both SB 747 and SB 749 are the subject of ongoing litigation.
Beyond the ins and outs of the policies, it’s important to remember that these changes impact the ability of millions of voters to make their voices heard. In Responsive Government’s 2025 progress reports, North Carolina will move from a middle- to a bottom-tier state.
While we’ve seen incredible momentum around passing SAVR in states around the country, we want to draw attention to four states that missed their opportunity to adopt this commonsense, highly effective policy in 2023: top-tier California, Illinois, Maryland, and middle-tier Rhode Island. Here’s how it impacted their scores from the 2021/2022 reports:
- California: B+ to C. The California Assembly failed to upgrade its automatic voter registration system to a more secure, efficient, and improved system for the third year in a row, leaving more than 4.5 million eligible voters unregistered to vote in the state. California also failed to join the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC) to ensure the state’s voter rolls are accurate and up-to-date. Although the state has a reputation as a national leader on elections, other western states have continued to pass more substantial pro-voter policies, while California falls behind. Consequently, California was downgraded to a C this year.
- Illinois: A- to B. Though the Illinois General Assembly expanded opportunities to register and vote in the state, it missed yet another opportunity to pass SAVR, giving the state a B grade this year.
- Maryland: A- to B. Though the Maryland General Assembly passed legislation to establish a cure process for mail ballots and allow ballot preprocessing, the Assembly failed to move forward legislation that would have upgraded the state to a SAVR system, downgrading Maryland a B grade this year.
- Rhode Island: A- to B+. After passing significant pro-voter reforms in 2022, the Assembly continued to build on that progress by passing several minor pro-voter policies this past session. However, it missed an opportunity to upgrade its automatic voter registration system. Therefore, Rhode Island received a B+ this year.
Beyond Party Lines
While many of us might make assumptions about the kinds of states and legislators that make or hinder election progress, our scorecards always remind us that the reality of the election law landscape is far more nuanced than any partisan trends.
This year, for example, we saw Kentucky and South Carolina — both bottom-tier states—continue to show a real moderate upward trajectory for the second year in a row, advancing policies that help election administrators and improve elections without harming voters.
In Kentucky, the General Assembly continued to pass bipartisan election reforms this past session. Secretary of State Adams also persisted in challenging false fraud narratives from election deniers, and has maintained the state’s support for ERIC. While South Carolina did not pass any significant pro-voter reforms this past session, the Legislature did secure much-needed funds for local election offices.
Top-tier Utah is another typically conservative state that continues to be a leader on election policy. Although it needlessly rolled back the deadline for voters to change their party affiliation in presidential primary years, this year the Utah State Legislature made mostly pro-voter amendments to its election laws. Utah received a B on this year’s progress report.
Although our elections face unprecedented threats and challenges, we are also coming off one of the most memorable years for pro-voter policy in recent memory. States across the country will be putting new election policies to the test this year, and it’s important that we take stock of where states have come, and where they’re heading, when it comes to ensuring fair, accessible, and secure elections for all. Every state owes it to the American people to continue reaching towards better representation and a more responsive government.
If you’d like to dig deeper into our state-by-state analysis, view our full 2024 Election Policy Progress Reports here.