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New “America Goes to the Polls” Report Examines the Policy Trends that Made a Difference in Historic 2020 Election Turnout

The new “America Goes to the Polls” report — a joint effort between Nonprofit VOTE and the U.S. Elections Project — pulls back the curtain on the record-breaking voter turnout of the 2020 Presidential election to examine the bigger story: the crucial differences in voting policies across states and their impact on each state’s voter turnout. 

“There’s no doubt that all of America — citizens, election officials, voting rights advocates — should be celebrating the numbers we saw in the 2020 general election with all 50 states showing an increase in voter turnout,” says Brian Miller, Executive Director of Nonprofit VOTE. “But if we want to continue to see and expand a vibrant electorate, we have to understand what worked and recognize that there are still wide differences in how citizens can vote state-by-state.” Indeed, the new report ranks all 50 states by turnout, highlighting the  policies their voters can use to register and cast their ballots.

“One difference was the record use of mail ballots and early in-person voting that made voting more convenient and safer in the midst of a pandemic.” says Michael McDonald, Election Project Director and Professor of Political Science at the University of Florida. “More than two of every three voters voted early. To put that in context, 2020 was the first modern election when more people voted early than filled out a ballot at the polls on Election Day.”  

In an effort to offer citizens an easier and safer way to cast their ballots in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, 28 states changed their policies to make voting by mail more accessible. The results cannot only be seen in the national turnout success of 2020, but by the fact that half of the top 10 turnout states in the report were those that mailed ballots to registered voters. Almost all of the bottom 10 states required excuses for vote by mail ballots or cut off voter registration four weeks before the election. 

The new America Goes to the Polls report also highlights Same Day Registration (SDR) — which allows voters to register as late as election day — as a crucial policy for encouraging turnout. “We saw that nine of the top 10 states offer SDR which results in a five percentage point increase in voter turnout over states without the policy,” says Caroline Mak, Research Coordinator at Nonprofit VOTE. “State adoption of SDR is a promising trend, with nearly half of all states offering it now. Last year’s election further underlines the fact that voter education, registration, and activation are key to the continuation and health of our robust, representative democracy.”

To download America Goes to the Polls 2020, visit nonprofitvote.org/americagoestothepolls