About This Project
Our goal was to analyze the laws that most impact Americans' access to the ballot box: who can vote, when and how they cast their ballots, and how that's changed in recent years.
For this project, we decided to narrow our focus to the four policies that have seen the most legislative movement, have affected the broadest number of voters, and that can be most easily compared nationwide: voter ID, absentee ballots, early voting and felon status. We narrowed our time frame to the last five years in order to understand recent trends.
We researched state law for each of the four policies in both 2014 and 2010. States that enacted laws making it easier to vote during that time are categorized as "expansive," and those that enacted laws adding new requirements were categorized as "restrictive."
We established categories that allowed us to rank each policy from most to least accessible on a scale of one to five. For example, a state that requires no document to vote received a one, while a state with a strict photo ID requirement received a five. (Absentee voting was the one exception; states were ranked there on a scale of one to four.)
Voting-law experts tend to divide the right to vote into two broad categories: access to the ballot, and the power of the vote -- whether voters are able to elect candidates of their choice.
For this project, we focused on access to the ballot, because it's much easier to quantify. Even so, we didn't include every law in this category. For example, as we continue to report on nationwide voting trends, we plan to take a closer look at how states are rethinking voter registration requirements.
The other broad category, the power of the vote, is much more difficult to quantify. It's primarily dictated by redistricting -- the process by which politicians sort voters into districts and is key in determining the shape of the electorate. The party in power gets to redraw the boundaries -- and it isn't always done fairly. But redistricting doesn't impact whether a voter can cast a ballot, so it isn't considered here.
We gathered data from the National Conference of State Legislatures, as well as the Sunlight Foundation's Openstates.org. We also drew on research from the nonpartisan Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law, which tracks voting legislation. For the felon status data, we also consulted The Sentencing Project and ProCon.org. We also drew on data from states' own websites.
There's a lot of legislative movement on the state and local level surrounding ballot access, and Ballot Watch is an ongoing reporting project. If you spot an error, or want to flag an issue, please let us know.