As you noted in your question, election laws can vary substantially
from state to state. I have lived in three states in the past 15
years, and I know from experienced how significant the differences can
You can find a list of many of the differences on this page:
State Election Laws & Administration Issues
"Election laws and regulations can vary significantly from state to
state. The following links, prepared by the National Conference of
State Legislatures (NCSL) and organized by the Election Reform
Information Project, summarize many key state election issues:"
I'll summarize some of the differences listed on that page as well as
others that I am aware of:
-- Registration deadlines: Although judicial decisions now prevent
states from having unreasonable registration and residency deadlines
(they used to be as long as a year), there are still some differences.
Deadlines of around a month before an election isn't unusual. Some
states allow day-of-election registration.
-- Party registration: In some states you have to declare to which
party (if any) you belong when you register to vote. The main impact
this has is during partisan primary elections.
-- Primary method: In some states, only members of a given party can
vote in that party's primary. In some states, voters can decide at the
polling booth which party's primary they will vote in. In some
states, it is a matter of public record which party someone votes in
for a primary (but not the actual votes cast); others provide for
privacy in that matter. A few states let voters vote in one party's
primary for one office, in another party's primary for another office
(although such primaries have been successfully disputed in court).
-- Type of ballot: Some states use paper ballots, while others uses
computers, voting machines, scanned ballots, and others. Sometimes the
method of voting varies county by county.
-- Absentee voting: Some states allow anyone to request an absentee
ballot; others require specific reasons for doing so. Some states
require the ballot to be returned by election day, while others
require the ballot to be postmarked by election day.
-- Registration method: Registration by mail is common these days, as
is automatic registration for citizens when they get their driving
licenses. But some states require in-person registration.
-- Vote by mail: Oregon and some other states give a strong preference
to mail-in elections, although most states require voters to go to a
-- Recount laws: States have different thresholds for when a close
election is subject to a mandatory recount. In some states the person
seeking the recount pays, while elsewhere the government pays.
-- Counting: States have differing procedures for determine which
votes are valid in case of a dispute.
-- Tie breaking: States have various methods for breaking a tie.
-- Campaign financing and disclosure: States vary widely on spending
limits, finance disclosure, and public financing.
-- Voting pamphlets: Many states produce an election booklet that
provides information about candidates and/or ballot measures. Each
state has its own procedures.
-- Initiative and referendum: Many states in the West and some
elsewhere allow initiatives, referendums and recalls. Procedures vary
-- Election workers: Procedures vary on who's hired to staff the polls.
-- Third parties: In some states it is very easy for parties other
than Democrats and Republicans to get on the ballot. In some states it
is almost impossible.
Do all these differences matter? Generally, courts haven't intervened
if the policies are fair and evenly applied. However, as the 2000
presidential election made clear, many procedures can be subject to
judicial review. One of the arguments made in Florida was that all
the counties should have had the same methods, although in the end
that wasn't decided. It seems that the courts will allow a fair
amount of latitude provided the elections are handled in good faith.
Here are some other resources that may be useful:
America's Election Snafus: 2001-2002
Federal and State Campaign Finance Laws
Clean Election Laws
National Association of State Election Directors Federal Election Recommendations
I hope this fully answers your question.
Google search term used: "by state" election laws