State Voting and Election Laws
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Key Takeaways:

  • Our 2021 Session Prep Toolkit is a four-part series to help you think through major areas that are important to the success of your state government affairs program in 2021.
  • So far we’ve covered setting priorities and target states (Part 1), key stakeholder and political landscape analysis (Part 2), and policy issues we expect to be important in 2021 (Part 3).
  • In Part 4 (the final installment), we’ll walk you through the logistics you should consider when planning, including session schedules, COVID-19 access and travel restrictions, and lobbying compliance considerations.

There’s a lot to think about when it comes to planning your government affairs strategy for next year, but MultiState is here to help. Our 2021 Session Prep Toolkit will help you plan your 2021 (following the checklist here) and each week we’ve delved into a different aspect of state government affairs strategic planning. If you’re just tuning in, get up to speed on the first three installments:

Part 4: Logistics in the New Normal

Your government affairs job in 2021 will likely look a lot different than it did before — how can you prepare? This week, we’ll go over session dates, travel restrictions, and limitations on access to state capitols and other buildings that could prevent you from meeting face-to-face with lawmakers. Additionally, one of the most important logistical pieces in our business is compliance — we’ll go over how to think through lobbying compliance in the new normal, plus you may need to consider hiring your own on-the-ground representation.

(1) When do sessions start and end?

Whether you are new to the field or a seasoned state government affairs professional, one of the first considerations when assessing your policy goals is to time — in other words, how much time in the legislative session is there for you to accomplish your goals? Some state legislative sessions are extremely short, leaving very little time for you to engage with policymakers (and making preparation time out of session even more important). For example, Virginia’s session is less than a month — starting January 13 and ending February 11. On the other hand, there are many states that have full- or nearly full-year sessions (e.g., Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin). 

Additionally, states have important deadlines you must account for throughout the session. For example, the deadline for committees to report out bills in Mississippi’s fast-moving session lands on February 2, 2021. Thousands of bills filed in Mississippi meet an early demise each year with the arrival of this annual deadline. There is no carryover from one session to the next in Mississippi, so most bills in Jackson are only alive for a few short weeks. 

MultiState monitors and tracks this session information so that you can access it in one place. Our 2021 Legislative Session Dates resource includes start and end dates for all legislative sessions, plus information on prefiling and carryover between sessions. Clients have access to even more robust information, such as committee deadlines, crossover dates, and much more. We’re also tracking session disruptions resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. Access our 2021 Legislative Session Dates resource here.

(2) Are there any travel or other access restrictions in your priority states?

Once sessions start, you’ll have to determine what kind of access you’ll have to legislative meetings and events. Some states have already determined that they will be meeting virtually. Additionally, some states may technically have in-person sessions, but there may be limited public access or masks may be required in official buildings. MultiState is monitoring and collecting this information in our virtual vs. in-person sessions resource, which you can find here. Many states have not yet made a determination, but we are monitoring official actions and press coverage and will update this resource as new information becomes available. 

Additionally, you should consider any state travel restrictions. Travel restrictions typically require anyone who enters the state to self-quarantine for a certain number of days. Some restrictions are limited to those entering from certain locations, while others are more broad and require self-quarantine generally. Travel restrictions and other COVID-19 policies can be found on our COVID-19 State and Local Policy Tracker

(3) Have you considered all the aspects of virtual lobbying and advocacy?

Virtual Lobbying Compliance

Before you start your virtual advocacy work, be sure you’ve brushed up on the rules surrounding virtual lobbying, such as Zoom lobby days and social media engagement. A lobby day, also known as an advocacy day, is an opportunity for you and other stakeholders to meet with lawmakers to discuss your issues and objectives. Without being able to travel to meet in-person, many organizations will look into virtual lobby days happening over mediums like Zoom or Microsoft Teams. Jurisdictions handle lobby days differently in terms of registration requirements. North Dakota considers anyone participating in a lobby day to be a lobbyist, but Oklahoma does not consider this type of activity lobbying. As a result, lobbyist registration may be required before attending a lobby day, even virtually, or planning a lobby day in some jurisdictions. 

What about social media? A common misconception is that your online presence isn’t considered lobbying but, in fact, it can be. What’s important to remember about social media activity is that posts have the ability to reach people by the sheer nature of casting a wide net. A number of jurisdictions regulate tactics like posts on Facebook or Twitter and email campaigns as methods of direct communication. Direct communication is generally the threshold question in determining reportable lobbying activity.

The contrast between jurisdictions is illustrated through two approaches of different states, Nevada and Pennsylvania. In Nevada, the law specifically defines lobbying as “direct communication with a member of the Legislative Branch on behalf of someone other than himself or herself to influence legislative action whether” and requires physical presence in the legislative building or any other building in which the legislature or any of its standing committees hold meetings. (NRS 218H.080(a)-(b)). In Pennsylvania, direct or indirect communications with or to a “public official” or the general public whether written, oral or by any other medium such as: Facebook, Twitter, advertisements, letter-writing campaigns or billboards which encourage others to take action is lobbying — regardless of where you are when you make the communication. 

Thinking about lobbying early acts as a safeguard in a time where we need more flexibility. It is imperative to review lobbying registration requirements and deadlines now. In some states, your 2020 registration may carry over and cover some or part of 2021. However, in a majority of states — 36 of them — you are required to register for 2021 to be in compliance. In nine states, current registration covers all or part of 2021. In three states (Delaware, Michigan, and Minnesota), registration continues until explicitly terminated. Only one state (Nevada) will not require registration for 2021 because an in-person session is not scheduled at this time. The map below shows the states where 2021 registration is required. Additionally, numerous localities will also require registration for 2021 (see those here).

Fighting “Zoom Fatigue” 

Understanding how your issues fit in the context of any individual state’s political landscape is vital. Policymakers always have a lot on their plate, but 2021 will obviously be different. Now that every organization has to approach state government affairs in a new virtual capacity, it will be difficult to stand out from the crowd when state legislators and other policymakers have to attend countless Zoom meetings. “Zoom fatigue” is real for everyone and legislators are no different. 

Personal relationships will always outweigh Zoom connections. In the past, state government affairs professionals would depend on in-person meetings, directly traveling to the state capital — or they might travel to attend summer policymaker group meetings to catch up with policymakers from several states at once. Now, you may find yourself in need of in-state assistance to ensure you can reach lawmakers. Hiring the right lobbyist with the right connections becomes all the more important. 

(4) Where do you need to register prior to visiting or making contact? 

As we noted previously, knowing the rules in advance can save you time and prevent costly mistakes. You shouldn’t make the mistake of assuming you can address compliance rules after you’ve started lobbying — in some states, you must register before your activity begins. In other states, you have some time after your initial contacts, but that varies widely from state to state. The map below shows some general guidelines, but it’s important to work with a lobbying compliance professional to ensure you’re meeting all state and local requirements specific to your unique situation. 

Access All the 2021 Prep Toolkit Materials

To access the full four-part series, visit our 2021 Session Prep Toolkit for the full checklist and all the resources you need to plan your year. 


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