Protecting Disabled Veterans in the Workforce

By Joe Paul

As long as there has been war, veterans have been coming home. Many have injuries that make work difficult or make some careers impossible. Questions surround veterans who have sustained physical or mental injury in service of their country. Will I be able to work? How can I provide for my family? Will someone hire a veteran with injuries? Given the prevalence of these concerns, there is a federal support system in place to assist veterans.

The two laws integral to protecting veterans in the workplace are the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act. USERRA provides requirements for reemploying veterans both with and without service-related injuries, while Title I of the ADA outlines what qualifies as disabilities and accommodations. USERRA is enforced by the U.S. Department of Labor and the U.S. Department of Justice.

USERRA prohibits employers from discriminating against employees or applicants for employment based on their military status, including military obligations resulting from duties as part of the National Guard or Reserves. Reemployment protection for persons with or without service-related disabilities is also included.

All veterans are covered under USERRA regardless of disability status. The veteran is also protected by ADA if their disability falls under the ADA. Employers must make “reasonable efforts” to help a veteran returning to employment become qualified to perform the position they would have had if employment had not been interrupted by military service or if they sustained a disability during their military service.

Title I of the ADA, enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and applying to all workers, prohibits private, state and local government employers with 15 or more employees from discriminating against individuals based on disability. Having a disability or having a history of disability cannot factor into any aspect of employment, such as hiring, promotions, assignments, training, termination, or any other terms, conditions or privileges of employment, including questions of access to training or social events that are employer sponsored.

If a veteran is diagnosed with PTSD, or if the employer believes that the veteran may have PTSD, it is illegal for the employer to refuse to hire the veteran if they are otherwise qualified for the job. The ADA also limits the types of medical information employers can obtain and strictly prohibits disability related harassment and retaliation. Section 501 applies those standards to the federal executive branch and U.S. Postal Service, among others.

If an employer can prove that employment of a person with disabilities would cause an undue hardship, employers can propose reasonable alternatives. Generally, undue hardships come at significant difficulty or expense to the employer. The ADA National Network defines “undue hardship” as an “action requiring significant difficulty or expense” given any number of circumstances. The size, resources, nature and structure of the employer’s operation must be considered. Many, if not all, of these provisions do not apply to employers of less than 15 employees. For example: if a chair lift is requested, an employer could propose a ramp as a reasonable alternative.

Many veterans self-eliminate themselves from viable career opportunities by thinking their injuries either disqualify them for a job or that performing the job would not be possible given their injuries. The reality is that veterans are protected if they meet the ADA’s definition, and the veteran is otherwise qualified for the job. An individual with a disability is a person who (1) has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities; (2) has a record of such an impairment, such as a substantial limitation prior to undergoing rehabilitation; and (3) is regarded or treated by an employer as having such an impairment, even if no substantial limitation exists.

If the veteran is qualified for the job by meeting the employer’s requirements for education, training, experience, skills, licensure or other requirements, and would be successful in the position with or without accommodations, they must be considered. There are additional requirements if the employer is the recipient of federal funds.

Disabled veterans should be aware of the 2008 ADA Amendments Act which added the term “major life activities,” and defined them to include not only activities such as walking, seeing, hearing and concentrating, but also the operation of major functions of the brain and neurological system. A list of reasonable accommodations for veterans with any of these disabilities can be found on the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s website.

An impairment should not prevent or severely or significantly restrict a veteran’s performance of a major life activity to be considered substantially limiting. The determination of whether an impairment substantially limits a major life activity must be made without regard to any mitigating measures, including medications or assistive devices such as prosthetic limbs, that you may use to lessen your impairment’s effects. Impairments that are episodic or in remission, such as epilepsy or PTSD, are considered disabilities if they would be substantially limiting when active.

CSG, Colorado Partner to Implement Civic Sector Apprenticeships

By Mary Wurtz

State and local governments across the country are beginning to use apprenticeships to address public sector workforce shortages. Aspects of registered apprenticeships, like paid on-the-job learning, low- to no-cost training and mentorship, can create new pathways to public service careers for individuals who otherwise cannot access traditional education or credentials. This is especially true for historically underserved and low-income communities.

Governments use apprenticeship to fill shortages in trade industries, like construction, but also in non-traditional fields for apprenticeship, like information technology, human resources and health care. Registered Apprenticeship Programs, or RAPs, offer high-quality career opportunities that address such trade industry shortages. RAPs are industry-vetted and approved by the U.S. Department of Labor or a state apprenticeship agency. Individuals in apprenticeship programs obtain paid work experience, receive progressive wage increases, earn a nationally recognized portable credential and potentially earn college credit.

On June 16, 2022, Gov. Jared Polis signed Executive Order D 2022-027 to expand the use of Registered Apprenticeship Programs, or RAPs, for Colorado’s state workforce. The order set a goal to increase the number of RAPs offered by state agencies and departments by 20% by the end of fiscal year 2022-23. The Colorado Department of Labor and Employment and the Department of Personnel and Administration are responsible for meeting the goal, which includes:

  • Removing administrative and statutory barriers to RAPs.
  • Coordinating with related instruction providers, such as institutions of higher education, to enhance RAPs with additional credentials and certifications.
  • Developing an equity-driven recruitment and retention strategy.
  • Providing state agencies with technical assistance and resources.

The Council of State Governments Center of Innovation worked with Apprenticeship Colorado, which is a program of the Department of Labor and Employment, and the Department of Personnel and Administration, to develop a Civic Sector Apprenticeship Toolkit. The toolkit, spanning more than 70 pages, covers the basic components of Registered Apprenticeship; how to sponsor or join an existing RAP; funding apprenticeship programs; recruitment and hiring of apprentices; supporting and protecting apprentices; and advancing apprentices within the State of Colorado personnel system.

The Civic Sector Apprenticeship Toolkit is geared toward state agency leadership and program developers and is tailored to the requirements of Colorado’s personnel system. Designed as a living document, the toolkit can be adapted by Apprenticeship Colorado and the Department of Personnel and Administration as its apprenticeship policies change.

CSG reviewed the state’s personnel system and collective bargaining agreement for state employees to identify barriers to implementing state government RAPs and potential solutions for overcoming them. As part of this work, CSG also partnered with Gov. Polis’ office to develop resources on aligning Registered Apprenticeship Programs with AmeriCorps service.

In total, Colorado has six apprenticeship programs sponsored by state agencies, including programs within the Department of Transportation, Department of Corrections and Office of Information Technology. In addition to filling personnel needs, state agencies began leveraging the RAP model to deliver core programs, like the Department of Labor and Employment’s Workforce Development Professional program for One Stop Centers and the Department of Local Affairs Operations Manager Program.

Apprenticeship Colorado at the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment is committed to expanding the RAP model across both the public and private sector within the state. Their team offers customized assistance to employers and organizations that want to build their own RAP or join an existing program, as well as supportive services to programs post-registration. Colorado employers are encouraged to contact Apprenticeship Colorado to access its services. The CSG Center of Innovation wants to help states continue to address their own workforce challenges through apprenticeships, work-based learning and other evidence-based career pathways. To learn more about how the Center of Innovation can partner with states on similar work, contact Mary Wurtz via email at [email protected].

Vermont’s Voter Portal

If there is one constant in election administration, it’s change.

Election officials are constantly innovating to meet the evolving needs of voters. Voter portals, “one-stop self-service” sites, enable voter access to individualized voting materials.

Vermont’s election portal, called My Voter Page or MVP for short, provides a web-based data search interface of information extracted from Vermont’s statewide voter registration database. MVP provides a web-based data search interface of information extracted from Vermont’s statewide voter registration database.[2]

MVP was first introduced to Vermont’s voters for use in the Nov. 8, 2016 election by Jim Condos, former Vermont Secretary of State.

In early 2015, the Vermont Secretary of State’s office initiated an 18-month development and implementation plan for the voter portal as part of a larger Election Management System solution. Election management and portal development began after a competitive procurement process resulting in the selection of a PCC Technology Group, LLC, now known as Civix, the state’s collaborator.

Elections in Vermont are conducted at the township level by 247 town clerks. According to Will Senning, Vermont Director of Elections, building an election management system stemmed from a desire to include an individualized hub for a voter’s information and allow each voter to interact electronically with their specific clerk. The portal allows voters to view their sample ballot, respond to a National Voter Registration Act notice, request an absentee ballot, check that the request was received and view the absentee ballot issue date and the date the clerk received the ballot.

From the outset, Vermont’s MVP allowed all Vermont residents to electronically register to vote, take the voter oath, review or respond to any voter challenge letters, find their elected officials and check their:

Voter registration status

Absentee ballot status.

Mail-in application and ballot status.

Poll location.

Registration information on file with the town office.

Sample ballot for the upcoming election.

Portal Use for Vermont’s Military & Overseas Voters

This includes all Vermont military and overseas citizens covered by the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA). On Aug. 29, 2016, Condos told Vermont Business Magazine,  

“Voting for our military and overseas voters is now easier than ever. It is my pleasure to present this information [about MVP] to help these Vermonters register and vote.”

Through MVP, Vermont’s military personnel and overseas citizens can easily participate in the election process by registering to vote and requesting a blank ballot online. In Vermont, voters covered by UOCAVA must return their ballots by mail. However, they may request their ballot by phone, fax, email or mail. They may also request that their unvoted blank ballot and certificate for the return envelope be delivered to them electronically via MVP. Voters who request delivery of a blank ballot through MVP receive an email generated by the system stating their ballot is available and providing them with a login. The voter can access the ballot through MVP and either mark the ballot through onscreen marking before printing, or hand mark the ballot and then return it by mail. Per UOCAVA, any ballot requested more than 45 days before the election will be mailed on the 45th day before the election. This means that if the blank ballot is sent electronically the voter would receive it immediately, allowing them more time to return their completed ballot.

Accessible Voting and Vermont’s Portal

According to Vermont’s Election Division website, “Vermont’s election laws are designed to make it easy for all eligible Vermonters to vote and to register to vote. One of the specific purposes of the Vermont Election Laws is ‘to provide equal opportunity for all citizens of voting age to participate in political processes.’”

In 2018, after a competitive procurement process, a new accessible voting solution was introduced by the Vermont Secretary of State’s office. This solution – OmniBallot – is a tablet-based ballot marking system that marks the voter’s selections onto paper ballots, increasing the privacy and independence of a voter with disabilities. OmniBallot also contains an online interface that enables citizens with disabilities to vote from home during the early voting period.

Post-Pandemic Voting by Mail and the Portal

After experimenting with vote-by-mail procedures during the COVID-19 pandemic, Vermont joined California, Colorado, Hawaii, Nevada, Oregon, Utah and Washington to become one of eight states that now conduct elections almost entirely by mail.

As a result of a 2021 Vermont law, all active registered voters in Vermont are now mailed a ballot for each general election, unless they have requested that their ballot be electronically delivered via their MVP. All Vermont voters are able to cast an absentee ballot if they so choose. Vermont voters can return their ballots via mail, in-person at their town or city clerk’s office, via secure ballot drop box before Election Day or at their polling place on Election Day.

Vermont’s My Voter Portal conveniently and securely facilitates voter registration, viewing of a sample ballot, electronic ballot delivery, ballot tracking and more. It is a valuable tool supporting Vermont’s new vote-by-mail process and for the state and local election officials who serve voters – including military and overseas Vermonters worldwide, and voters with accessibility challenges .

[2]  MVP is not the official record of a voter’s registration. Voter registration records are retained by each person’s voter registration office in the specific Vermont town where they reside at

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Indiana Leverages ARPA Funding to Advance Competitive Integrated Employment Opportunities for People with Disabilities

By Enmanuel Gomez Antolinez and Elise Gurney 

States are increasingly leading a transition away from sheltered workshops – where businesses employ people with disabilities at less than minimum wage and in settings that primarily or exclusively employ individuals with disabilities – and toward competitive integrated employment (CIE). While thirteen states have passed legislation to eliminate subminimum wages, Indiana is taking a unique approach by leveraging American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) dollars to transition employers away from sheltered workshops and advance CIE. The goal is to increase CIE for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities in the state from 23% to 38% by 2027. This equates to a 68% increase in the number of individuals with IDD in the state employed in CIE by 2027. 

Indiana’s Division of Disability and Rehabilitative Services (DDRS) has used ARPA funding to support the transition away from sheltered work and advance CIE outcomes through three main strategies: 

Assessing and redesigning DDRS policies, procedures, systems and services to better support CIE; 

Supporting and encouraging providers to transition away from sheltered work to CIE; and 

Facilitating statewide transformations to enhance CIE outcomes. 

Assessing and Redesigning DDRS Policies, Procedures, Systems and Services 

DDRS has utilized ARPA funding to broadly reassess and redesign elements of its current operations to better support CIE. To do so, it has partnered with the National Association of State Directors of Developmental Disabilities Services’ Supported Employment Leadership Network, which has helped DDRS facilitate self-assessment and revision of DDRS systems, services and supports for CIE. Assessment and redesign efforts include:   

Redesigning waiver services and supports to encourage, facilitate and maintain CIE. DDRS identified significant support needs gaps not covered by its existing prevocational operations (sheltered work), ongoing job supports and workplace personal care attendant services. It is therefore redesigning the state’s 1915c Medicaid waivers for individuals with disabilities to establish a wider, more flexible array of employment services (such as career exploration, benefits counseling, job development and other employment supports) and refocusing existing services to better support an individual’s CIE goals. 

Developing policies and procedures to support coordination across DDRS. DDRS has three Bureaus that serve individuals with disabilities and their families throughout an individual’s life. Due to distinct federal program rules and oversight, these three Bureaus have historically worked in isolation. DDRS is working to align services and employment supports across the Bureaus so that consumers have a seamless point of entry and experience across DDRS and so that Bureaus can better coordinate program support and braided funding for CIE. 

Developing and refining IT systems to improve customers’ ability to drive and engage in CIE services and supports. This aligns with broader DDRS efforts to make the individual the primary driver of their services and supports. To accomplish this, DDRS engaged in a multi-year-project to consolidate their current IT systems into a portal that allows state personnel, independent case managers and providers and eventually individuals to access, provide input and share information regarding the individual’s trajectory plan, services and support system. The final version of the portal will allow individuals to access their records and take ownership of their services and supports. 

Developing a reimbursement system that incentivizes a team approach and rewards CIE outcomes. DDRS believes meaningful advancement of statewide CIE goals will only be realized when all parts of the system understand their roles and commit to shared responsibility in supporting CIE outcomes. To that end, DDRS is planning a systematic review of state policy to incentivize providers supporting these shared outcomes. This means revising provider expectations on collaborating with other service system providers and state program personnel when providing and planning service delivery to individuals. It also means evaluating the need for targeted incentives in current Home- and Community-Based Services waivers and Vocational Rehabilitation reimbursement structures and exploring value-based payment methodologies to drive focus on CIE outcomes.   

Supporting and Encouraging Providers to Transition to CIE 

In Indiana, 37 employment providers hold 14(c) certificates in sheltered workshop settings. To support these providers in transitioning away from sheltered work and in expanding their capacity to provide customized CIE services and supports, DDRS launched two two-year collaboratives in July 2022. 

The first collaborative is designed to support providers who currently operate a sheltered work program in the transition to CIE, whereas the second is designed to support improved CIE services for providers that transitioned away from a sheltered work model within the last 24 months.  

A variety of resources and supports are made available to providers throughout the two-year period to transform their business operations and/or enhance their capacity to support CIE. This includes: 

Virtual and in-person trainings from national experts;  

Technical assistance; and  

Opportunities to receive peer mentorship and learn from one another. 

Providers also receive a $50,000 stipend per year of full participation in the collaborative. Finally, collaborative participants are eligible to apply for a transformation grant of up to $400,000 to support their movement away from a sheltered work model and to develop innovative strategies to support CIE outcomes. 

Strategies for supporting the transition to and improvement of CIE services include: 

Engaging in a value stream mapping process, which helps providers identify what customers want and need and helps streamline processes to create a flexible, person-centered CIE service system; 

Developing a roadmap and setting goals to transform services within three to five years; 

Establishing partnerships with families to smooth the employment process and improve outcomes, including by raising family expectations that CIE is possible; and 

Engaging employers in informational interviews to create a pipeline of CIE opportunities. 

Facilitating Statewide Transformations to Enhance CIE Outcomes 

Finally, DDRS has effectively engaged leaders and entities across Indiana to more broadly impact attitudes and systems relating to sheltered work and CIE. This includes: 

Hosting an annual Employment Summit for leaders across agencies and systems to focus on improving CIE outcomes for individuals with disabilities; 

Engaging the Indiana Department of Education and school systems to change the narrative and expectations regarding post-secondary pathways for individuals with disabilities; and 

Collaborating with other entities – such as the Indiana Department of Workforce Development and advocacy organizations – to improve CIE outcomes for individuals with disabilities. 

Other State Approaches to Eliminating Sheltered Workshops 

Indiana is unique in using ARPA funds to transition away from sheltered work (though other states are also including people with disabilities in their ARPA-funded economic recovery efforts). Other states have eliminated subminimum wage and sheltered workshops through legislation, regulations and Executive Orders. For example: 

The Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development adopted regulations in 2018 repealing authority to pay subminimum wages for workers with disabilities. 

Hawaii enacted Senate Bill 793 in 2021, which repeals the exemption from the minimum wage requirement for persons with disabilities. 

Illinois Governor Pritzker issued Executive Order No. 2021-26 in 2021, which specifies that all current and future State Use program contracts must provide for payment of no less than minimum wage for all employees performing work on the contract. 

For more information about Indiana’s allocation of ARPA funds, please visit:,billion%20given%20to%20Indiana’s%20communities

This publication was funded by the Office of Disability Employment Policy, U.S. Department of Labor through the State Exchange on Employment & Disability. This document, and any other organization’s linked webpages or documents, do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the Office of Disability Employment Policy, U.S. Department of Labor, nor does the mention of trade names, commercial products or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government. 

Voting Abroad: Lessons and Takeaways from Italy 2022

The Overseas Voting Initiative (OVI) traveled to Italy in December 2022 to gain a better understanding of the challenges that Americans living overseas face when voting from abroad.

The first day of meetings in Venice kicked off with Denise Tecchio from American Corners based in Trieste, Italy. American Corners, or American Spaces, are supported by the U.S. Department of State and provide cultural programs and events for foreign citizens. In addition to providing English language classes, a maker space for doing crafts and DIY projects and a ukulele club to sing English songs, Ms. Tecchio’s group assists American citizens with information on elections and voting. American Corners in Triste coordinates with the U.S. Embassy in Milan to help voters send their ballots by diplomatic post. The OVI group had a good conversation with Ms. Tecchio about the barriers to voting in primaries, which is not just a problem faced by overseas citizens, but a nationwide turnout problem.

Upon arrival in Florence the following day, the group traveled to the Florence American Cemetery and Memorial, containing the headstones of 4,392 Americans who died defending freedom during World War II in Italy. The group heard from an American citizen who is the superintendent of the facility, which is owned by the U.S. government, about the history of the war effort in Italy. Election Assistance Commission Chair Thomas Hicks and Commissioner Donald Palmer, recently retired Vermont Secretary of State Jim Condos and Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP) Director Scott Wiedmann laid wreaths at the memorial.

The next day’s meetings began with information on FVAP’s Ambassador program. Developed over the last several years, the program engages expatriate Americans living in a country to act as liaisons to help U.S. citizens vote. Ambassadors are currently located in Italy, Germany and the United Kingdom. Italy’s FVAP Ambassador, Sean Greene, told the group that the most common question he gets are about a voter’s residency and which address to use when voting. He also received many practical questions, like how to provide the embassy a ballot to include in the diplomatic pouch, how to fold an FVAP-provided DYI envelope and whom to contact with questions. Mr. Greene noted that during the pandemic it was more difficult to engage voters, but he was able to engage overseas citizens online through social media and Zoom Q&A sessions facilitated by the embassy and consulates. Going forward, Mr. Greene suggested that FVAP could have regional ambassadors who set up virtual office hours and conduct much of their outreach online.

The afternoon session in Florence and morning session in Rome featured discussions with expatriates about the barriers they face in returning ballots from abroad. Of note, these discussions highlighted that Europe has stronger privacy laws than we are accustomed to in the United States, making it difficult to identify and track U.S. citizens living abroad. This can make it hard to reach these citizens to inform them of their right to vote and how to cast a ballot. It can also take a long time for mail to travel from abroad to the United States, and there is sometimes a lack of trust in the local mail system, particularly in Italy.

Another barrier is simply understanding the system. Expatriates don’t always realize that getting a ballot is a multi-step process that requires a citizen to first register to vote and then request a ballot, or that the Federal Post Card Application (FPCA) in most states achieves both of these requests. Additionally, depending on their state of residency, voters may have to request a ballot each calendar year. There is also a misunderstanding about “intent to return,” the question that classifies overseas citizens as living permanently overseas or temporarily overseas, which affects the type of ballot voters are eligible to receive in some states. Often, U.S. citizens living abroad aren’t sure whether or not they will return to the U.S. and they have difficulty answering the question. They may also worry about tax implications, both in the U.S. and in their current country of residence, depending on how they answer the question.

The final activity of the group was a highlight for many – a visit to the U.S. Embassy in Rome and a tour of the mail facilities. The Embassy in Rome and other U.S. Overseas Missions (embassies and consulates) provide secure collection boxes for U.S. citizens to return their ballots during federal elections. Ballots are sent to the U.S. via an unclassified diplomatic pouch, through the Diplomatic Post Office (DPO). Diplomatic pouches containing ballots and other unclassified mail are sent first to a sorting facility in Dulles, Virginia, and then put into the U.S. mail stream. This process has important implications for election officials because many states permit ballots from military and overseas voters to be counted if they are received after election day but postmarked beforehand. The issue of how they are postmarked when received at a U.S. embassy and when they are received at the Dulles sorting facility thus may affect whether the ballot is ultimately counted or not.

The ability for overseas citizens to track their ballots through the system is another area of concern for those living abroad. Engaged voters like to be informed of when their ballot arrives in the U.S., is in the hands of election officials and is ultimately counted. Using the DPO system described above, State Department employees and their eligible family members can track their ballots, but expatriates not associated with the State Department don’t have tracking capabilities.

The conversations and many lessons learned from the trip to Italy will help inform the work of the OVI in the coming years, with a particular focus on understanding the unique barriers of private, non-military citizens living overseas.

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Sandboxes and “Go Bags”: How New Jersey Election Officials Prepare for Crises

The Council of State Governments (CSG) Overseas Voting Initiative (OVI) 2019 report Examining the Sustainability of Balloting Solutions for Military and Overseas Voting, said “states are under increasing legislative pressure to have contingency plans in place for all aspects of their election systems, including the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA) balloting solutions, due to recent national disasters such as Hurricane Sandy, Hurricane Maria and Hurricane Dorian, and global threats of terrorism, civil disobedience, cyberattacks and mail service disruptions.” A case study in emergency preparedness can be found in New Jersey.

Superstorm Sandy is known as such because it was more than just a hurricane that ripped through the East Coast of North America beginning on October 22, 2012. Sandy was a Category 3 hurricane followed immediately by a post-tropical cyclone that made landfall in rapid-fire succession over several days. The storm did not end until November 2 after killing at least 117 people in the United States plus 69 people in Canada and the Caribbean. It also left $68 billion in destruction in its wake, even forcing the closure of the New York Stock Exchange for two consecutive days, the first time this happened since 1888 due to a weather catastrophe.

The state of New Jersey sustained a great deal of damage as a result of Sandy. Election Day in 2012 – a presidential election year – was on November 6, just four days after Superstorm Sandy ended. State and local election officials in affected areas – especially in hardest hit New Jersey – worked in response to ensure citizens displaced or disrupted by the storm were able to exercise their right to vote. Sandy was obviously no easy situation to manage, but a scenario not unfamiliar to election officials across the nation.

Election officials are some of our nation’s greatest go-to resources for contingency planning and logistical challenges. They are leaders in thought and action when it comes to disaster preparedness and resilience of operations. Elections must always happen as scheduled, in spite of any hurdle, disruption, or disaster. New Jersey election officials in a post-Sandy environment certainly typify this statement.

If a state is going to supply its counties with necessary tools for today’s ever-evolving technology and security environments, they wanted to make their investment – paid for through the Help America Vote Act Election Security Funds – stretch as far as possible to include tools for disaster recovery, contingency planning, redundancy, and sandboxing for UOCAVA and other electronically returned ballots.

Thus, in addition to the Chromebook with its sandboxing environment, New Jersey’s Go Bags were later augmented to include a second Chromebook to serve as a redundant back-up, as well as a printer, a hot spot router, multiple power supplies, paper, and pens. These items were then fitted in secure, durable hard-shell cases for each local election office.

New Jersey’s aptly-termed “Go Bag” is an example of a statewide initiative to enhance contingency planning. Local election jurisdictions can be prepared for all types of unforeseen circumstances and emergencies that can negatively impact the administration of elections in their state.

New Jersey’s Go Bag is a portable election office, developed by the New Jersey Division of Elections team as a contingency plan and business process continuity tool. It contains the necessary supplies for local election officials in New Jersey’s 21 counties to conduct business from anywhere and meet multiple disaster scenarios.

In addition to its role in business continuity efforts, the Go Bag also serves as a stand-alone workstation. It enables the detection and mitigation of malware and other cybersecurity threats from email attachments and other electronic files received by local election officials.

Each Go Bag contains a dedicated, stand-alone, mobile Chromebook workstation with a “sandboxing environment,” for retrieval of electronic ballots, as New Jersey law permits military and overseas citizen ballots to be returned electronically. New Jersey typically requires a mailed ballot as well, but that requirement may be waived in a declared emergency. A sandbox is a separate, partitioned environment where electronic ballot attachments can be opened securely by election officials to isolate potential viruses or other malware prior to an email entering the local network or mail server. If threatening activity is detected, the email is flagged and the election officials is prevented from unknowingly opening the malicious content, thereby infecting their network. Thus, sandboxing provides New Jersey’s local election offices with a more protective environment where electronic ballot attachments and other balloting materials can be opened securely – and separately from their other systems potentially averting a major issue.  For reference, New Jersey’s sandboxing environment deployment is similar to the technology implementation in South Carolina as described in this OVI article.

It’s important to note that New Jersey’s local election duties are divided among multiple county offices. County clerks use the sandboxing solution to process military, overseas citizen, and vote-by-mail applications, while the county boards of election use them to safely open returned electronic ballots from voters authorized to cast electronic ballots. Therefore, the state purchased 51 sandboxing environments – and 51 Go Bags – for all the local election official offices across their 21 counties including county clerks, board of elections offices, and in the case of New Jersey’s larger counties, the county superintendents of elections /commissioners of registration.

New Jersey’s dual purpose “Go Bag” for each of its 21 counties equipped with two Chromebooks, a printer, a hot spot router, multiple power supplies, paper, and pens in a case.

New Jersey’s Go Bags are an effective tool for mitigating cybersecurity risks and enabling continuity of election operations in the face of unforeseen logistical challenges in any type of emergency. Thus, we’re sharing this implementation overview from New Jersey in the event it helps other states and local jurisdictions who are considering various election risk mitigation strategies. We also encourage state and local election officials to share their ideas or proven methods with us by emailing us at [email protected].

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Ranked Choice Voting: What, Where, Why & Why Not

By Jennifer Horton and Dr. Dakota Thomas

In 2022, Nevada voters approved a ballot measure to change its elections to ranked choice voting. Since this ballot measure is a citizen-initiated constitutional amendment, the measure will again require approval in 2024 to take effect. If the state votes to reapprove ranked voting, it joins a growing number of U.S. cities, counties and states in using a ranked choice voting system for elections.

What is Ranked Choice Voting?
Ranked choice voting is any system for counting votes that gives voters the option to rank their choices in order of preference. If a voter likes candidate A, but would prefer candidate B over candidate C if their favorite (candidate A) did not win, they could rank the three candidates accordingly on their ballot (A > B > C).

How do votes get counted in such a system? There are multiple methods, but the most common one is the alternative vote. During the alternative voting process, the candidate receiving a majority of first choice votes wins and the election is over. If no one wins a majority of votes, the ranked choices come into play. In the most common form of ranked voting, the last-place candidate gets eliminated (i.e., the candidate with the fewest first choice votes), and the voters who chose that candidate as their first choice have their votes reallocated to their second choice. For example, if candidate A came in last place, the vote would go to candidate B. This process continues until a candidate achieves a majority of votes.

Ranked choice voting can play out in different ways depending on the exact version of ranked voting a locality adopts. Most places utilizing ranked voting elect a single winner in a given election, while other locations use a multi-winner format of ranked voting where multiple officials are elected in a single contest, such as for a city council. Most forms of ranked voting are considered majoritarian (i.e., they try to ensure majority rule), while others are considered proportional (they focus instead on maximizing representation for different parties). Some common forms of ranked voting are explained in the table below.

Comparison of Ranked Choice Voting Systems

Ballot Counting SystemOutcomeSeats Elected at OnceCounting MethodNotable Examples
Alternative Vote (AV)Majoritarian1Candidates with fewest first preference votes are eliminated successively and their voters go to their next choices until one candidate has a majority.Alaska and Maine, Australia and Fiji, the Oscar for “Best Picture” and the Hugo Awards for Science Fiction
Two Round – Majority RunoffMajoritarian1Candidates who are not in first or second place in total votes are eliminated in the first round. The second round includes only the top two candidates.Georgia and Louisiana, France presidential elections
Two Round – Majority Plurality
Majoritarian2+Candidates who do not reach a certain threshold of votes are eliminated in the first round. The second round includes all candidates that met the threshold.France legislative elections
Preferential Block Vote or Multiple Transferable Vote (MTV)Majoritarian2+Candidates with the fewest first preference votes are eliminated successively and their voters go to their next choices until one candidate has a majority. The count is then repeated with the elected candidates removed until all seats are filled.Some local elections in Utah
Single Transferable Vote (STV)Proportional2+Candidates with fewest first preference votes are eliminated successively and their voters go to their next choices until all seats are filled.Some local elections in Massachusetts, Michigan, and California, Ireland and Malta legislative elections
Borda CountVaries with number of seats awarded at once1+Candidates with the highest rankings are elected successively until all seats are filled.Kiribati presidential nominations and Nauru legislative elections, the Major League Baseball’s Most Valuable Player (MVP), the Heisman Trophy for college football
Source: Table adapted from “Principles of Comparative Politics” by
William Roberts Clark, Matt Golder and Sona Nadenichek Golder.

What States Use Ranked Choice Voting?
As of January 2023, ranked choice voting is used in Alaska and Maine, in addition to 53 cities and counties representing roughly 11 million voters. Military and overseas voters cast ranked voting ballots during federal runoff elections in Arkansas, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi and South Carolina. The map below shows states where ranked voting is used for at least some elections.

Note: This map only includes uses of ranked voting that result in a candidate being elected to office. Party primaries, conventions and other nominating processes are not included in this data, but some states do use ranked voting for those processes.

When and how jurisdictions utilize ranked voting varies widely. Some areas use it only for primary elections but not general elections, while others use it in general elections but not primaries. There are also other areas that use it for both. Jurisdictions can also elect to use ranked voting for electing some offices but not others. Alaska, for example, uses ranked voting only for its general elections, while its primaries use a top four system in which voters choose their top candidate. The top four candidates then go to the general election. Other locations continue to use ranked voting as a way to replace primaries entirely, consolidating primaries and general elections into a single contest. Many cities in the U.S., including Salt Lake City and other Utah cities, have implemented ranked voting as a way to consolidate nonpartisan primaries and general elections into one election.

States with ranked choice voting
Maine first adopted ranked voting in 2016 for state and federal primary elections. It was then adopted in 2018 for all general congressional elections. The state later expanded its use to presidential general elections beginning in 2020. Use of ranked voting will begin in 2024 for presidential primaries.

Alaska enacted ranked choice voting by ballot measure in 2020. Its first use came during a special election in August 2022 that resulted in Rep. Mary Peltola defeating former Alaska Gov. Sara Palin for an open U.S. congressional seat. The state uses ranked voting for all state and general elections.

In Nevada, voters recently approved a ballot measure changing the state’s elections to a system with nonpartisan primaries that allow voters to choose candidates from any party. After the primary, ranked voting occurs for general election, at which time voters can rank their top five candidates in order of preference. Implementation requires a vote of approval again in November 2024. The state will use ranked voting for state and federal elections but not presidential.

Cities with ranked choice voting
The same story is also present in the 53-plus cities utilizing ranked voting. For example, since 2009 Minneapolis has used it for 22 city offices and some park board and board of taxation seats. New York City employs its use for city primary, as well as special elections for mayor and other citywide offices. Since 2021, ranked voting has also been used in New York City to elect borough presidents and city council. In Santa Fe, New Mexico, it has been used to determine mayor, city council, and municipal judge elections since 2018.

More to come
Nine cities and the state of Nevada had ballot measures concerning ranked voting in 2022. Of these, all but two passed:

  • Nevada – approved in 2022; reapproval required in 2024 to go into effect.
  • Portland, Oregon – adopted; will begin in 2024.
  • Seattle – adopted for primary elections.
  • Evanston, Illinois – adopted; will begin in 2025.
  • Fort Collins, Colorado – adopted.
  • Ojai, California – adopted.
  • Multnomah County, Oregon – adopted.
  • Portland, Maine – adopted.
  • Clark County, Washington – failed.
  • San Juan County, Washington – failed.

Why Use Ranked Choice Voting?
Those who advocate for the adoption of ranked choice voting cite a number of possible benefits, including those detailed below:

Ensuring majority rule
Elections with more than two candidates can often result in a candidate winning with less than 50% of the vote, leading to a winner who doesn’t have a majority of support from the public. Maine voters were driven to adopt ranked voting after nine of its 11 gubernatorial elections were won with less than 50% of the vote during a 20-year period, including three governors’ races with winners who had less than 40% of votes. With ranked choice voting, if no candidate receives a majority of voters’ first choices, a process is used to reallocate voters to their next preferences until a winner gets a majority, upholding majority rule.

More choices and more influence for voters
Ranked choice voting can also give voters more choices, allowing them to vote for a viable candidate without having their vote placed used on a preferred candidate who is unlikely to win. If their first choice doesn’t win, they know their vote will count for their next most preferred choice(s). Ranked voting can enable two similar candidates to compete without fear of possibly splitting the vote. This may help reduce the spoiler effect, which is the phenomena of two similar candidates or parties losing to a very different candidate or party because voters couldn’t effectively coordinate on one choice. Currently, some candidates and parties — usually those from underrepresented groups in elected office — are pressured to stay out of races for fear of acting as a spoiler.

Ranked voting also helps ensure that voters’ preferences actually influence the outcome of an election. For example, in 2020, more than 3 million Democratic primary voters voted for a candidate who had already withdrawn from the race. In 2016, more than 5% of votes were cast for Republican candidates that had withdrawn from the primaries. These specific kinds of “wasted votes” often occur with early voting when voters fill out ballots a week or more ahead of election day. Ranked voting enables these voters to have backup candidates if their top choice drops out.

Ranked voting is an especially valuable tool for military and overseas voters who encounter a number of barriers to voting. Federal law requires states to provide these voters with ballots at least 45 days prior to elections, but runoffs require sending a new set of ballots, delaying the runoff and reducing turnout. By the time military and overseas voters receive their ballots, candidates may no longer be in the race, leading to the possibility of more “wasted votes.” Since voters can rank candidates on a single ballot with ranked voting, their vote still counts if a runoff occurs or a candidate drops out. Currently, six states use ranked voting for its overseas voters: Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi and South Carolina.

More civility in campaigns
In ranked voting elections, candidates have an incentive to court as many voters as possible in hopes of winning. If they are not the first choice of voters, they can succeed by acquiring enough votes as the second or third choices. This can lessen the tendency to run negative campaigns involving attacks on opponents and instead encourage efforts to positively interact with as many voters as possible, even those who may not view them as a first choice. According to a survey of Republican primary voters in Virginia, the use of ranked voting resulted in a more positive congressional primary in 2022. A 2013-14 survey of voters in ranked voting and non- ranked voting cities revealed that voters in ranked voting cities were more satisfied with the tone of campaigns, and noticed less criticism and negative campaigning, than non-ranked voting city voters.

Lower cost for elections and improved turnout
By replacing primaries and runoffs with ranked voting, jurisdictions can save money and improve voter turnout. In non-ranked voting elections, when no candidate meets a necessary threshold, jurisdictions must hold a second election that costs taxpayer money. New York City saves $20 Million every time ranked voting avoids a runoff. When the two rounds of voting are consolidated into a single election, there also tends to be higher and more representative turnout. Throughout the past twenty years, federal primary runoff elections have seen a median turnout decline of 37% between the first and final rounds, whereas a 2016 study found ranked voting general elections are associated with a 10-point increase in voter turnout compared to the primary and runoff elections they replace.

Broader representation
In elections with multiple winners, proportional ranked voting enables diverse groups of voters to elect their candidates of choice. In single winner races, ranked voting promotes the representation of historically underrepresented groups, including women and people of color. In one study, researchers found that women’s representation increased in cities using proportional ranked voting during the early 1900s. It was also revealed that single-winner ranked voting has increased women’s representation in the 21st century. Another study found that cities utilizing ranked voting also have better electoral outcomes for women and people of color.

Voter support for ranked choice voting
For all the discussion from party leaders and others about whether ranked choice voting is a good idea, voters themselves express broad support for the practice and find it easy to use. After using ranked voting for the first time in 2022, 85% of Alaska voters described it as “simple.” In New York City, 95% of voters across all ethnic groups who participated in the city’s 2021 primary elections described the ranked voting ballot as “simple to complete”; nearly 80% said they understood it extremely or very well; and 77% supported using it for future elections. After using ranked voting for the first time in 2018, 94% of Santa Fe voters reported feeling either very or somewhat satisfied with the format and more than 70% supported its use in future city elections.

Why Not Use Ranked Choice Voting?
Some opponents of ranked choice voting dislike it for one of the same reasons its supporters promote it: it can weaken the far right or left wings of the two main political parties. These critics worry it could weaken the influence of the two main parties and allow more centrist candidates an easier path, thus diluting the power of very progressive or very conservative politicians and policies.

Others worry the changes to filling out a ballot could confuse or deter voters, possibly disenfranchising groups of people who aren’t aware of how to use the ranking mechanism. Another concern is the time it takes to count ranked choice ballots, which could lead to a lack of confidence in the results.

Still others take issue with specific forms of ranked choice voting, arguing that in some cases it can lead to a person winning who doesn’t have majority support. This can happen if a candidate starts off with fewer first-choice votes, and thus gets eliminated, but may perhaps have a greater number of second choice votes.

There’s also the issue of voters not using all of their ranking slots or having all of their ranked picks eliminated, which can lead to “ballot exhaustion” — a drop off in the total number of votes being counted in the later rounds of counting.

The Future of Ranked Choice Voting in the U.S.
As state and local governments continue to reconsider how best to run their elections with an eye toward issues like election security, trust in democracy, and voter access, ranked choice voting is one tool they are considering and often adopting. There are certainly many things to consider when evaluating whether to use ranked voting. Given its popularity with many voters and advantages over other systems of voting, ranked choice voting is worth a closer look.

Mental Health Matters: A Series of National Online Dialogues on Workforce Mental Health Policies

By Elise Gurney

The State Exchange on Employment & Disability (SEED), a U.S. Department of Labor Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) initiative, launched a series of four online dialogues to explore and advance workforce mental health policies. Through April 3, you are invited to join these conversations by submitting ideas, as well as commenting and voting on ideas submitted by others, on four priority topic areas:

Benefits policies that meet the needs of those with mental health conditions.

Access to workplace care and supports for those with mental health conditions and reducing associated social stigmas.

Mental health provider and service disparities in underserved communities.

Behavioral health workforce shortages and the establishment of state resource systems.

These online public engagement events will build upon and inform the work of the Mental Health Matters: National Task Force on Workforce Mental Health Policy, convened by SEED, to develop resources and policy frameworks that effectively support workers’ mental health needs and bolster the behavioral health care work force. To learn more about the dialogues and participate in the event, visit

Mental Health Among Top Policy Priorities for the States

By Jennifer Horton and Sean Slone

The Council of State Governments works to help state officials solve problems and share information with other policymakers across the U.S. As a nonpartisan association of all state officials, elected and appointed, the work of CSG is research informed in order to help states identify solutions that help their communities. We recognize that no single solution works for everyone, but we can learn from the successes — and failures — of other states. 

Through extensive survey work conducted by the CSG Center of Innovation research team, the CSG national office identified five top priority public policy issues that — in addition to work in other areas — CSG policy staff will expand on and provide resources for during 2023: 

  3. HOUSING. 

Each issue of CSG Capitol Ideas magazine in 2023 will focus on the work states are doing in each of these policy areas. This issue kicks off with a deeper dive into mental health and the different ways states are working to address this growing issue. 

Nine out of 10 adults in the U.S. believe the country is experiencing a mental health crisis. With that consideration, which resulted from a poll conducted by CNN and the Kaiser Family Foundation, and the topic of mental health gaining more attention in the conversations surrounding health care and wellness, many states are directing efforts at some of the most pressing concerns.

Recently, these have included suicide prevention (a leading cause of death in the U.S.), children’s mental health (1 in 6 children between the ages of 2 and 8 has a diagnosed mental, behavioral or developmental disorder), and expanding access to care. Mental Health America’s 2022 report provided a state-by-state look at access to mental health services, ranking states overall and in a number of categories including adult mental health, youth mental health, prevalence of mental illness and access to care.

In 2020, there were 45,979 deaths attributed to suicide, or one death every 11 minutes. Even more people thought about or attempted suicide with more than 16 million adults seriously thinking about, planning or attempting suicide.

Suicide is now ranked as the 12th leading cause of death in the U.S. overall and is the second leading cause of death for children between the ages of 15 and 19 years old. As cases of mental health conditions rise and the search for solutions continues, specialists around the nation are calling it a national mental health crisis.

A number of states passed legislation to fund and implement the new National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 988, in 2021. Experts hope that the inclusion of 988, dubbed by some as the mental health equivalent of 911, will successfully prevent more people from dying due to mental health concerns. Colorado (Senate Bill 21-154; 2021) and Washington (House Bill 1477; 2021) established telecommunications charges and appropriated funds to support the help line’s implementation and working groups to provide recommendations and/or oversee and administer the hotline. 

Individuals who identify as LGBTQ+ experience disproportionate levels of poor mental health and suicidality. According to a survey conducted in 2021 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention looking at high school students, 25% of lesbian, gay or bisexual students attempted suicide during the past year compared to 5% of heterosexual students. States have passed legislation to support this population, both by protecting them from practices that have been linked to substantial harm as well as by enacting bills that increase access to LGBTQ+ affirmative care.

In 2021, North Dakota enacted new ethics standards in alignment with the American Psychiatric Association’s Guidelines for Psychological Practice with Sexual Minority Persons and the APA’s Position Statement on Conversion Therapy and LGBTQ Patients that prohibit licensed social workers from subjecting LGBTQ+ youth to conversion therapy and require practitioners to use therapies that affirm individuals’ sexual orientations and gender identities. During the 2021 and 2022 legislative sessions, Illinois (SB 4028) and Vermont (HB 210) enacted bills creating task forces that will provide recommendations for increasing access to LGBTQ+ supportive care.

In recognition of the role of schools as a crucial access point to youth mental health care, states have enacted at least 100 laws since early 2020 aimed at supporting schools in the delivery of school-based mental health services. Some examples of this recent legislation include:

  • Connecticut: HB 6621 (Public Act No. 21-95, enacted June 2021) established requirements for the School Emotional Learning and School Climate Advisory Collaborative, which will develop a strategy to initiate collaborations with community-based mental health providers and support school staff in mental health and social-emotional learning. Connecticut SB 2 (Public Act No. 21-46, also enacted in June 2021) requires local boards of education to allow students to take up to four mental health days per school year.
  • Illinois: SB 818 (Public Act 102-0522, enacted August 2021) requires that health education courses for students include information on mental health.
  • Massachusetts: H 4002 (Chapter 24, enacted July 2021) appropriated funding for a pilot program for telebehavioral health services through schools.
  • North Carolina: SB 105 (SL 2021-180, enacted November 2021) allocated funding from the American Rescue Plan Act to establish a grant program for schools to hire psychologists in response to COVID-19.
  • Rhode Island: SB 31/HB 5353 (Chapter 131, enacted April 2021) requires that school staff and students receive education on suicide awareness and prevention.
  • Texas: SB 279 (enacted June 2021) requires schools to include crisis line contact information on all identification cards for students in grades six through twelve.
  • Virginia: SB 1288/HB 2299 (Chapter 452, enacted March 2021) requires that school counselors receive mental health training in order to obtain and renew their license.
  • Wisconsin: Assembly Bill 528 (enacted February 2020) established a competitive grant program to support peer-to-peer suicide prevention programs in high schools.

Mental Health Stigma and Employability

Attitudes and stigma around mental health were one of the topics addressed in a 2021 study on mental health at work published by the organization Mind Share Partners. According to the study, the country may be witnessing a subtle shift in those attitudes in the wake of the impacts of COVID-19. 

58% of respondents were willing to hire or work with someone with a mental health condition, up from 46% in 2019. 

55% of respondents believe that an employee with a mental health condition could be just as productive as one without, up from 52% in 2019. 

55% said they knew someone personally with a mental health condition, up from 50% in 2019. 

READ MORE about states addressing stigma and employability on the State Talk blog.

Many states have expanded behavioral health care in Medicaid to address mental health and substance use outcomes. Many of these initiatives extend beyond Medicaid enrollees and funding. Research indicates that Medicaid expansion, and the resulting increase in mental health coverage, is associated with a decrease in suicide mortality.

Montana’s Healing and Ending Addiction through Recovery and Treatment 1115 demonstration waiver expands access to treatment and recovery services, improves transitions of care across treatment levels, and seeks Medicaid coverage for evidence-based substance use disorder treatment models and pre-release care management for individuals involved in the justice system. In another state example, North Dakota’s Medicaid 1915(i) state plan amendment, authorized by SB 2012, allows North Dakota Medicaid to pay for 12 additional home and community based services to support individuals with behavioral health conditions. The program includes policies that address rural challenges.

Disparities in mental health coverage persist despite Congress passing the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act in 2008. The bill, requiring equitable coverage of mental health and substance use disorder treatment, was further bolstered by the 2010 Affordable Care Act’s requirement that most health plans cover mental health and substance use disorder care. Some forms of insurance, such as Medicare, the Veterans Administration and short-term limited duration health plans, are able to place limitations on mental health coverage and the laws don’t require parity in reimbursement rates, making it difficult or impossible to find in-network mental health care providers.

Although states must meet the minimum standards established by the MHPAEA, some have taken steps to make their laws more rigorous, to have a broader scope, or to oversee enforcement. During the 2021 and 2022 legislative sessions, at least 14 states passed parity laws: Maryland, Wyoming, Oklahoma, Montana, Oregon, Ohio, Kentucky, Missouri, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Nevada and Washington.

In 2021, both Ohio SB 284 and Missouri HB 604 enacted legislation requiring their state insurance directors to issue regulations and enforce the MHPAEA. And Illinois SB 0471 expanded and clarified requirements for insurers to provide timely access to treatment.

Some state’s bills expand telehealth options while others focus on oversight and reporting requirements. In Maryland, SB 3 amended the state’s telehealth law to promote coverage for mental health and substance use disorder services. Additionally, Nevada AB 181 requires providers and insurers to report suicide attempts to the chief medical officer for parity compliance.

50-State Medicaid Budget Survey for Fiscal Years 2021 and 2022, Kaiser Family Foundation (VIEW)

National Alliance on Mental Illness State Legislation Report: Trends in State Mental Health Policy (2019), National Alliance on Mental Illness (VIEW)

Mental Health America State Policy Recommendations: Youth Mental Health, Mental Health America (VIEW)

Final Facts


Among the bills lawmakers passed in 2022, some notable trends emerged across the states. According to FiscalNote, the biggest policy issues that state legislatures dealt with last year fall into the areas of health, labor and employment, and education. These broad trends in legislative focus coincide with a few policy choices made in several states. Looking at specific policies, The Council of State Government conducted a scan of state legislation that revealed multiple states enacted bills in 2022 on daylight savings policy, consumer privacy, reproductive health care, paid family leave and gender-affirming health care. This does not include all trends in state legislation but does highlight areas of common interest in multiple states. 

Please note: CSG is a nonpartisan organization and takes no position on state legislation or laws mentioned. CSG provides unbiased research that is based on evidence-informed and objective analysis. 

These graphics appeared in Capitol Ideas Magazine (2023, Issue 1). To view current and past issues, click here.