Mailed-out ballots hit 35% of all votes cast in the 2022 general election

A new midterm record – by a full 10% points

November 18, 2022: As the final midterm numbers trickle in, NVAHI’s MOBET estimation tool hit the mark on a number of key metrics.

With about 211 million active registered voters nationwide, we estimate the total turnout in 2022 will come in with about 112 million votes cast – the same total as the US Election Project’s estimate, although ours has a slightly different makeup by state. That translates to a 53% turnout versus the 2018 midterm of 61% of active registered voters. Against that, about 61 million ballots were mailed-out to voters – slightly over the initial MOBET estimate of 60 million.

We now estimate 39 million mailed-out ballots million were cast, based on the scaled-down turnout seen across all voting methods. That means about 35% of all ballots cast were from those mailed to voters, up dramatically from 25% in 2018, and in line with MOBET’s original percentage forecast for 2022.

Here are how the return numbers stack up as of Thursday, November 17:

  • Returned mailed-out ballots cast and counted: 35 million
  • CA returned ballots yet to count: 1.9 million
  • States not yet providing complete data (estimate): 1.1. million
  • Provisional, to be cured, overseas yet to be counted (estimate): 1.0 million
  • Forecasted total mailed-out ballots cast: 39 million
  • Percentage of 112 million total votes cast: 35%

Six battleground states warrant further discussion. Two big ones changed from “excuse required” mailed-out ballot voting in 2018 to “no excuse” by 2022: Michigan and Pennsylvania. Nevada went all the way from no excuse to full “vote at home.”

In 2018, Michigan saw about one million mailed-out ballots cast. In 2022, that number jumped 80% to 1.8 million.

Even more impressive was Pennsylvania, where in 2018 about 200,000 mailed-out ballots were cast while in 2022 the numbers came in at about 1.2 million, a 6x increase!

Nevada had about 100,00 voters receive mailed-out ballots in 2018, while in 2022 all 1.8 million did, with about 1 million casting those ballots by return mail, into drop boxes, or in person.

Wisconsin did not change its policy but changed its behavior. In 2018, they had about 150,000 mailed-out ballots cast. In 2022, they are reporting 740,000, an almost 5x increase.

Arizona also did not change policy, but it saw mailed-out ballots rise from under 2.7 million in 2018 to almost 3.1 million, and overall turnout rise too, unlike many other states in 2022.

The MOBET tool presents mailed-out ballot totals – and eventual return rates – in four categories:

  • 9 “Vote at Home” (VAH) jurisdictions, where every active registered voter receives a ballot in the mail automatically for every election
  • 6 “No Excuse – Single Sign-Up” (NE/SSU) states, where any voter, through a single application, can sign up to automatically receive ballots for all future elections. Michigan now joins this group, bringing the total to seven going forward.
  • 21 “No Excuse” (NE) states, where all voters are eligible to receive a ballot, but must request them for each specific election or every year
  • 15 “Excuse Required” (ER) states, where most voters are ineligible to apply for a mailed-out ballot unless they meet a specific legally acceptable excuse

*VAH = CA, CO, DC, HI, NV, OR, UT, VT, WA
*No Ex-SSU = AZ, IL, MD, MT, NJ, VA
*No Ex = AK, FL, GA, ID, IA, KS, ME, MA, MI^, MN, NE, NM, NC, ND, OH, OK, PA, RI, SD, WI, WY
*Ex Req.= AL, AR, CT, DE, IN, KY, LA, MS, MO, NH, NY, SC, TN, TX, WV
^ MI moves to the SSU group going forward

Interestingly, if you aggregate the three “No excuse” groups (No excuse, No excuse with SSU, and VAH) turnout in 2022 was about 53.8% of active registered voters, a full 7% points higher than the Excuse required states at about 46.4%.

  • Based on the numbers we now can see, in 2022 we also now expect:
  • Excuse required states to see about 4% utilization (mailed-out ballots divided by active registered voters)
  • No excuse states to see more than 4x that rate at about 17% utilization
  • No excuse states that include SSU to see more than 5x the excuse required rate, at about 22% utilization

Vote at Home’s MOBET information tool relies on official data originating from state and local election officials, some of it compiled by trusted sources including the U.S. Elections Project and Catalist.

From Legislation to Language, Mailed-out ballots won on November 8

Some obvious (and not-so-obvious) wins for mailed-out ballot voting

November 11, 2022: As the numbers continue to come in from the midterms, we can already see some obvious wins for mailed-out ballot voting. With over 60 million mailed-out ballots, returns of those still tracking towards 42 million or better, and about 120 million total votes cast nationally, the MOBET estimate of 35% of all votes cast appears very much in reach. But there were state-level issues that also show the power and shift to mailed-out ballots.

In Michigan, Proposition 2 passed easily adding MI to the six previous states with a “single sign-up (SSU)” or permanent absentee option for its voters. Prop 2 also added other NVAHI best practices including ample secure drop boxes, ballot tracking, and prepaid return postage. Not only did that move MI well up National Vote at Home’s state scorecard, but it also means that now over 36% of US registered voters live in a state that either automatically mails ballots to all active registered voters for every election (aka Vote at Home) or allows voters to opt into that system for themselves. That’s up from under 20% just five years ago.

Nebraska continued to build on NVAHI’s groundbreaking research on their “county-option” model. For the midterms, the state averaged 52.8% turnout. But the eleven counties that have opted to go to 100% mailed-out ballots averaged 68.3% – a full 15%+ points higher.

Based on their move to no-excuse mailed-out ballot voting, Massachusetts had over 1.2 million mailed-out ballots in 2022, up over 10x from just 105,000 in 2018. It appears when the counting is done, about 80% of those will have been cast. In contrast, polling place voters turnout out is coming in at just over a 40% rate.

Wisconsin’s use of mailed-out ballots is up almost 5x from 2018 (168,000 to over 800,000).

Connecticut passed its Question 1 which approved early voting. While not a direct connection to mailed-out ballots, it shows voters there are ready to demand better access to their ballots, and so bodes well for the next step, the passage of HJR 58 (no excuse absentee) in their 2023 legislative session for its required second time, and then to a popular vote in 2024.

Speaking of the term “absentee,” did you notice on election night, every time the networks returned to Georgia’s nailbiter, they referred to the number of “mail” ballots left to count – not “absentee” ballots? Slowly, the language in the country is coming around to recognize that mailed-out ballot voting is not akin to being “absent” from the polls. It’s just another, more convenient way to participate in our democracy by making the “polls” come to you.

The MOBET tool presents mailed-out ballot totals – and eventual return rates – in four categories:

  • 9 “Vote at Home” (VAH) jurisdictions, where every active registered voter receives a ballot in the mail automatically for every election
  • 6 “No Excuse – Single Sign-Up” (NE/SSU) states, where any voter, through a single application, can sign up to automatically receive ballots for all future elections. Michigan now joins this group, bringing the total to seven going forward.
  • 21 “No Excuse” (NE) states, where all voters are eligible to receive a ballot, but must request them for each specific election or every year
  • 15 “Excuse Required” (ER) states, where most voters are ineligible to apply for a mailed-out ballot, unless they meet a specific legally acceptable excuse

*VAH = CA, CO, DC, HI, NV, OR, UT, VT, WA
*No Ex-SSU = AZ, IL, MD, MT, NJ, VA
*No Ex = AK, FL, GA, ID, IA, KS, ME, MA, MI, MN, NE, NM, NC, ND, OH, OK, PA, RI, SD, WI, WY
*Ex Req.= AL, AR, CT, DE, IN, KY, LA, MS, MO, NH, NY, SC, TN, TX, WV

Based on the numbers we now can see, in 2022 we now expect:

  • Excuse required states to see 4% utilization, at best (mailed-out ballots divided by registered voters)
  • No excuse states to see more than 4x that rate at about 17% utilization
  • No excuse states that include SSU to see more than 5x the excuse required rate, at about 21% utilization

Vote at Home’s MOBET information tool relies on official data originating from state and local election officials, some of it compiled by trusted sources including the U.S. Elections Project and Catalist. See the original press announcement here: https://voteathome.org/national-vote-at-home-institute-launches-new-mailed-out-ballot-tracking-forecasting-tool/

As mailed-out ballots exceed 60 million, our focus shifts to return rates

 If voter turnout equals 2018, mailed-out ballots are on track to comprise over 1/3 of all cast in 2022

November 4, 2022: As of this week, we can say, with certainty, that the initial MOBET forecast of 60 million mailed-out ballots has been met and exceeded.

With reported numbers of 59.8 million, plus some states still largely unaccounted for, including Alabama, Missouri, New Hampshire, and Texas – where, if you add their 2018 totals, you approach another million – we can declare that MOBET fulfilled the target of 60 million. That increase of over 40% from 2018 is a testament to the growing popularity of this voting model across the country.

We are now shifting focus to the number of returned mailed-out ballots, recognizing that it will be easier to obtain reports with accurate numbers once states are close to finalizing their certifications in late November. However, we can already see trends developing.

The MOBET tool estimated that we should see 42 million of these ballots cast; to date, nothing in the rate of returns would cause doubt in that number. We can count 18.6 million returned already, acknowledging that many voters wait until closer to Election Day, especially in states that accept the postmark-by date of Election Day as the cut-off rather than the received-by date. At this point, before Election Day – in the Vote at Home states which represent almost 2/3 of mailed-out ballots – one can often nearly triple the mailed-out ballots returned to approximate the final number. While we don’t expect that for all states, 42 million looks like a shoo-in here.

As a reminder: the overall return rate of mailed-out ballots in 2018 was about 71.5%. That’s considerably higher than the overall registered voter turnout rate of approximately 56.7% and even more, separated from the “polling place” voter rate of 53.2% (polling place votes cast divided by registered voters minus those who requested mailed-out ballots).

With over 60 million ballots mailed out – perhaps closer to 61 million – it will only take a turnout rate of about 69% of those, well below the 71.5% in 2018, to exceed the 42 million estimate.

While the final numbers remain to be known, it is also clear that the gap between mailed-out ballot voter turnout and polling place voter turnout will, once again, be significant.

The MOBET tool presents mailed-out ballot totals – and eventual return rates – in four categories:

• 9 “Vote at Home” (VAH) jurisdictions: Every active registered voter receives a ballot in the mail automatically for every election
• 6 “No Excuse – Single Sign-Up” (NE/SSU) states: Any voter, through a single application, can sign up to automatically receive ballots for all future elections
• 21 “No Excuse” (NE) states: All voters are eligible to receive a ballot but must request them for each specific election or every year
• 15 “Excuse Required” (ER) states: Most voters are ineligible to apply for a mailed-out ballot unless they meet a specific legally acceptable excuse

*VAH = CA, CO, DC, HI, NV, OR, UT, VT, WA
*No Ex-SSU = AZ, IL, MD, MT, NJ, VA
*No Ex = AK, FL, GA, ID, IA, KS, ME, MA, MI, MN, NE, NM, NC, ND, OH, OK, PA, RI, SD, WI, WY
*Ex Req.= AL, AR, CT, DE, IN, KY, LA, MS, MO, NH, NY, SC, TN, TX, WV

Based on the numbers we can see, in 2022, we now expect:

• Excuse required states to see 4% utilization, at best (mailed-out ballots divided by registered voters)
• No excuse states to see more than 4x that rate at about 17% utilization
• No excuse states that include SSU to see more than 5x the excuse required rate, at about 21% utilization

Before we depart the issue of the mailed-out ballot totals, it is worth noting a contrast from the October 28, 2022, update. As a reminder, the positive moves – besides the newly crowned Vote at Home states since 2018 (CA, DC, HI, NV, VT) – were in states such as Pennsylvania (up 1.2 million), Massachusetts (up 1 million), and Michigan (up 800,000), with significant upticks in Wisconsin (up 500,000), Maryland (up 450,000), New Jersey (up 400,000) and Illinois (up 400,000).

We can now see a slight but noticeable counter-vailing trend in a few states that chose to minimize the use of mailed-out ballots by making access to them, or their use, more complex. Or they are states where the claimed insecurity of mailed-out ballots has deemed them unsafe in the eyes of some voters. With the caveat that more data will come in over the next week, it appears, through official state elections office reporting or anecdotal media reports, that some states may still need to hit their 2018 levels for mailed-out ballot requests.

Those states include (as of 11/4): Indiana, Iowa, Mississippi, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, and Wyoming, with West Virginia and Georgia appearing to come in about dead even with 2018.

Vote at Home’s MOBET information tool relies on official data originating from state and local election officials, some of it compiled by trusted sources including the U.S. Elections Project and Catalist. See the original press announcement here: https://voteathome.org/national-vote-at-home-institute-launches-new-mailed-out-ballot-tracking-forecasting-tool/