The key to increasing the youth vote is hiding in plain sight

Researchers are finding high youth turnout in the midterms, but are missing a larger story

December 2, 2022:  There is increasing evidence that younger voters played an outsized role in the outcome of the 2022 midterms.  Multiple sources, including Edison Research National Election Poll’s exit interviews, have noted higher turnout among the 18-29-year-old cohort. The CIRCLE group at Tufts reported day-after estimates in 10 states and saw a 27% turnout nationally, and 31% in a number of battleground states for that age group – second only to 2018 levels. (Link here)

The latest reporting is often followed by speculation and analysis about why the high youth vote happened and what might be better ways to engage that audience in 2024 and beyond.  It turns out there is data, hiding in plain sight, that provides a definitive answer to that:

Put a ballot in their hands!

Colorado and Washington state, both 100% mailed-out ballot states (aka Vote at Home or VAH), have excellent tracking on turnout levels by age group.  They don’t follow exactly the same age break points as CIRCLE’s research, but we can interpolate as needed.

Colorado 2022 turnout of active registered voters: 

18-24-year-olds: 38.4%

25-34-year-olds: 49.2%

Estimate for 18-29-year-olds: 42%

Washington 2022 turnout of active registered voters:

18-24-year-olds:  38.2%

25-34-year-olds: 45.2%

Estimate for 18-29-year-olds: 41%

So, let’s review:  neither Colorado or Washington were battleground states in 2022, and people are excited about youth turnout of 27% or 31% elsewhere when these two are in the 40’s? 

That begs the question:  Is this somehow unique to 2022?  It turns out not.  There are many other examples of how mailing a ballot to all younger voters results in substantially higher turnout than if they are compelled to go to and wait in line at a traditional polling place.

CIRCLE conducted some other excellent research on youth voting, this time for the 2020 election.  (Link here) And what state do you think had the highest turnout of 18-29-year-olds that cycle?  Hint: It wasn’t a battleground state.  Of all places, it was New Jersey with 67% turnout.  And what did New Jersey do in 2020 that they had never done before?  Due to the pandemic, they mailed a ballot to every active registered voter, including those younger ones.

In April 2022, The Voter Participation Project also issued an important report, whose extensive data tables revealed this remarkable fact:  Of the top 10 states for eligible voter turnout of 18-34-year-olds for 2020, 6 of them were full Vote at Home states (NJ, NV – the only battleground state among them, CO, WA, OR and CA.  The only non-VAH presidential battleground to make the list was Michigan at #10. (Link here)

Our own work has uncovered the same story across the country over the last eight years.

Research into Utah’s 2016 general election showed that for voters with ballots in hand, as some but not yet all Utah counties did then, there was a turnout uplift of:

  • 5% for 18-24 females and 10.7% (the largest of any cohort) for 25-34 females
    • So, in the 9% range for 18-29F.
  • A similar uplift was seen for young males: 6% for 18-24; 9.7% for 25-34

And it turns out this data holds up even when taken to a more granular level than state-wide numbers.  Our research into Nebraska’s unique law that allows smaller counties (even some individual precincts) to opt into a 100% mailed-out ballot model showed the same phenomenon. In the 2020 election, counties that offered all their voters the convenience of “voting at home” saw a turnout uplift among 18-29-year-olds of 4.8% points. That was the largest differential among any age group. (Link here)

We could even see this all the way back to the original research into Colorado’s 2014 move to 100% mailed-out ballots, with the two largest turnout upticks being 18-24 at 12.1% and 25-34 at 7.4% (Link here).

The evidence has been hiding in plain sight for years.

We’ve known and could prove for some time that putting ballots in voters’ hands results in higher engagement and turnout for all voters. What is clear now is the impact of that turnout increase is strongest with younger voters. That should make campaigns adjust their strategies, and GOTV efforts going forward.

It should also get legislators and elections officials, often handwringing about “How do we attract more young voters to get involved in our democracy?” to make some very straightforward policy changes.  

Start by making ballot delivery to the voter an automatic thing.

Today, eight states (CA, CO, HI, NV, OR, UT, VT, WA) plus DC automatically mail ballots to every active registered voter for every election, five more than did so in 2018. Another seven allow all voters to request that automatic delivery, called permanent absentee or single sign-up (SSU), by signing up just once. (AZ, IL, MD, MI, MT, NJ, VA). Five of those are new to that list, too.

In 2022, about 35% of all US votes cast came from ballots voters received in the mail. Sadly, there are still 15 states that require voters to apply for such a ballot for every election and provide a specific “excuse” to qualify.  It’s long past time to put that archaic policy into the history books.

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/

What a Divided Nebraska Town Shows About Mail-in Voting

The Hill – A new study makes a case for at-home voting by drawing on a unique civic experiment: a town in rural Nebraska where half of the electorate chose to vote by mail in 2020, while the other half went to the polls.

Emerson, Neb., is a classic corn-belt farm town, with roughly 900 citizens and 500 voters. The western half of Emerson lies in Dixon County. Two other counties split the eastern half.

The town’s layout made it a perfect laboratory to test the merits of mail-in balloting. Dixon County conducted the 2020 election entirely by mail. The other counties did not.

The National Vote at Home Institute, a nonprofit that advocates for at-home balloting, commissioned a study. What it found: In the fall 2020 election, 78 percent of Emerson voters turned out in the western half of town, where everyone voted by mail. In the eastern half, where most people went to the polls, turnout stalled at 66 percent.

As mailed-out ballots approach 60 million, state-level details show fascinating trends

NVAHI MOBET tool shows strong mailed-out ballot adoption coast-to-coast

October 28, 2022: Four years ago, if you had noted that mailed-out ballot voting in volume was largely a western state phenomenon, you would have been largely correct. The four “vote at home (VAH)” states at that time were CO, OR, UT and WA. And the mailed-out ballot use states with “permanent absentee” or “single sign-up” policies, where over 50% of voters cast their votes from ballots they received in the mail, included AZ and MT. But with the benefit of detailed tracking at the state level for the 2022 mid-terms using National Vote at Home Institute’s MOBET tool, we can see the adoption of this voting model now impacting states across the country.

To be fair, of the 17.4 million forecasted increase in mailed-out ballots (60 million up from 42.6 million in 2018) about 13 million or about 75% are coming from the five new Vote at Home jurisdictions (CA, DC, HI, NV, VT), with eight million of those from California alone. But there are some other very large movers in the non-VAH states.

Michigan, which passed no excuse absentee in 2018, was already an upside outlier in mailed-out ballot use given its prior policy. They are going from 1.1 million to 1.8 million, or put another way, from 15.6% utilization by their registered voters to 21.6%.

More impressive are two other states that have changed policy since 2018.

Pennsylvania passed no excuse absentee in 2019. They are going from 216,000 to 1.3 million or 3.5% utilization to 14.7% of their registered voters.

But the biggest mover is Massachusetts. They passed no excuse absentee in early 2022. They are going from 105,000 in 2018 to 1.1 million this year, or from 3.3% utilization to 22.5%. MA included in their no excuse “VOTES” Act a provision whereby the SoS is required to send a mailed-out ballot application to every registered voter for every election. That undoubtedly accounts for a major portion the differential lift between PA and MA.

Hitting 60 million (or more) mailed-out ballots means that voting using that model has gone “mainstream” beyond the few initial states in the western third of the country. Depending on total turnout, and return rates for those mailed-out ballots, about one-third of all US votes or more will have been cast by a ballot the voter received in the mail, in a non-pandemic emergency rules year.

It will demonstrate that with the big upticks in MA, MI and PA, and smaller but still important ones in states like MD (up 400,000), NJ (up 400,000), VT (up 400,000) and IL (up 300,000), coupled with DC just voting to be the second jurisdiction in the east (after VT) to mail ballots to all registered voters, this policy now has strong legs nationwide.

Better mailed-out ballot access policies are welcomed and embraced by voters.

The numbers tell us that policy matters, and implementation does too.

That second order potential impact is how the policy is rolled out. The Massachusetts case is instructive. By mailing applications to all, they increased the ease of access to the new policy, and the voters responded. Illinois passed a “single sign-up (SSU)” law a few years ago where voters can opt in to always have their ballot delivered in the mail, essentially making themselves a “vote at home” voter. But just this year, Illinois started promoting signing up for that option, which should result in that state seeing an even larger increase in mailed-out ballot requests in 2024. If Michigan passes its “Proposal 2,” which includes a SSU provision, they will see higher numbers, too.

To summarize: Our forecast remains: Mailed-out ballot activity will increase at least 40% in 2022 versus 2018 levels – to an estimated 60 million mailed-out, with over 42 million returned. Today, the mailed-out number hit 58.5 million.

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
  • 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

Many states where the voter must request a mailed-out ballot are not yet reporting their volume of requests. So, the 2022 numbers will continue to grow over the next two weeks as more voters apply for mailed-out ballots. For the nine VAH states, mailed-out ballot growth will primarily result from increased voter registration totals.

For reference, in 2022 we expect:

  • Excuse required states to see about 4% utilization
  • No excuse states to see about 4x that rate at 15% utilization
  • No excuse states that include SSU to see about 5x the excuse required rate, at 20% utilization

As of October 28, 2022, you can see below that not only has the overall actual number climbed substantially to 58.5 million from 53.8 million two weeks ago, and two groups – the “No Excuse – single sign-up” and “No Excuse” cohorts have already exceeded the levels forecasted by MOBET.

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/

Two Democracies Are Forming in the U.S. — Zip Code Determines Which One You’re In

LA Times – For a brief time in 2020, it seemed as though the vote-by-mail movement was having a bipartisan moment.

Red and blue states that had offered the option only to a relatively small number of residents were suddenly scrambling to expand mail voting to as many people as possible to prevent the spread of COVID-19 at polling places. Voting rights advocates saw it as a chance to educate lawmakers and voters about the long-term benefits of moving away from casting ballots in person.

Two years later, access to mail voting looks radically different from state to state, mirroring a broad partisan divide in voting policies.

2022 Primary Turnout Driven by Abortion, Liz Cheney and Voting by Mail

The Fulcrum – Every state that relies heavily on voting by mail outperformed the national median during the 2022 primaries – but none of them led in turnout this year. That distinction went to Wyoming, where Rep. Liz Cheney ran in a statewide nominating contest, and Kansas, which put an abortion measure on the primary ballot.

But the seven states that do run vote-by-mail primaries were all in the top 20 – including four of the top seven – according to data collected by the National Vote at Home Institute.