In this research, we examine the difference between five vote-by-mail policies in place in the 2018 midterm elections. We use statistical modeling to understand the effects of different vote-by-mail policies nationwide and estimate what might have changed in 2018 based on different voting systems. In general, we find that turnout increases as states move along the vote-by-mail policy continuum, removing administrative obstacles for voters in the process. Additionally, turnout gains are largest when counties progress several steps from more restrictive policies to less restrictive policies, and the Vote at Home policy has the most potential to impact young voters.
A recent nonpartisan academic study that ranked all 50 states based on the amount of time, energy, and resources people must make to vote was released this week. To no surprise, of the top 10 states for ease of voting, eight are the nation’s only states conducting full vote-at-home elections in 2022, during which all voters will automatically be mailed ballots for the upcoming midterms. As for the bottom 10 states, seven require their voters to attest to a valid excuse in order to obtain a mailed-out ballot.
In this explainer, Bipartisan Policy Center and National Vote at Home Institute focus on the states that allow election workers to run ballots through scanners before Election Day. This policy provides the most preparation for tabulation, which occurs after polls close on Election Day and before the release of unofficial results. By understanding the benefits of this policy along with other ballot pre-election processes (ranging from verifying signatures to curing ballots), policymakers can expedite the release of unofficial election night returns, mitigating the harmful impacts of election mis- and disinformation.
“The 2020 elections presented unique challenges and opportunities that fueled a meteoric rise in the use of vote-by-mail (VBM). Since the 1800s, absentee ballots by mail have been part of our democracy. For most of that history, voters were typically required to provide an excuse for casting an absentee ballot. But in the 1980s, California introduced an expansive policy that opened VBM to all voters. By 2016, 27 states adopted a similar voting policy. By 2020, hastened by the COVID-19 pandemic, 34 states allowed voters to request mail ballots without providing an excuse. Deliver My Vote Education Fund (DMVEF) examined VBM trends in five key states (Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Georgia, and Wisconsin) from 2016 to 2020 to understand this massive shift in VBM use. Voters of all backgrounds embraced VBM as a safe way to vote during the pandemic, while also realizing the remarkable convenience.”
Since the reports of Russian interference in the 2016 United States General Election, the security of voting processes has received increased attention from both state and federal authorities. The declaration by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in January 2017 that election systems be classified as the seventeenth component of critical infrastructure is just the beginning of a need for more secure voting processes. More recently, the COVID-19 pandemic and the 2020 U.S. General Election has placed greater emphasis specifically on mail-based voting processes for electoral systems. The objective of this research is to provide greater insight into potential threats to mail-based voting processes.
A recent study of mail-ballot use and voter participation found that turnout increased an average of 5.6% during the 2020 presidential election in states that mailed a ballot to every registered voter. The effects of mail-ballot delivery were even greater in jurisdictions with historically low mail-ballot usage, boosting turnout by as much as 8%.
Much has been written about the success of temporary policies states put in place for mailed-out ballot access during the 2020 election due to the pandemic. The resulting use of those ballots, and the percentage of the popular vote they represented was indeed stunning. But an untold story, until now, is how rapidly voters across the country have had their access to mailed-out ballots improved on a permanent policy basis. Here are some of the details that drive the accompanying graphic.
In the 2016 general election, 21 counties in Utah administered voting entirely by mail, while eight counties administered traditional polling place-based voting. Using vote propensity scores to control for voters’ pre-existing differences in likelihood to vote, we show that the advent of vote-by-mail increased turnout by 5-7 points. Low-propensity voters, including young voters, showed the greatest increase in turnout in vote-by-mail counties relative to their counterparts in non-vote-by-mail counties. We find similar results by zooming in on specific geographic areas within Utah where vote-by-mail counties are bordered by non-vote-by-mail counties, with magnitudes of 4-9 points of increased turnout. In one mountaintop community that happened to be bisected by a county line, the increase in turnout due to vote-by-mail may have been as high as 12.5 points.