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.
In this research prepared for the National Vote at Home Coalition, researchers find that full vote-at-home precincts in Nebraska experienced as much as 4.6 percentage points of greater turnout than polling-place precincts. In addition, automatically mailing absentee ballot applications to all voters helped increase turnout across the state.
“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.”
In an historic year for voter turnout, 2020 also underscored the power and importance of mailed-out ballots. In the top 10 states for highest turnout among eligible voters, half are full vote-at-home states. The remaining five states implemented same-day registration and put temporary policies in place making it easier to access a mail ballot. Conversely, the bottom 10 states cut off voter registration four weeks before Election Day and enforced excuse requirements for mail ballots.