October 14, 2022: Today the National Vote at Home Institute (NVAHI) launched a new tool to help journalists, legislators, elections officials and the public forecast the likely level and impact of mailed-out ballots for the 2022 general election.
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.
This research explores the effect of vote-by-mail on electoral outcomes by using historical nationwide county-level data between 1992-2018 as well as 40 million individual-level voter records from Washington and Utah – both full vote-at-home states. The research finds a positive effect on turnout, with no discernable partisan advantage.
From the authors: “In response to COVID-19, many scholars and policymakers are urging the United States to expand voting-by-mail programs to safeguard the electoral process, but there are concerns that such a policy could favor one party over the other. We estimate the effects of universal vote-by-mail, a policy under which every voter is mailed a ballot in advance of the election, on partisan election outcomes. We find that universal vote-by-mail does not affect either party’s share of turnout or either party’s vote share. These conclusions support the conventional wisdom of election administration experts and contradict many popular claims in the media. Our results imply that the partisan outcomes of vote-by-mail elections closely resemble in-person elections, at least in normal times.”
This research examines the effects of vote-by-mail policies on ballot roll-off, or down-ballot voting. In examining data from Washington state, a state that first introduced no-excuse mail voting in the 1970s and gradually implemented vote-by-mail statewide, it appears voters who are given more time to study the candidates and issues are more knowledgeable and therefore have greater ballot completion rates (e.g. less ballot roll-off).