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 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.
The National Vote at Home Institute conducted original research in the Fall of 2019 to see how many absentee voters from 2018 also voted that way in 2016, and therefore would have benefitted from a permanent absentee policy in their state, while in turn the elections officials in that state would not have had to process those applications a second time.
In the 40 states listed on page 2, citizens may or may not have to provide an excuse to sign up for a vote at home ballot, yet all are required to submit the same request, election after election, or year after year. And election officials have to process these requests again and again, often from the same voters. In the other 10 states, citizens can either choose to be on a “true” permanent absentee list, or they all get their ballots delivered automatically by state policy, saving voters time and hassle.