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.”
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%.
Researchers have increasingly paid attention to the impact that the administrative component of elections has on voter behavior. Existing research has focused almost exclusively on the effect that legal changes–such as voter identification laws–have on turnout. This paper extends our understanding of the electoral process by exploring how one aspect of the precinct experience–standing in line to vote–can shape the turnout behavior of voters in subsequent elections. I demonstrate that for every additional hour a voter waits in line to vote, their probability of voting in the subsequent election drops by 1 percentage point. To arrive at these estimates, I analyze vote history files using a combination of exact matching and placebo tests to test the identification assumptions. I then leverage an unusual institutional arrangement in the City of Boston and longitudinal data from Florida to show that the result also holds at the precinct level. The findings in this paper have important policy implications for administrative changes that may impact line length, such as voter identification requirements and precinct consolidation. They also suggest that racial asymmetries in precinct wait times contribute to the gap in turnout rates between white and non-white voters.
From the Center for Information and Research On Civic Learning and Engagement:
Our final analysis of statewide youth voter turnout by region examines the electoral participation in young people in nine Eastern and Northeastern states. Key takeaways from this group of states include:
- New Jersey had the highest youth voter turnout in the nation: 67%.
- Despite being the only major swing state in the region, Pennsylvania had a similar youth voter turnout rate (54%) to other states in the East and Northeast. Perhaps relatedly, it’s the only state in the region (for which we have turnout data) without either pre-registration or automatic voter registration.
- Vermont and New Jersey which implemented full vote by mail programs in which they automatically sent ballots to every voter, saw the biggest increases in youth voter turnout compared to 2016: rising by 12 and 22 percentage points, respectively.
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.