Here’s a guest post from Eric McGhee, Jennifer Paluch, and Mindy Romero:
The pandemic forced many states to consider expanding access to voting by mail (VBM) in a way they had never done before to reduce the risk of transmitting the virus at live voting sites. But President Trump has charged that the operation is rife with fraud and is designed to hurt Republicans and criticize it whenever the opportunity arises. The result is a deep polarization for the VBM among elected officials as well as voters and a crisis of confidence in our elections. After this election, state legislatures across the country either considered scaling down the VBM or implemented it.
What is the effect of increasing VBM access? Before the 2020 pandemic election, research often found it increased at least slightly more voters, and did not support one or the other party. But the pandemic election may have been different for so many reasons, especially since more states have been testing these reforms than ever before. Some approaches have even been tried but are rarely used. Are the results any different?
Jennifer Paluch, Mindy Romero, and I have a new sheet of paper that just explores this question. We look at the impact on voter and partisan results from three VBM reforms – opening the VBM to anyone who wants it (VBM has no reason), sending all voters a registration form. VBM (VBM application) and send all voters a ballot (universal VBM) —and extend the research into the pandemic election itself. In this process, we take into account the complex mix of electoral workplace factors: including COVID, competitiveness, and other electoral reforms.
As was true in the pre-2020 study, the general VBM increased the number of voters to vote in 2020 by about 4 percentage points, while other reforms had a smaller and more impact ( voter turnout is actually lower in states that apply VBM for no reason). Nor are the reforms helping Democrats – in fact, if anything we see has a modest effect in our favor. Republican Party.
Of course, there are caveats. The states and counties that introduced these reforms have turned to strong Democrats before and we have included that in our analysis. Therefore, these “Republican favor” effects are measured on the basis of steadily growing Democratic support. In fact, almost all results are a bit sensitive to how we cut and cut the data precisely. One major exception is sending each voter a vote: the turnout ratio from this reform appears to be consistent across many approaches.
Therefore, on balance, we think the impact of sending a ballot on voters is clear, but otherwise these reforms would not create a significant increase in the number of voters. voter or Democratic backing and by 2020 there is some opposite evidence in each case. Policymakers should change the lens in which they see this problem: the question is not who gets the advantage from reform, but whether someone wants more people to get involved.