Four political scientists writing in the New York Times report that their research found voting by mail significantly increases turnout. (In Colorado, the switch to voting by mail boosted turnout by more than 9 percent.) Those who benefited the most were the “historically disenfranchised: young people, voters of color, less-educated people and blue-collar workers.” So was this a big winner for Democrats? Nope.
The researchers found:
Looking at voters by political party, we find that Democrats and Republicans benefit about the same amount: around 8 percentage points …For most voters, mail voting is not a partisan issue. The reform draws strong support among both Democratic and Republican voters, according to a recent Reuters/Ipsos poll. Support is even stronger among Democrats and Republicans living in states that already have all-mail voting. All-mail voting appears to be that rarest of democracy reforms: a shift that helps everyone get more involved, that reduces inequities and that attracts support across parties — if only at the grass-roots level.
Trump’s feigned concern about fraud is no more accurate than his assertion that 3 million to 5 million people voted illegally in 2016. (“[F]raud is exceptionally rare, hard to commit without getting caught and nearly impossible to do on the scale necessary to affect election results. And because mail voting leaves behind a paper trail — which election officials can audit to verify that votes were counted as cast — it may actually be even more secure than in-person voting,” the political scientists wrote.)
Nevertheless, many Republicans, who are overwhelmingly white, are convinced that the bigger the electorate, the more it will resemble an increasingly diverse electorate — and therefore disadvantage them. It is quite an admission of their inability to win elections in a truly representative democracy, but it also fails to recognize that many older, traditionally Republican voters may not make it to the polls for fear of contracting the coronavirus. The negative take on voting by mail also ignores how prevalent voting by mail already is. Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Utah and Washington already conduct all-mail voting; Arizona, California and Montana conduct elections primarily using voting by mail. Thirty-four states (including most of the battleground states) use no-excuse absentee voting (which still requires that ballots be requested).
In 16 states — many of them Southern — one needs an excuse to vote by mail. However, in two of these — Delaware and Connecticut — moves toward voting by mail are underway, while Tennessee is being sued by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and the Campaign Legal Center. On Monday, the Democratic PAC Priorities USA filed suit against Florida challenging its limits on absentee voting and voting by mail.
To push Republicans to support a voting system that makes it easier for them (and everyone else) to vote by mail, Republicans for the Rule of Law have launched a $1 million ad buy (already showing on Fox News during Trump’s town hall on Sunday) featuring Republicans:
The 16 states may come around to support lifesaving protections for voting who may still be facing a pandemic. If nothing else, the example of Wisconsin — in which about 50 people who went to or worked at the polls contracted the coronavirus because Republicans refused to delay the primary and state elections or expand the time to return ballots — may persuade these states that supporting democracy would also save lives. (A pro-life party should of course do whatever it takes to protect the lives of their residents, right?) If these states dig in their heels, leaving people with the choice of risking infection or losing their right to vote, we will know just how desperate some Republicans are to suppress the vote.