2022 election verdict: Vote by mail didn’t advantage either political party

Written by Derek Monson

January 5, 2023

Have you ever seen a group of people get riled up over a change in how something is done – “this will lead to terrible things!” – and you look at the change and say, “Isn’t this going to leave us with basically similar outcomes?”

Election data from a few states for the 2022 elections seem to suggest that early voting and vote by mail are like that.

As reported by Politico, election outcomes in three states that expanded early voting periods and/or their use of vote by mail – one blue state (Vermont), one red state (Kentucky) and one purple state (Nevada) – were comparable to election outcomes prior to these election policy reforms. As the article reported:

The states had divergent results but shared a few key things in common. Making it easier to vote early or by mail did not lead to voter fraud, nor did it seem to advantage Republicans or Democrats. … While voting methods have become deeply polarized by party, expanding access to early and mail voting does not appear to benefit one party over the other.

This stands in stark contrast to partisan division on the issues of vote by mail and early voting after the results of the 2020 presidential election. It also aligns with Sutherland Institute’s own report on vote by mail, which noted several academic studies of state universal vote-by-mail systems which found that vote by mail had no meaningful benefit for one political party over another.

On the other hand, recent comments from the “foremost tracker of early voting and turnout data” in a Niskanen Center podcast took things even more strongly toward undermining partisan positioning by interpreting the scholarly literature to mean that vote by mail helps the political right:

People get a ballot and we know there’s a lot of mobilization literature out there that says if you get a reminder to vote, you’re more likely to vote. It does seem like having that ballot in hand being delivered to you does stimulate turnout … what that stimulus does, it activates people who are already high propensity voters. And so who are the high propensity voters? Well, by and large they tend to be more Republican than Democratic.

In contrast to vote by mail, this scholar said, the research on early in-person voting does not seem to reveal an advantage to one party over the other.

All of this evidence, from recent election outcomes to longstanding (and ongoing) scholarly research, can help people understand the public about-face from national Republican Party leaders regarding early voting and vote by mail, which I noted in a recent blog post. The more time goes on, the more evidence seems to come forward suggesting that concerns about election policies like vote by mail are misplaced. Vote by mail, when done right, both protects election integrity and expands access to voting.

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