Research on Vote-By-Mail

Context: This section addresses the impact of vote by mail on the integrity of elections and on the rate of voter participation and voter equity. The sources in this section find that the primary vulnerabilities of any vote-by-mail system lie in the likelihood of voter error, lost ballots, and processing errors that do not occur in the course of traditional in-person voting. The sources cited in this section find that voter turnout tends to increase when vote by mail is expanded. The degree to which turnout increases varies between states.

This section contains evidence that increases in turnout are driven by the effect that vote by mail has in increasing voting accessibility for groups that may struggle to vote at traditional in-person polling places or voting centers. Voters of color, who face longer polling place wait times in some states, may be more likely to see vote by mail as a more convenient and accessible alternative to voting in person. Disabled voters are more likely to vote in states with expansive vote by mail operations. Young and elderly voter turnout is typically higher in states with expansive vote by mail systems. This section also addresses the potential for discriminatory ballot rejection rates to arise. Finally, this section cites sources that find that expanding vote by mail does not benefit one party more than another.

General

  • “California’s 2020 all-mail election, explained,” Ben Christopher, CalMatters, June 2020 (overview of implications of mail-in balloting for California, including delayed election results, state history of vote-by-mail, questions of fraud and security, and turnout effects).  Link
  • “As states move to expand the practice, relatively few Americans have voted by mail,” Hannah Hartig, Bradley Jones, and Vianney Gomez, Pew Research Center, June 2020 (comparison of past vote-by-mail turnout rates among all-mail, no-excuse VBM states, and states with and without COVID-related eligibility expansions).  Link
  • “Few people have voted by mail nationwide but popularity is rising: study,” J. Edward Moreno, The Hill, June 2020 (summary of Pew study about the growth and prevalence of mail-in balloting).  Link
  • “Voting by Mail in the U.S.: Past, Present, and Future Advancements,” John Curiel, MIT Election Data + Science Lab, May 2020 (visual exploration of vote by mail usage across the country, as well as its challenges and limitations).  Link 
  • “Logical Election Policy: Report and Recommendations of the BPC’s Task Force on Elections,” Bipartisan Policy Center, January 2020 (includes a summary of the vote-by-mail process and policy recommendations for improving mail-in balloting, beginning on page 24).  Link
  • “The Colorado Voting Experience: A Model that Encourages Full Participation,” Allegra Chapman et. al., Common Cause Education Fund and the National Vote at Home Institute, July 2019 (details Colorado’s transition to universal mail-in voting and the benefits that Colorado’s system provides).  Link
  • “Election Administration and Voting Survey: 2018 Comprehensive Report,” U.S. Election Assistance Commission, June 2019 (includes 2018 vote-by-mail rates, summaries of each state’s vote-by-mail policies, and reasons for mail-in ballot rejection).  Link

Assessing the Integrity of Vote By Mail  

Risks and Vulnerabilities 

  • “More voting by mail would make the 2020 election safer for our health. But it comes with risks of its own,” Barry Burden, Robert M. Stein, and Charles Stewart III, The Washington Post, April 2020 (discusses obstacles to expanding vote by mail in time for the November elections).  Link
  • “Voting by Mail Would Reduce Coronavirus Transmission but It Has Other Risks,” Jessica Huseman, ProPublica, March 2020 (highlights the challenges to scaling up vote by mail in a short timeframe).  Link
  • The Unrecognized Unreliability of VBM,” Alec Yasinac, Systems, Cybernetics and Informatics, 2012 (overview of vote-by-mail vulnerabilities to voter errors, processing errors, lost ballots, and fraud).  Link
  • “Error and Fraud at Issue as Absentee Voting Arises,” Adam Liptak, The New York Times, October 2012 (describes possibilities for fraud and abuse, reasons for absentee ballot rejection, and clear instruction to absentee voters as a means to minimize these problems).  Link
  • “Adding up the Costs and Benefits of Vote By Mail,” Charles Stewart III, Election Law Journal, 2011 (evaluates three possible tradeoffs to expanding vote by mail: lost votes, lack of public confidence in outcomes, and skewed composition of the electorate).  Link 
  • “Losing Votes by Mail,” Charles Stewart III, Legislation and Public Policy, 2010 (identifies “leaks” in the vote-by-mail pipeline and estimates the number of lost votes due to mail-in ballots in the 2008 election).  Link
  • “Voting by Mail: An Examination of State and Local Experiences,” John C. Fortier, American Enterprise Institute, May 2010 (surveys the history and evolution of mail-in balloting, outlines neutral effects on turnout, positive effects on convenience, and potential risks of coercion, inconsistencies, and errors).  Link

The Question of Fraud in Vote by Mail 

  • “Does voting by mail increase the risk of voter fraud?,” Billy Morgan, UChicago News, July 2020 (surveys research on vote-by-mail and voter participation, fraud, partisan effects, and potential impact of restrictive vote-by-mail policies).  Link
  • “Guardrails line the journey in the life of a mail-in ballot,” Josh Lederman, NBC News, July 2020 (overview of the mail-in balloting process, from printing of ballots to counting and validation).  Link
  • “How does vote-by-mail work and does it increase election fraud?,” Darrell M. West, The Brookings Institute, June 2020 (information about political consequences, fraud, and popularity of mail-in balloting among the voting public).  Link
  • “Low rates of fraud in vote-by-mail states show the benefits outweigh the risks,” Elaine Kamarck and Christine Stenglein, The Brookings Institute, June 2020 (using evidence from Heritage Foundation database, makes the case that mail-in balloting is not conducive to widespread voter fraud).  Link
  • “Facts About Voting By Mail,” Ellen L. Weintraub, Federal Election Commission, May 2020 (compilation of evidence about the safety and integrity of mail-in balloting).  Link
  • “Debunking the absentee/vote by mail fraud and abuse argument,” National Vote at Home Coalition (explains the processes that safeguard the integrity of mail-in balloting, and highlights its benefits for turnout, down-ballot engagement, and cost-effectiveness).  Link
  • “Minuscule number of potentially fraudulent ballots in states with universal mail voting undercuts Trump claims about election risks,” Elise Viebeck, The Washington Post, June 2020 (new research shows minimal instances of fraud in states with universal vote by mail).  Link
  • “Vote by Mail: Debunking the Myth of Voter Fraud in Mail-in Ballots,” Matt Barreto et. al., UCLA Voting Rights Project, April 2020 (summarizes empirical research on voter fraud, especially in states that conduct all-mail elections, to demonstrate that mail-in ballot fraud is rare).  Link
  • “There were NOT 28 million ‘missing’ mailed ballots,” National Vote at Home Institute, April 2020 (explains the difference between ‘missing’ ballots and ‘uncast’ ballots).  Link
  • FAQ about voter fraud, National Vote at Home Institute, April 2020 (addresses common concerns about vote by mail and fraud).  Link
  • The False Narrative of Vote-by-Mail Fraud,” Wendy R. Weiser and Harold Ekeh, Brennan Center for Justice, April 2020 (overview of policies and procedures that protect the integrity of mail-in ballots).  Link
  • “Vote by mail states don’t see the rampant fraud that alarms Trump,” Bridget Bowman, Roll Call, April 2020 (overview of safeguards against fraud that mail-in voting states have implemented).  Link

Recommendations for Improvement 

  • The Importance of Accurate Voter Data When Expanding Absentee or Mail Ballot Voting,” CISA Elections Infrastructure Government Coordinating Council and Sector Coordinating Council’s Joint COVID Working Group (summarizes risks associated with inaccurate voter rolls and best practices for mitigating risks).  Link
  • “Absentee and Mail Ballots in America: Improving the Integrity of the Absentee and Mail Balloting,” Donald Palmer, Lawyers Democracy Fund, January 2019 (comprehensive overview of history of absentee balloting and its challenges, as well as policy recommendations to improve the process).  Link
  • “Administration of Absentee Ballot Programs,” Barry C. Burden and Brian J. Gaines, report prepared for the Presidential Commission on Election Administration, July 2013 (assesses the problems that mail-in balloting might pose to election security and voter access, and offers recommendations that address these concerns).  Link

Impact of Vote by Mail

Voter Participation 

  • “Turnout surges after states expand mail-in voting,” Max Greenwood, The Hill, June 2020 (early June primaries saw high turnout rates in states that took measures to expand mail-in voting).  Link
  • “All-Mail Voting in Colorado Increases Turnout and Reduces Turnout Inequality,” Adam Bonica et. al., National Vote at Home Institute, April 2020 (finds that the switch to all-mail voting in Colorado increased voter turnout by 9.4 percentage points, with disproportionate effects among lower-propensity voters like young people, voters of color, blue-collar workers, and voters with less educational attainment).  Link
  • “Opinion: We Should Never Have to Vote in Person Again,” Charlotte Hill et. al., The New York Times, May 2020 (discusses aforementioned research from Colorado, focusing on the positive turnout effects of vote by mail among historically low-turnout groups).  Link
  • “Some Demographics on Voting by Mail,” Charles Stewart III, National Vote at Home Institute, March 2020 (discusses demographics of vote-by-mail turnout in the 2016 elections, showing that mail-in voting is equally appealing across race, income, and education level).  Link
  • “How Did the Voter’s Choice Act Affect Turnout in 2018?,” Eric McGhee et. al., New Electorate Project, April 2019 (analyzes voter participation trends in five California counties that opted to send a mail-in ballot to every registered voter, concluding that universal vote by mail boosted turnout by roughly 3 percentage points in the general election).  Link 
  • “Utah 2016: Evidence for the positive turnout effects of ‘vote at home (also known as vote by mail) in participating counties,” Amelia Showalter, Washington Monthly and Project Partners, December 2018 (shows that vote by mail boosted turnout where implemented in Utah during the 2016 presidential election).  Link

Impact of Vote by Mail on Voter Equity 

Overview 
  • “Safeguarding Equity in the Vote at Home (VAH) Model,” National Vote at Home Institute, April  2020 (outlines measures to preserve voter access for underrepresented groups in vote-by mail systems, and includes evidence that well-designed vote-by-mail systems increase turnout among historically underrepresented voters at least as much as they boost turnout among higher-propensity voters).  Link
  • “In Expanding Vote by Mail, States Must Maintain In-Person Voting Options During the Coronavirus Pandemic,” Danielle Root et. al, Center for American Progress and NAACP, April 2020 (argues that in-person voting options are especially important for Black voters, voters with disabilities, people living on tribal lands, and same-day registrants).  Link
  • “Who Votes By Mail?,” Kevin Morris, Brennan Center for Justice, April 2020 (discusses share of votes cast by absentee ballot, broken down by race/ethnicity and age, in seven battleground states that allowed no-excuse vote by mail in 2016).  Link
Voters of Color
  • “Waiting to Vote,” Hannah Klain et al, Brennan Center for Justice, June 2020 (reports on the “racial wait gap” in the 2018 midterm elections, highlighting the influence of race and electoral resources on polling place wait times).  Link
  • “For Native Americans, voting rights were hard-won. Mail-in voting could undo the gains,” Ella Nilsen, Vox, June 2020 (highlights the challenges and disenfranchising effects of mail-in voting for Native Americans living on reservations).  Link
  • “Making the Case for VBM in Our Communities,” AAPI Civic Engagement Fund, July 2020 (includes demographic breakdown of habitual mail-in voters, discusses the prevalence of mail-in voting within the Asian American and Pacific Islander community, and highlights best practices for accessible vote-by-mail policies).  Link
  • “Asian Americans and all people of color need the right to mail voting,” Deborah Chen and Eun Sook Lee, The Hill, July 2020 (summarizes the takeaways of the AAPI Voter Report, which discusses the importance of accessible mail-in voting to Asian American and Pacific Islander voters).  Link
  • “Black voters don’t trust mail ballots. That’s a problem for Democrats,” John Whitesides, Reuters, May 2020 (discusses Black voters’ low rates of mail-in voting, and how get-out-the-vote efforts in Black communities can shift toward vote by mail).  Link
  • “For Latino voters, vote by mail is not enough,” Irene Oria, Katherine Culliton-González, and Jorge Luis Vasquez, Jr., The Hill, May 2020 (describes obstacles to mail-in voting that Latino voters face, including strict name-matching requirements and limited language assistance).  Link
  • “The 2018 Voting Experience: Polling Place Lines,” Matthew Weil et. al., Bipartisan Policy Center, November 2019 (on average, voters of color wait longer at their polling places than white voters).  Link
  • “Smartphone Data Says Voters in Black Neighborhoods Wait Longer,” Daniel Garisto, Scientific American, October 2019 (voters in predominantly Black neighborhoods waited 29% longer, on average, than voters in predominantly white neighborhoods, and were roughly 74% likelier to wait in line for more than 30 minutes).  Link
  • Issues for Black and Hispanic voters that vote by mail solves, National Vote at Home Institute (using data from PRRI/The Atlantic 2018 voter engagement survey, shows that voting by mail solves 5 of the 6 major issues that prevented voters of color from showing up at the polls).  Link
Disability Community 
  • Vote by Mail Is One of Many Ways To Ensure the Disability Community Is Included in the Next Election,” Sabrina Gonzalez, Center for American Progress, May 2020 (highlights the dual importance of vote by mail and in-person voting options to meet the diverse needs of people with disabilities).  Link
  • Correlation between mail-in voting and participation gap for disabled voters, National Vote at Home Institute, September 2019 (higher usage of mail-in ballots facilitates participation among voters with disabilities).  Link
  • “Fact sheet: Disability and voter turnout in the 2018 elections,” Lisa Schur and Douglas Kruse, Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations (in the 2018 elections, people with disabilities were especially likely to vote by mail before Election Day).  Link
  • “Contemporary Voting Rights Controversies Through the Lens of Disability,” Rabia Belt, Stanford Law Review, June 2016 (although 40% of voters with disabilities vote by mail, absentee ballots pose accessibility issues).  Link
Age
  • “Younger Americans embrace mail-in voting, if they can figure out how,” Amanda Golden, NBC News, July 2020 (discusses new research about youth voter participation, which finds that young voters are enthusiastic about vote-by-mail but often lack accurate information about  online voter registration and mail-in balloting).  Link
  • “Young People and Vote By Mail: Lessons for 2020,” Sarah Andes, Abby Kiesa, and Peter de Guzman, Tufts Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, May 2020 (analyzes which groups of young people voted by mail in 2012 and 2016, why they did it, and how to maximize the potential of vote by mail for youth voters in 2020).  Link 
  • Data on mail-in balloting and young voters, National Vote at Home Institute, April 2019 (shows that the average turnout rate among voters between ages 18-29 is 11% higher in universal vote-by-mail states than the national average).  Link
  • “Elderly Voters Go Postal: Ensuring Absentee Ballot Integrity for Older Voters,” Jessica A. Fay, The Elder Law Journal, 2006 (surveys the problem of coercion and manipulation of elderly voters, especially those in adult care facilities, and recommends guidelines/statutes for facilities and states to adopt).  Link
Disproportionate Rejection Rates 
  • “Voting by Mail in a VENMO World: Assessing Rejected Absentee Ballots in Georgia,” Enrijeta Shino, Mara Suttmann-Lea, and Daniel A. Smith, University of Florida Election Science, May 2020 (finds that younger, newly registered, female, and minority voters were more likely to have their mail-in ballots rejected in Georgia’s 2018 elections).  Link
  • “Here’s the problem with absentee ballots: They might not be counted,” Enrijeta Shino, Mara Suttmann-Lea, and Daniel A. Smith, The Washington Post, May 2020 (explains results of aforementioned study from Georgia’s 2018 elections).  Link
  • “Voting by Mail and Ballot Rejection: Lessons from Florida in the Age of the Coronavirus,” Anna Baringer, Michael C. Herron, and Daniel A. Smith, University of Florida Election Science, April 2020 (assesses patterns of absentee ballot rejection in Florida, and finds that certain categories of voters, namely younger voters and those who need assistance in casting their ballots, are disproportionately likely to have their absentee ballots rejected).  Link
  • “Report on Vote-by-Mail Ballots in the 2018 General Election,” ACLU Florida (younger, first-time, and minority voters, as well as military and overseas voters, were disproportionately likely to have their absentee ballots rejected).  Link
  • “Vote-by-Mail Ballots Cast in Florida,” ACLU Florida (report analyzing 2012 and 2016 data that “finds that younger voters, as well as voters from racial and ethnic minorities, are much more likely to cast VBM ballots that are rejected, and are less likely to cure their VBM ballots if Supervisors of Elections staff flag them for having signature problems).  Link
  • “Analysis of Absentee (“Vote-by-Mail”) Ballots Cast in Florida,” Dr. Daniel A. Smith, ElectionSmith, 2016 (finds that Democratic absentee ballots were rejected at a higher rate than Republican absentee ballots, but reasons for ballot rejection differed across counties).  Link

The Question of Partisan Impact 

  • “The Neutral Partisan Effects of Vote-By-Mail: Evidence from County-Level Rollouts,” Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research (a design-based analysis of the effect of vote by mail on electoral outcomes that finds no partisan effect on turnout or vote share and a moderate increase in overall average turnout rates).  Link
  • “Universal Vote-by-Mail Has No Impact on Partisan Turnout or Vote Share,” Daniel M. Thompson et. al, Stanford University Democracy & Polarization Lab, May 2020 (using evidence from all three states that have implemented universal vote by mail, suggests that mail-in balloting does not offer an advantage to either party).  Link
  • “Absentee voting in Georgia embraced equally by voters of both parties,” Mark Niesse and Greg Bluestein, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, June 2020 (in Georgia’s primary elections, 49% of returned absentee ballots were Democratic, 49% were Republican, and the remainder were nonpartisan).  Link
  • “Does Vote-by-Mail Favor Democrats? No. It’s a False Argument by Trump,” Reid J. Epstein and Stephanie Saul, The New York Times, June 2020 (vote by mail boosts turnout and voter engagement with down-ballot races, but there is no conclusive evidence that it disproportionately helps either party).  Link
  • “There is No Evidence that Voting By Mail Gives One Party an Advantage,” Lee Drutman, FiveThirtyEight, May 2020 (using data from 2016 elections and some 2020 primary elections, suggests that vote by mail does not inevitably benefit one party over another).  Link