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New Study: Voting by Mail Raises Turnout, Offers No Party a Significant Advantage

FILE - Vote-by-mail ballots are shown in sorting trays at the King County Elections headquarters in Renton, Wash., Aug. 5, 2020. Washington state has offered voting by mail since 2011.

A new study published this week suggests voting by mail would not bring chaos to the elections process, and could, in fact, boost turnout.

Voting by mail has become something of a controversy in recent months, with the COVID-19 pandemic raising safety concerns about going to the polls, and U.S. President Donald Trump insisting voting by mail would be fraud-ridden and unfair to his Republican Party.

Two political scientists, one from the University of Virginia and the other from Brigham Young University, examined the issue and published their findings Wednesday in the journal Science Advances.

The researchers compared county-level data from 1992 through 2018 recorded across the U.S. with more than 40 million voting records in Utah and Washington state. They wanted to examine if partisan voting patterns would change at all if voting switched to mandatory voting by mail.

FILE - A man walks by a United States Postal Service mailbox in downtown Washington, August 19, 2020.
FILE - A man walks by a United States Postal Service mailbox in downtown Washington, August 19, 2020.

Their data showed, overall, voting by mail has a “modest positive effect on turnout,” but “no measurable effect” on how well one party did over another at the ballot box.

The researchers say that for years, voting by mail has been associated with older and rural voters, who tend to skew Republican. Six states had some form of voting by mail before the coronavirus hit. Texas has what it calls “no-excuse voting by mail" available for those 65 or older. In Nebraska, counties with fewer than 10,000 people are allowed to vote by mail.

The researchers say “although these systems of [voting by mail] have differences of administration, they are all consistent” in their core principles: All constituents receive their ballots before Election Day, and they all limit (and in some cases replace) in-person voting.

The authors of the study write: “[Voting by mail] could offer an opportunity to, at worst, maintain historical levels of turnout or, at best, even slightly increase low levels of turnout while simultaneously not substantively advantaging one political party over the other.”