New NBER Paper Shows Higher Rates of COVID-19 Among Wisconsin Counties Using More In-Person Voting Compared to Vote By Mail in April 7 Primary

New NBER paper from Chad D. Cotti, Bryan Engelhardt, Joshua Foster, Erik T. Nesson, and Paul S. Niekamp:

On April 7, 2020, Wisconsin held a major election for state positions and presidential preferences for both major parties. News reports showed pictures of long lines of voters due to fewer polling locations and suggested that the election may further the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. A contract-tracing analysis by the Wisconsin Department of Health identified 52 confirmed cases of COVID-19 to in-person voting, but no research has conducted a broader analysis of the extent to which in-person voting increased the number of COVID-19 cases. We use county level data on voting and COVID-19 tests to connect the election to the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. We find a statistically and economically significant association between in-person voting and the spread of COVID-19 two to three weeks after the election. Furthermore, we find the consolidation of polling locations, and relatively fewer absentee votes, increased positive testing rates two to three weeks after the election. Our results offer estimates of the potential increased costs of in-person voting as well as potential benefits of absentee voting during a pandemic.

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