DID MAIL-IN VOTING BOOST BIDEN? The presidential-election results left the impression that mail-in voting increased turnout and propelled President Biden to victory. But the reality is that voting by mail didn’t do either, Stanford researchers say in a new paper based on the latest data. That finding is notable because mail-in voting has become a controversial topic as many state legislatures debate restricting its use in future elections.
But much of the debate around voting by mail misunderstands the actual impact of the policy, according to the paper. In states where voting by mail was a new option, many voters used it. Turnout was high in 2020, but it didn’t increase significantly more in states that expanded voting by mail versus other states, the researchers found.
“I think both sides are massively overestimating the effect that vote by mail has on participation,” said Andrew Hall, one of the paper’s authors, though it could affect unusually close races, like the presidential race in Georgia. For example: In Texas, 65-year-olds turned out at nearly the same rate as 64-year-olds, “even though 65-year-olds voted absentee at much higher rates than 64-year-olds because they could do so without having to provide an excuse,” according to the paper.
Some political scientists differ on how to read the results. Emory University’s Alan Abramowitz concludes that the “dramatic increase” in 2020 absentee voting contributed to increased turnout, but he agrees that “increased absentee voting did not favor Joe Biden’s candidacy.” Republicans in more than 30 state legislatures have proposed legislation to put new restrictions on absentee voting this year, with some moving toward passage quickly in swing states like Georgia.