At the outset of this pandemic, it was unclear as to how our damaged voting systems could adapt to this historic challenge and allow Americans to participate safely in this election. Many expected that voter the pandemic would depress voter turnout.
In the end, this country set a record for voter participation, thanks to a number of factors, not least among them the largest expansion in ballot access in the history of this country.
Yet as we consider the future, many in the Republican party are already working to rollback of many of these advances, as they view expanded participation only through a lens of partisanship. This is wrong on every level.
Voting is the most sacred act in a democracy and must easy and accessible to all who qualify. But even from a perspective of partisanship, Republicans are wrong to abandon the voting methods that historically presented an advantage for their candidates, simply because former President Trump wrongly claims they are ripe for fraud.
While there were many measures taken by election officials to facilitate this feat, the expansion of access to voting by mail was certainly in the forefront. While this was a revelation born out of necessity, this experience undoubtedly left millions of Americans with a favorable impression of the relative ease, safety, and security in voting by mail. It is safe to say that this country would have never reached the record level of voter turnout it did without mail voting as a widely available option.
Much attention has been given to the partisan differentials in mail voting in the 2020 general election, as Democrats generally were more likely to cast a ballot by mail than Republican voters. That said, this obscures the longer history of mail voting as a method generally preferred by Republicans. Of course, we can’t ignore the fact that the Democratic advantage in the 2020 election among mail voters was largely due to the President’s constant demagoguing against voting by mail depressing participation by his supporters. It’s reasonable to assume that Republican voters will be more willing to revert to their past behavior and resume voting by mail in future elections.
An analysis of voting by mail in previous elections in a sampling of battleground states demonstrates the historic GOP advantage among mail voters. In Florida, for example, Republicans have historically relied on advantages among mail voters to drive their electoral success. In the 2016 Presidential election in Florida, Republicans built a turnout advantage of close to 60,000 votes among mail voters. That accounts for the entirety of their statewide turnout advantage of 55,000 voters over Democrats, when considering all vote methods.
Ohio stands as another state where Republican strategists have relied on advantages among mail voters as building blocks for their statewide victories. Among the greater than 800,000 regular mail voters in the state, Republicans have a modeled partisan advantage of 6 points. In fact, in almost every single state allowing mail voting (but not relying primarily on mail voting), prior to 2020 Republicans fared better with mail voters than with those voting by other means.
All Americans should embrace the notion of open access to voting by mail, along with the many other advances in encouraging increased participation in the democratic process. With a proven record of increasing turnout and allowing voters a safe and secure way to participate in the electoral process, the partisan bent of these votes will be determined by how invested each party is in utilizing and promoting it. Republicans would be wrong to seek to limit it.