Universal vote-by-mail has no impact on partisan turnout or vote share

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2020 Jun 23;117(25):14052-14056. doi: 10.1073/pnas.2007249117. Epub 2020 Jun 9.


In response to coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), many scholars and policy makers are urging the United States to expand voting-by-mail programs to safeguard the electoral process. What are the effects of vote-by-mail? In this paper, we provide a comprehensive design-based analysis of the effect of universal vote-by-mail-a policy under which every voter is mailed a ballot in advance of the election-on electoral outcomes. We collect data from 1996 to 2018 on all three US states that implemented universal vote-by-mail in a staggered fashion across counties, allowing us to use a difference-in-differences design at the county level to estimate causal effects. We find that 1) universal vote-by-mail does not appear to affect either party's share of turnout, 2) universal vote-by-mail does not appear to increase either party's vote share, and 3) universal vote-by-mail modestly increases overall average turnout rates, in line with previous estimates. All three conclusions support the conventional wisdom of election administration experts and contradict many popular claims in the media.

Keywords: COVID-19; elections; partisanship; vote-by-mail.