The 2020 U.S. election saw high turnout, a huge increase in absentee voting, and brought unified national Democratic control—yet, contrary to much punditry, these facts do not imply that vote-by-mail increased turnout or had major partisan effects. In fact, states newly implementing no-excuse absentee voting for 2020 did not see dramatically larger increases in turnout than states that did not. Focusing on natural experiments in Texas and Indiana, we find that 65-year-olds turned out at nearly the same rate as 64-year-olds, despite voting absentee at higher rates since they didn’t have to provide an excuse to do so. Being old enough to vote no-excuse absentee did not substantially increase Democratic turnout relative to Republican turnout, either. In sum, no-excuse absentee voting seems to have mobilized few voters and had a muted partisan effect despite the historic pandemic. Voter interest appears to be far more important in driving turnout.