The 2020 U.S. election saw a record turnout, saw a huge increase in absentee voting, and brought unified national Democratic control—yet these facts alone do not imply that vote-by-mail increased turnout or benefited Democrats. Using new microdata on millions of individual voters and aggregated turnout data across all 50 states, this paper offers a causal analysis of the impact of absentee vote-by-mail during the COVID-19 (coronavirus disease 2019) pandemic. Focusing on natural experiments in Texas and Indiana, we find that 65-year-olds voted at nearly the same rate as 64-year-olds, despite the fact that only 65-year-olds could vote absentee without an excuse. Being just old enough to vote no-excuse absentee did not substantially increase Democratic turnout relative to Republican turnout. Voter interest appeared to be more important in driving turnout across vote modes, neutralizing the electoral impact of Democrats voting by mail at higher rates during the historic pandemic.
After the 2020 US presidential election Donald Trump refused to concede, alleging widespread and unparalleled voter fraud. Trump’s supporters deployed several statistical claims that supposedly demonstrated that Joe Biden’s electoral victory in some …
A commonly expressed concern about vote-by-mail in the United States is that mail-in ballots are sent to dead people, stolen by bad actors, and counted as fraudulent votes. To evaluate how often this occurs in practice, we study the state of Washington, which sends every registered voter a mail-in ballot. We link counted ballots and adminis- trative death records to estimate the rate at which dead people’s mail-in ballots are improperly counted as valid votes, using birth dates from online obituaries to address false positives. Among roughly 4.5 million distinct voters in Washington state between 2011 and 2018, we estimate that there are 14 deceased individuals whose ballots might have been cast suspiciously long after their death, representing 0.0003% of voters. Even these few cases may reflect two individuals with the same name and birth date, or clerical errors, rather than fraud. After exploring the robustness of our findings to weaker conditions for matching names, we conclude that it seems extraordinarily rare for dead people’s ballots to be counted as votes in Washington’s universal vote-by-mail system.
In response to COVID-19, many scholars and policy makers are urging the United States to expand voting-by-mail programs to safeguard the electoral process, but there are concerns that such a policy could favor one party over the other. We estimate the effects of universal vote-by-mail, a policy under which every voter is mailed a ballot in advance of the election, on partisan election outcomes. We find that universal vote-by-mail does not affect either party’s share of turnout or either party’s vote share. These conclusions support the conventional wisdom of election administration experts and contradict many popular claims in the media. Our results imply that the partisan outcomes of vote-by-mail elections closely resemble in-person elections, at least in normal times.
An increasing number of states have adopted laws that require voters to show photo identification to vote. We show that the differential deterrent effect of strict ID laws on turnout, the differential effect of the laws on those without valid ID, persists even after the laws are repealed. To assess the persistent effect of ID laws on turnout we leverage administrative data from North Carolina and a photo ID law that was in effect for a primary election, but not the subsequent general election. Our results suggest that photo ID laws’ differential deterrent effect persists because voters lack information about the changing requirements for voting, creating confusion that deters turnout.
Widespread concern that voter identification laws suppress turnout among racial and ethnic minorities has made empirical evaluations of these laws crucial. But problems with administrative records and survey data impede such evaluations. We replicate and extend Hajnal, Lajevardi, and Nielson’s 2017 article, which concludes that voter ID laws decrease turnout among minorities, using validated turnout data from five national surveys conducted between 2006 and 2014. We show that the results of their article are a product of data inaccuracies, the presented evidence does not support the stated conclusion, and alternative model specifications produce highly variable results. When errors are corrected, one can recover positive, negative, or null estimates of the effect of voter ID laws on turnout, precluding firm conclusions. We highlight more general problems with available data for research on election administration, and we identify more appropriate data sources for research on state voting laws’ effects.