Changes to Mail Voting Rules Could Impact Midterm Election Results in Multiple States
With the midterm election less than a week away, MAP is wrapping up our state spotlight series and focusing on changes to mail voting rules across the states that will impact voters on November 8. For detailed information on the laws and policies discussed here, please visit Democracy Maps.
Voters: If you have not already cast your ballot, you should make a plan to vote and verify your registration status. Vote411.com has information and links to verify registration, learn about early voting options, research candidates and more. If you have any questions, you should contact your local election official. You can find contact information for your local election official through the US Vote Foundation.
Heading into the midterms next week, voters in a number of states are casting their mail ballots under a different set of rules than in 2020. Particularly in the battleground states of Florida, Georgia and Nevada, these changes to mail voting policies have the potential to swing election results. The 2020 election was unprecedented in many ways. Held during a global pandemic, voting behavior changed dramatically, and voting by mail was utilized more widely than ever before, enabling a record voter turnout. However, election deniers latched onto these changes, falsely claiming they enabled large-scale election fraud.
In part because mail voting is more widely used by Democratic voters (Democrats were twice as likely to vote by mail), Republican-led state legislatures across the country used made-up conspiracies to justify new restrictions on mail voting and ballot drop boxes. Meanwhile, states that embraced the mail voting changes saw record voter turnout.
Ideally, American democracy should embrace any change to our election system that allows more eligible citizens to vote. In fact, studies have shown that while mail voting increases voter turnout, there is no partisan advantage in such an increase. Additionally, mail ballots have traditionally been widely used by Republican voters in Florida. In reality, voters in many states are left confused and disenfranchised as voting options change, drop boxes are removed, and ballots are discarded due to small clerical errors such as a voter not properly dating the ballot.
State of Democracy Spotlight Series: Florida
This spotlight provides an overview of Florida’s current voting landscape, key issues that are coming up in the state, and more.
Mail Voting Has Been Falsely Attacked by Election Deniers and Partisan Politicians
A record 43% of voters chose to vote by mail in the 2020 election, more than double the 21% who voted by mail in 2016. This increase also contributed to the historically high overall turnout: over 158 million Americans cast ballots in 2020. However, rather than embracing increased voter participation, mail voting has become highly politicized.
Banned or Removed Ballot Drop Boxes
In the 34 states that allow ballot drop boxes, voters have a secure, additional way for voters to return their mail ballots.
In the 2020 election, 41% of voters who utilized mail ballots reported returning their ballot to a drop box. However, in the midst of the misinformation surrounding the 2020 election, many Republican politicians fabricated non-existence claims about election fraud. Then those politicians falsely portrayed drop boxes as contributing to the false claims of voter fraud. And then those politicians went further to use all these false claims to adopt restrictions and bans on this secure and widely used method of returning ballots.
Since 2020, drop boxes have been banned entirely in Missouri and Wisconsin. In addition, Florida, Georgia, and Iowa also passed new restrictions on drop boxes, limiting their location and availability. In 2022, ten states entirely ban drop boxes and four place unnecessary restrictions on them.
Making it harder to return a ballot will not only negatively impact voter turnout — in the battleground states of Florida, Georgia, and Wisconsin, it could also swing election results.
According to reporting by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, less than half the number of voters in the Atlanta metro area returned their ballots using drop boxes in the state’s primary, compared to 2020.
Analysis by NPR revealed that the restrictions resulted in a longer travel time to a drop box for almost 2 million Georgia voters, again primarily in the metro Atlanta area, which leans more heavily Democratic and has a high percentage of Black voters. The number of drop boxes in the four metro Atlanta counties was cut by 75% — from 100 drop boxes in 2020 to just 25 drop boxes in the 2022 midterms.
In Wisconsin, more than 500 drop boxes were in use during the 2020 election, and over 2 million voters cast their ballots by mail. The margin of the presidential race in Wisconsin was just over 20,000 votes.
Three States Implement Restrictive ID Requirements for Mail Voting to Further Suppress Voter Participation
Additionally, three states added restrictive ID requirements for absentee and mail voting: Florida, Georgia, and Texas. Republican politicians in these states again used the false claims of voter fraud to further limit opportunities for voter participation. This is despite data from the conservative Heritage Foundation showing no correlation between ID restrictions and voter fraud.
State of Democracy Spotlight Series: Georgia
This spotlight provides an overview of the current voting landscape in Georgia, as well as key issues that are coming up in the state.
Voters in Florida, Georgia, and Texas will be subject to new ID requirements for mail voting in 2022. These laws require voters to provide their driver’s license or Social Security number on their mail ballot application and mail ballot envelope, which must match the ID used to register to vote. This greatly increases the chance of a voter’s ballot being rejected through no fault of their own.
In the primary election in Texas this year, 12,000 absentee ballot applications and more than 24,000 mail ballots were rejected, leading to a 12% rejection rate statewide, a large increase from previous years. Analysis by the Brennan Center also found that these rejections particularly impacted voters of color in the state. Especially in the battleground states of Florida and Georgia, these restrictions have the potential to swing election results; the margin of the 2020 presidential race in Georgia was just 12,000 votes.
Court Decisions Result in Voter Confusion and Likely Voter Disenfranchisement
In addition to changes made by legislatures, court decisions are also impacting rules for mail voting and leading to potential voter confusion and disenfranchisement.
In Pennsylvania, the state supreme court ruled this week that mail ballots that are undated or have an incorrect date on the ballot envelope cannot be counted. This late ruling raises the likelihood of voter confusion and potential disenfranchisement due to minor errors. Pennsylvania voters can ensure their mail-in ballots are properly dated by reviewing this guidance.
State of Democracy Spotlight Series: Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania is state to watch in November, with a Senate seat, the governorship, and control of the state legislature up for grabs.
Also this week, in Wisconsin, two state courts refused to order that absentee ballots with incomplete witness addresses should be counted. Wisconsin is one of only six states that require voters to obtain the signature of a witness before returning their absentee ballot.
A review by the state’s legislative audit bureau of a sample of ballots following the 2020 election found that 7% of those ballots had incomplete witness addresses. Wisconsin voters cast roughly 2 million absentee ballots in the 2020 election; a rejection rate of 7% would have implicated 140,000 ballots, far more than the election margin of just over 20,000 votes.
These key court decisions in the battleground states of Pennsylvania and Wisconsin have the potential to swing election results and even control of the U.S. Senate.
Three States Moved to All-Mail Elections
With many states going in the wrong direction of attacking and limiting mail voting, three additional states moved to conduct all-mail elections, where every eligible voter is mailed a ballot without having to request one. (Eight states in total conduct all-mail elections.)
This year for the first time, eligible voters in California, Nevada, and Vermont will be proactively sent mail ballots under newly adopted all-mail systems. According to one of the first peer reviewed studies looking at voting methods during the 2020 election, states that mailed a ballot to every registered voter saw voter turnout increase by an average of 5.6%. In a state like Nevada, which Biden won by just over 30,000 votes in 2020, a 5.6% increased voter turnout totals more than 76,000 votes, which is significant enough to make the difference between which presidential candidate wins or loses.