Intervention to Encourage Voting by Mail Worked, Researchers Say

January 19, 2021 by Dan McCue
Primary election ballots are processed at the Chester County Voter Services office in West Chester, Pa. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

Pennsylvania voters who received a postcard encouraging them to vote by mail in the state’s June 2 primary were more likely to request a ballot and successfully cast it than voters who did not receive the reminder, a University of Pennsylvania study found.

Pennsylvania was one of several states that moved its primary due to the onset of the coronavirus pandemic last spring.

Election officials had originally planned to participate in a kind of northeast Super Tuesday, with voters heading to the polls along with their counterparts in Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, New York and Rhode Island.

Pennsylvania then joined several other states in moving its primary to June 2.

About two weeks before the new date, University of Pennsylvania researchers were joined by Philadelphia officials in randomly sending 46,960 of 935,745 registered voters a postcard encouraging them to vote by mail.

Researchers Daniel J. Hopkins, Marc Meredith, Anjali Chainani, Nathaniel Olin, and Tiffany Tse said registered voters who received the postcard were 3% more likely than those who didn’t to successfully cast their ballot.

According to a separate study, “Reconsidering lost votes by mail,” the share of ballots cast by mail increased six-fold over prior elections in several states holding elections between April and June 2020.

“While increased access to mail ballots has helped protect voting rights, there are also concerns that their increased use could disenfranchise voters,” the authors of the new study wrote.

They noted that a mail ballot may be less likely to count than a ballot cast in person for multiple reasons:

1) Mail ballots may not be received in time;

2) mail ballots may have higher rates of clerical errors; and

3) the process of casting an in-person ballot may identify and rectify errors.

“The share of mail ballots affected by these issues likely increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. Partly, that is because people who would typically cast an in-person ballot are more likely to cast a problematic mail ballot than those experienced with voting by mail,” the authors said. “Also, election officials are more likely to face issues distributing and tabulating mail ballots when there is an upsurge in mail ballots.”

They also noted that, as this was the first statewide federal election held since Pennsylvania adopted universal access to mail ballots, information about how to apply was particularly likely to increase awareness of voting by mail.

The research built on a 2019 study of the city of Philadelphia in which voters were sent multiple postcards over several months.

That study found that sending a registered voter a prefilled postcard substantially increased the rate at which registrants requested mail ballots.

The new study codified those results, finding that 35% of the increased voting by mail came from substitution by people who would have otherwise voted in person.

While Pennsylvania state law specifies that mail ballots must be received by Election Day, issues with mail ballot distribution and large-scale protests following George Floyd’s death led Pennsylvania’s governor to order that ballots postmarked by Election Day be counted if received within a week of Election Day.

“The postcards conveyed information about the May 26 deadline to request a mail ballot and included a message either encouraging voters to request a ballot because ‘[i]t’s safer for you to vote by mail!’ or ‘[i]t’s safer for [neighborhood] to vote by mail!”

Among other things the team looked at was whether mail in balloting skewed the voting population to one race or another. Ultimately, they concluded it did not.

“We do not see substantively meaningful differences between respondents by imputed race,” the authors wrote.

“In Philadelphia’s June primary, encouraging voting by mail increased recorded votes by mail. Under certain conditions, mail ballots can certainly increase the use of the franchise. However, the procedures for counting mail ballots condition their ability to enfranchise.

“Mail ballots are at greater risk than ballots cast in person to be not counted because of clerical errors or procedural violations,” the authors said. “For example, in Pennsylvania’s Nov. 2020 election, thousands of mail ballots were not counted because they were not enclosed in secrecy envelopes, a provision not enforced in the primary. Also, it is plausible that primary voters were more knowledgeable about vote-by-mail options and that a similar information campaign in a highly salient general election could produce larger effects. In such conditions, political parties may well intervene to assist voters in navigating this process, too.”

“In the run-up to the 2020 elections, officials made substantial efforts through multiple media to educate voters about voting by mail. Our results provide an estimate of the impact of one such effort and may inform future efforts,” the authors said.

In The News

Health

Voting

2020 Elections

AP Interview: Disinformation Concerns Mail Voting Expert
Elections
AP Interview: Disinformation Concerns Mail Voting Expert

ATLANTA (AP) — Amber McReynolds, CEO of The National Vote at Home Institute, helped state and local election officials prepare for the record number of mailed ballots cast during last year's presidential election. She also was recently confirmed by the Senate to serve on the Board... Read More

'I'm Still Exhaling': Swing-state Voters on Biden's 100 Days
In The States
'I'm Still Exhaling': Swing-state Voters on Biden's 100 Days

ELM GROVE, Wis. (AP) — Standing on the sidelines of her son's soccer practice in this upscale suburb, Laura Hahn looked skyward for answers when asked how she would rate President Joe Biden's first 100 days in office.  Overall, Biden is doing well, she said after... Read More

Guess What? The 2020 Election Is Now Officially Over
Political News
Guess What? The 2020 Election Is Now Officially Over
March 31, 2021
by Dan McCue

Democrat Rita Hart threw in the towel Wednesday afternoon, giving up her bid to represent Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District, and effectively ending the 2020 election cycle. Hart, who had been challenging the outcome of the race before the Committee on House Administration, said in a brief... Read More

Fox News Slapped With $1.6 Billion Lawsuit Over 2020 Election Claims
Litigation
Fox News Slapped With $1.6 Billion Lawsuit Over 2020 Election Claims
March 26, 2021
by Dan McCue

Dominion Voting Systems on Friday filed a $1.6 billion defamation lawsuit against Fox News, arguing the cable news company sought to boost faltering ratings by falsely claiming the voting machine company had rigged the 2020 election.  The company, which is headquartered in Toronto, Canada and Denver,... Read More

Southern States Made It Harder to Vote in 2020
2020 Elections
Southern States Made It Harder to Vote in 2020
March 19, 2021
by Dan McCue

MONTGOMERY, Ala. - Election systems in the Deep South in 2020 suffered from numerous shortcomings, making it harder for many voters -- particularly those from communities of color -- to safely cast their ballots, states a new analysis by the Southern Poverty Law Center. The report... Read More

Supreme Court Rejects Final Trump Bid to Reverse 2020 Election
Supreme Court
Supreme Court Rejects Final Trump Bid to Reverse 2020 Election
March 8, 2021
by Dan McCue

WASHINGTON - The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday rejected a bid by former President Donald Trump to nullify his election loss in Wisconsin, rejecting the last remaining appeal seeking to overturn Joe Biden’s victory. In an unsigned order, the justices declined to take up Trump’s lawsuit... Read More

News From The Well
scroll top