on Sept. 28, 2020. It also used 2018 mail-in ballot data from the Election Assistance Commission'sElection Administration and Voting Survey
(released in 2019) to rank the states and Washington D.C. based on how likely the state's voters are to vote by mail in the 2020 election. States are ranked according to percent of people likely to vote by mail, then by percent of people “very likely” to vote by mail, and exact ties are notated as such. Each slide also breaks down the likelihood of voting by mail by political ideology and age group when available. Finally, every slide also contains data about how many of the state’s ballots were cast by mail in 2018.
California, Vermont, and Washington D.C. will be mailing ballots to every registered voter for the first time. They join Colorado, Hawaii, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon, Utah, Vermont, and Washington, states where registered voters either regularly receive ballots in the mail or did for the first time in primary elections earlier this year. These nine states and D.C. account for approximately 51 million registered voters who can expect to receive a ballot in the mail.
In nine states—Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Iowa, Ohio, Massachusetts, Maryland, New Mexico, and Wisconsin—registered voters will automatically receive an application to vote by mail. If they complete the application and send it in by a certain deadline, their ballots will show up in their mailboxes.
In 35 states, voters can request an absentee ballot. In some of those states, they can cite the coronavirus as the reason for requesting the mail-in ballot; in others, no reason is required. In 25 states voters need to request an application themselves. Some states put absentee voting rules into place only to have them overturned by judges, leading to confusion among voters. In a handful of states, COVID-19-related reasons for absentee voting are narrow.
In Mississippi, absentee ballots can now be requested if a voter is “under a physician-imposed quarantine” or if a voter is “caring for a dependent who is under a physician-imposed quarantine, due to COVID-19” in addition to the traditional reasons.
Louisiana was recently ordered by a federal judge to reinstate the pandemic voting plans used in the summer elections; Louisianans can now request a COVID-19 emergency ballot application if they suspect they have coronavirus or are isolating; if they are in high-risk groups; or if they are caring for someone who is isolating.
Although a Tennessee State Supreme Court ruled that general concern about COVID-19 is not a valid excuse to request an absentee ballot, voters are allowed to request a ballot if “they have underlying medical or health conditions which in their determination render them more susceptible to contracting COVID-19 or at greater risk should they contract it” and for caregivers of people with underlying conditions. No doctor’s note is required.
And while South Carolina recently instituted a new “State of Emergency” reason allowing voters to apply for an absentee ballot, as of Oct. 5 voters will need a witness signature on absentee return envelopes, per a Supreme Court ruling that restores the witness signature requirement that was previously removed out of concern it added a risk of coronavirus transmission. However, ballots received by Oct. 7 without a signature must still be counted, the Court said.
In June, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected Texas Democrats’ argument that voters concerned about contracting the coronavirus while voting in-person should be allowed to vote by mail. As of Oct. 5, only the traditional reasons may be applied to voting by mail. Indiana has a longer list of reasons voters may request absentee ballots, but it does not include health reasons around COVID-19—either having pre-existing conditions or general anxiety of contracting it.
Those five states—Indiana, Louisiana, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas—are the only in the nation that (as of Oct. 5) will not allow voters who are concerned about coronavirus exposure to vote by mail. But rules can still change before Election Day; be sure to consult your local elections office for the most up-to-date information.
Concerns over COVID-19 and the overall expansion of voting by mail has experts projecting record turnouts. Voters in Arizona, Michigan, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin have already requested more ballots than pre-Election Day votes cast in all of 2016, according to a CNN survey. Voting by mail was already becoming more popular in previous years: 2018 mail-in ballot data from the Election Assistance Commission's Election Administration and Voting Survey shows the percentage of by-mail voters increased from 22% of all participants in the 2012 election to 25.9% in 2018.
This year, the millions of ballots flowing through the mail caused uncertainty that the United States Postal Service would be able to handle the huge influx in ballots. In July and August 2020 the USPS notified 46 states and D.C. that it could not guarantee delivery of all ballots in time to be counted. After public outcry, Postmaster General Louis DeJoy promised to halt the cost-cutting measures “to avoid even the appearance of any impact on election mail.”
A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal found that voting by mail does not favor one party over the other. “The partisan outcomes of vote-by-mail elections closely resemble in-person elections, at least in normal times,” the authors of the study wrote. 2020 is not normal times, however.
While previous elections held by mail-in voting may have garnered the same partisan outcomes of voting in person, this election cycle has seen the legitimacy of voting by mail become politicized, with President Trump repeatedly claiming it to be fraudulent, despite little to no evidence to support those claims.
A Pew Research study from September found that 74% of Republicans say that collecting votes through mail-in ballots is a problem—43% think it’s a “major problem” and 31% think it’s a “minor problem.” Of voters who identify as Democrats, only 11% think it’s a “major problem” and 23% a “minor problem.” This partisan divide has been exacerbated but existed before 2020. In the Election Assistance Commission's Election Administration and Voting Survey from 2018, out of all 130,504 survey respondents, about 50% were likely to vote by mail in 2020 and 50% were not likely to vote by mail. 70% of Democrat respondents said they were likely to vote by mail, but only 28% of Republican respondents said they were likely to vote by mail.
After months of encouraging voters to vote by mail in order to practice social distancing and minimize coronavirus transmission, some Democratic advocates are changing tactics in light of Trump’s battle over mail-in voting. The Associated Press reports on the hundreds of voting-related lawsuits coming from Trump’s campaign, the Republican National Party, and Republican groups filed at the state, city, and county level over voting rules and procedures.
Many of the lawsuits revolve around mail and absentee voting and take issue with a diverse array of practices like the deadlines for counting mail-in ballots; the number and location of ballot drop boxes; witness requirements for absentee ballots; early in-person voting time frames; expansions to mail-in voting; and practices around sending registered voters absentee ballots or ballot request forms. Cases include the GOP and Trump campaign suing Montana over its universal vote-by-mail plans, suing Iowa election officials over ballot applications, and suing New Jersey over extending the time it has to count ballots received after Election Day and sending ballots to registered voters.
There are no examples of broad voter fraud in previous elections held by mail. But with all the uncertainties making headlines, more voters may show up to vote in-person on Election Day than expected, potentially plunging voting locations into the long lines and crowding many wanted to avoid in the first place. And while people crowding indoors is cause to worry about COVID-19 transmission, if lines are kept outside and mask wearing and distancing are enforced, voting in person can potentially be as safe as going to the grocery store. “I think if carefully done, according to the guidelines, there’s no reason I can see why that’d not be the case,” said Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, about voting in-person. Still, mail-in ballots are already shattering records in some states, signaling an unprecedented appetite by the American public to vote without the risk of leaving their homes.
Read on to see how likely voters in your state are to vote by mail.
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