Some of the counties that had high ballot return rates were ones that Trump carried in 2016 and 2020, but where Biden was able to cut into his margins. In Pike county in north-east Pennsylvania, for example, voters returned at least 93% of the mail-in ballots they requested. Trump carried the county in 2016 by about 26 percentage points. In 2020, Trump carried the county by just 19 points.
Jay Tucker, the chair of the Pike county Democratic committee, said there was “no question” mail-in balloting helped improve Democrats’ performance this year. He said he and other organizers were able to closely track who had requested a ballot and regularly followed up with those who hadn’t returned a ballot.
“We worked our ass off on that,” Tucker said. “One of the biggest mistakes that Trump made in this election was not backing mail-in voting. Because I think a lot more people came out.”
In Michigan, one of the places that swung hardest towards Democrats was Kent county, 凯发官网网址多少home to Grand Rapids. Trump won the county by four points in 2016, but Biden carried it by six points this year. Eighty per cent of the people who requested mail-in ballots returned them, something that contributed to Democrats doing well there, said Gary Stark, the chairman of the county Democratic party.
“I think that the absentee voting was a factor in the higher turnout. I think a number of new voters did use absentee ballots or mail-in ballots this time. No way to prove that, but that would be my gut assumption,” he said.
‘Don’t trust the mailbox’: varying views on mail-in ballots
America saw the highest turnout in a presidential election since the turn of the 20th century. Nearly 160 million people – about 67% of those eligible – cast a ballot this year. And Michael McDonald, a professor at the University of Florida who closely tracks voter turnout, said there were signs that states that expanded vote by mail contributed more to the higher turnout than those that did not, though he cautioned he was still analyzing voter data.
But the repeated Republican attacks on the process appears to have shaken some voters’ faith in the process.
Deadlines for returning absentee ballots flipped back and forth as lawsuits made their way through the courts. There were hundreds of election-related cases brought in state and federal courts this year. The US supreme court declined to lift restrictions on also faced severe hurdles to voting by mail – postal service on reservations can be unreliable and the nearest post office might be hours away.
‘Habit-forming’: expanded access could be here to stay
The success of mail-in voting this year could mean that more people will vote by mail in the future, Bonier said. That could mean more election infrastructure that supports the sending and counting of these ballots – a process that caused some of the biggest legal fights of the election.
“Historically, generally when people vote by mail once, they do it again. It is habit-forming,” he said. “What we’ll see in terms of the trend line is this election represented a massive spike in interest in mail voting, and some of that will recede, but we’ll settle at a point where far more people in this country will vote by mail in future elections than did prior to 2020.”
In Georgia, for example, people who voted by mail in the 2018 midterm election were far more likely to vote by mail again in 2020, according to a Guardian analysis of data from the Georgia secretary of state. Of those who voted in both elections, about 78% of people who cast mail ballots in 2018 did so again in 2020. Just 34% of in-person voters in 2018 voted by mail in 2020.
Still, if states will continue to embrace the dramatic expansion of mail-in voting after a record turnout election. Republicans in Georgia, as well as Lindsey Graham, the South Carolina senator, have already suggested revisiting the rules around mail-in voting. Such an approach would fit in with a well-documented Republican strategy of trying to make it harder to vote to preserve the party’s power.
“I think we could see some rolling back. It would be hard to justify that given how high turnout was, and the goal should be higher participation,” Bonier said. “But just given the polarization we’ve seen specifically on this issue of mail voting, it’s unreasonable to assume there won’t be at least some efforts to restrict mail voting in future elections.”