Session 11: Postal Voting

Friday, July 29 1:15 PM-2:45 PM

Chair: Dr. Eric Heberlig, University of North Carolina at Charlotte

Paper #1: Access to voting and participation: Does limiting mail-in ballot dropbox locations in Ohio suppress voter turnout?

Many states saw a dramatic increase in absentee voting during the 2020 general election, especially via designated drop boxes. This increase was in part due to COVID-19, but also because of various reforms designed to improve voter access. The increase in absentee voting initiated a debate on convenience versus security among supporters and opponents, respectively, of the use of ballot drop boxes. To evaluate the effect of expanding drop box availability, it is necessary to understand the potential value a proximate drop box can provide to voters. This paper presents an empirical analysis using a first-difference-geographic-discontinuity-design to examine the effects of differences in drop box accessibility (haversine distance, travel time, and auto driving distance) on voting outcomes in Ohio. Ohio presents a unique opportunity to study the different effects from drop box accessibility on voter turnouts due to its one-county-one-drop-box policy in the 2020 general election. We find that greater drop box accessibility (drive 3.5 minutes less, or 12.3 km less, or travel 14.9 km less) results in a 3.9 to 5.2 percent increase in voter turnout in the 2020 general election relative to the 2016 voter turnout. Our results suggest important policy implications, especially for certain groups, such as people with mobility constraints and disabilities, women, and low-income and minority populations, whose participation may be suppressed.

  • Jiehong Lou, University of Maryland, College Park
  • Deb A. Niemeier, University of Maryland, College Park
  • Dana Rowangould, University of Vermont
  • Alex Karner, The University of Texas

Paper #2: Assessing the Impact of United States Postal System and Election Administration on Mail Voting in the 2008 to 2020 U.S. Midterm and Presidential Elections

During the coronavirus pandemic and 2020 presidential election, mail voting became an even more important way of voting. Several studies (Burden et al. 2014, 2017; Ritter and Tolbert 2021) have established that the impact of mail voting is shaped by the presence of other election laws and broader features of a state’s election administration. However, no study has attempted to theoretically or methodologically incorporate variations in U.S. Postal System administration performance into assessments of mail voting’s impact on voter turnout. In this study, intra- and inter-state variations in postal system administration performance are incorporated into the accessible voting theoretical framework (Ritter and Tolbert 2021), with expectations that state linked U.S. mailing districts and zip codes with on average faster delivery times for first-class mail will have individuals who are more likely to vote by mail, to have higher turnout levels attributable to mail voting, and have narrower turnout differences linked to mail voting between non-Hispanic whites and racial minorities as well as higher and lower socio-economic class citizens. These hypotheses are evaluated using logistic regression along with 2014 to 2020 Catalist as well as 2008 to 2020 Oregon state voter file data. Ultimately, this study demonstrates that states with on average more accessible postal as well as election administrations are more likely to have higher voter turnout levels as well as lower levels of voting inequality linked to mail voting.

  • Michael Ritter, Washington State University

Paper #3: Voting by Mail and Turnout

Does voting by mail increase voter turnout? We propose re-conceptualizing the conventional understanding of “convenience voting,” shifting the focus from temporality (that is, voting prior to Election Day) to modality (that is, voting by mail rather than casting an in-person ballot). In doing so, we jettison binary categories of election administration to measure the availability of convenience voting in a state, relying instead on the actual use of mail ballots in a state.

  • Daniel Smith, University of Florida
  • Enrijeta Shino, University of Florida
  • Michael McDonald, University of Florida
  • Juliana Mucci, University of Florida

Paper #4: Who Cures Ballots: Evidence from North Carolina’s 2020 General Election

Some states specify a ballot curing process through which a voter can correct a problem on a mail ballot that would cause the ballot to be rejected. We theorize that there are three key elements of a ballot curing process that affect whether an eligible voter ultimately casts a ballot that counts. First, how elections officials inform voters about their problematic mail ballots. Second, the extent to which elections officials inform stakeholders who engage in voter outreach about problematic mail ballots. Third, the mechanisms put into place so that voters can correct the error without having to cast a new ballot. We highlight the importance of all three elements in the ballot curing process used by North Carolina in the 2020 general election. In this election, about 82 percent of the roughly 26,000 voters who submitted a mail ballot eligible for a cure ultimately cast a ballot that counted. About 39 percent of these counted ballots were cast in person. Having the mail ballot sent to the registration address and initially returning the mail ballot long before Election Day were two of the most important predictors that someone eligible for a cure ultimately cast a ballot that counted.

  • Marc Meredith, University of Pennsylvania
  • Lucy Kronenberg, University of Pennsylvania