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Who Votes by Mail?

There is little reason to believe that mail ballots would uniformly help Democrats in November.

Last Updated: April 14, 2020
Published: April 15, 2020
Who Votes by Mail?
Robyn Beck/Getty

In the past few weeks, Pres­id­ent Donald Trump and other Repub­lic­ans, such as Geor­gi­a’s speaker of the House, have argued that expand­ing vote-by-mail options for the Novem­ber elec­tion would unfairly bene­fit Demo­crats. This percep­tion was compoun­ded by the Wiscon­sin GOP, which resisted easing restric­tions on mail ballot­ing in advance of the state’s April 7 elec­tion. At the same time, a number of Repub­lican offi­cials and politi­cians  includ­ing the Repub­lican governor of Nebraska  have argued that voting by mail poses no partisan threat.

To test this claim, we analyzed voter-file data from the seven battle­ground states where any voter who chose to vote by mail in 2016 could do so: Arizona, Flor­ida, Geor­gia, Minnesota, North Caro­lina, Ohio, and Wiscon­sin.  foot­note1_id3f4kf 1 Data for Flor­ida, Geor­gia, and North Caro­lina come from the registered voter file and absentee data made avail­able by each state’s Board of Elec­tions. The data for Arizona, Minnesota, Ohio, and Wiscon­sin come from data vendor L2 Polit­ical.  Each of these states had no-excuse absentee voting in 2016.  foot­note2_ininhso 2 L2 Polit­ical does not break out in-person absentee voting from mail absentee voting in Minnesota and Wiscon­sin; the estim­ates for these states include both types of absentee ballots. The same is true for Mari­copa and Pima Counties in Arizona.

Our analysis of these seven states makes clear that there is little reason to believe that mail voting would uniformly help Demo­crats in Novem­ber. A report from the Pew Research Center found that voters over 65 and white voters suppor­ted Donald Trump over Hillary Clin­ton at the highest rates. Mail voting was used more frequently by older voters in the seven states we examined.  foot­note3_a24y6ny 3 The young­est voters used the option slightly more than middle-aged voters in North Caro­lina and Geor­gia, but this was not the case in the other states.  Addi­tion­ally, in each state we stud­ied, at least two-thirds of all mail ballots were cast by white voters. White voters had the highest rates of voting by mail in three of the seven states and the second highest rate in another three. Latino voters used mail options less than white voters in each of the swing states. In the outlier state, Ohio, all racial/ethnic groups but Lati­nos cast mail ballots at about the same rate. There, white voters used mail ballots two percent­age points less often than Black voters, who had the highest usage rate.

In the table below, we show the share of parti­cipants who used vote by mail, broken out by age and race/ethni­city.  foot­note4_8i9j0nc 4 Race/ethni­city come from self-repor­ted data in Flor­ida, Geor­gia, and North Caro­lina, and from L2 Polit­ical estim­ates in Arizona, Minnesota, Ohio, and Wiscon­sin.

End Notes