Vote-by-Mail Policy and the 2020 Presidential Election
27 Pages Posted: 19 Apr 2021 Last revised: 16 Sep 2021
Date Written: August 4, 2021
Mail voting became unusually controversial in the 2020 presidential election. Many observers, including President Trump, believed that more accessible vote by mail would encourage higher turnout at the expense of Republicans. We examine the effect of mail ballot access policies in the 2020 pandemic election with county-level data and a difference-in-differences design. Our results suggest that making it easier to vote by mail—especially mailing every voter a ballot—generally does increase turnout, both before and during the 2020 election. By contrast, the same policies do not produce more Democratic outcomes; in many models they tilt the results in a more Republican direction. While some of our findings are sensitive to model specification, the positive turnout effect of mailing every voter a ballot is robust to many alternative approaches.
Keywords: elections, election reform, vote-by-mail, turnout, 2020 election
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