Policy Impacts

Vote-by-Mail is Not a Partisan Issue

April 29, 2020

Amid the COVID-19 outbreak, Congress and state legislatures are working to ensure that America’s citizens are safe through measures such as social distancing, while also wrestling with plans to rescue an economy in crisis. While there is an urgent desire to get back to normal, there is one important issue that will affect millions of Americans and has yet to be adequately addressed: the 2020 election season.

Free and fair elections are at risk because of the pandemic. Many states still have upcoming presidential and state primaries that are scheduled between now and September, culminating in November’s general election. Due to the public health risks of voting in person, some states have delayed elections, some states are beginning to adopt new policies to allow vote-by-mail and the implementation of ballot drop-off locations, some states have taken no action, and one state — Wisconsin — took uncoordinated and inadequate action.

Crippled by hyper-partisanship, the Wisconsin primary election carried on with no delay and no time to take effective measures to ensure each citizen’s ability to safely participate. Milwaukee — which usually has 180 polling places — had only five polling places open on Election Day, and Green Bay only had two, causing dangerous crowding in some of Wisconsin’s most populated cities. Thousands of people crowded into polling sites, waiting in line (sometimes in the rain!) for over two and half hours, only to find that the polling station had run out of disinfectant. Still thousands of others stayed home and did not vote, as they weighed the risk to their health as being too high. Even those who had planned to participate through mail-in ballots were affected; some ballots did not arrive in time for voters to complete and return. As of April 27th, 36 voters and poll workers have tested positive for COVID-19 in Wisconsin after the April 7th primary, and the number is expected to grow.

Allowing for alternative methods to vote ensures that citizens do not have to put their health at risk to carry out their civic duties. Such methods can keep both voters and democracy safe.

The largest obstacle to expanding sensible vote-by-mail infrastructure in states is the idea that it favors one party over the other. As it turns out, this is far from the case.

A recent study by Stanford University examines data from a number of past elections and concludes that, while it successfully increases voter turnout, there is no significant advantage to either party when vote-by-mail is expanded. The study has grabbed the attention of many publications across the political spectrum and has been cited by various news outlets. Here’s what a few of them had to say:

  • The Economist’s “Two myths — America should prepare now for voting by mail in November’s election” argues that “The president’s interventions have turned something that should be uncontroversial into yet another excuse for partisan warfare. America has a presidential election this year. It also has thousands of congressional, state, county and mayoral elections. As the country with the most recorded cases of covid-19, it needs to start planning in case voters cannot get to polling stations. There is only one practical way to hold elections under these circumstances: to expand the use of voting by mail.”
  • The Washington Post wrote in their article “Universal vote-by-mail doesn’t benefit any political party, study finds, that “partisan opposition to vote-by-mail over electoral concerns is a standpoint with no basis in empirical reality.
  • Independent Voter News — the largest network on nonpartisan reform — published an article titled, “New Study Concludes Neutral Partisan Effects of Vote at Home” which also cited the Stanford study, stating, “The study’s findings should ultimately increase our confidence in vote at home systems, especially given that the data and design spans 22 years of elections.” They also find that there is overwhelming bipartisan support among Americans for expanding vote-by-mail infrastructure: “…72 percent of voters, including 79 percent of Democrats and 65 percent of Republicans, support a requirement for mail-in ballots as a way to protect voters from the continued spread of the coronavirus.”

The Economist, Independent Voter News, and The Washington Post can all agree that expanding vote-by-mail infrastructure is unlikely to benefit any particular party and is the best way to ensure resilient elections during a global pandemic.

To be clear, the Stanford study is certainly not the only one of its kind to come to this conclusion. Other, smaller studies in the past have been conducted and drawn similar conclusions; however, this study is unique in size and scale. What the Stanford study provides us with is a greater confidence that vote-by-mail does not favor either political party.

This is why, at MAP, we see vote-by-mail as the best way forward, and we encourage legislators to expand vote-by-mail in their states. To champion and catalyze this national effort, MAP launched the P.E.E.R. Project: Partnering to Ensure Election Resiliency. Through deep engagement with over 100 young legislators in our Future Caucus Network, we developed a set of strategies for policymakers to mitigate public health risks while ensuring election resiliency. The strategies encourage a suite of options like vote-by-mail, drop-off locations, and early-voting; they also include measures to enhance ballot security and reduce fraud.

While measures have been taken to protect American citizens and the economy, our democratic institutions remain at risk. With the strategies outlined by the P.E.E.R. Project — supported by academia and media sources across the political spectrum — now is the time for constituents and legislators to champion them and protect our democracy.

Rep. Sara Jacobs


Be a part of a network of lawmakers committed to governing effectively, passing more representative public policy, and increasing public trust in democracy.