We know that all the Republican warnings about voter fraud are false alarms used to make it harder for people to vote. Study after study and report after report show that voters almost never cast illegal ballots and that the rare instances of voter fraud have never flipped an election.
In our discussion of South Dakota’s unconstitutional 30-day voter-residency requirement that has arisen from the Republican election-fraud myth, the ravings of one right-wing myth-peddler got me thinking about cost and benefit. It seems that rather than complicating the entire election system with residency investigations, voter ID requirements, and other bureaucracy and restrictions that sap election officials’ resources and deter voter participation, we should simply make sure more people come vote. One person casting a bogus ballot will be rendered less impactful by getting a hundred more people to cast their legitimate ballots.
And one of the best ways to get more people to vote is to send every voter a ballot. So say multiple studies on universal vote-by-mail (UVM) cited in Zachary Roth’s latest report on elections:
Under UVM, election officials simply mail ballots to directly everyone on the voter rolls, almost literally putting a ballot in voters’ hands. Voters can return their ballot either through the mail or by leaving it in a secure ballot dropbox.
A 2022 paper by Eric McGhee and Jennifer Paluch of the Public Policy Institute of California and Mindy Romero of the University of Southern California found that UVM increased turnout among registered voters by 5.6 percentage points in the 2020 election — what the authors called “a substantial and robust positive effect.”
A 2018 paper by the data firm Pantheon Analytics, which works for Democrats and progressive groups, compared Utah counties that used UVM with those that didn’t, and found that the system boosted turnout by 5-7 percentage points among registered voters.
And a forthcoming paper by Michael Ritter of Washington State University, to be published in the November 2023 edition of the Election Law Journal, looks at various mail voting systems over the last decade and finds that UVM led to an 8-point increase in registered voter turnout.
By and large, states that use UVM appear to see higher voting rates than those that don’t. The National Vote at Home Institute research paper found that eight of the 11 states that used UVM in 2020 were in the top 15 states for turnout of active registered voters. And none of those eight were battleground states, which tend to see higher turnout.
Two other states using UVM for the first time in 2020 ranked first and second on improved turnout compared to 2016 — Hawaii, which saw a 14% jump, and Utah, which saw an 11% jump.
The paper also found that UVM has a particularly large impact on turnout rates for young voters, Black and Latino voters, who tend to vote at lower rates than average [Zachary Roth, “States That Send a Mail Ballot to Every Voter Really Do Increase Turnout, Scholars Find,” Missouri Independent, 2023.10.09].
Every election is a sample of the people’s will. The bigger the sample—the more people who cast ballots—the more likely it is that the election results reflect the people’s will. If a secretary of state or county auditor wants to increase the reliability of America’s already really reliable elections, every stamp she might put on a letter to some out-of-state election official asking, “Is this voter on our rolls still actively voting in your state?” would do more to enhance election reliability if she put it on an official ballot and mailed it to a voter.
Don’t want a tiny handful of fraudsters rigging your elections? (A) Don’t elect Republicans to run your elections, and (B) turn out the masses to vote!