Why has President Trump relentlessly attacked the opportunities of Americans to vote by mail? Putting aside his baseless claims about voter fraud, efforts to curtail registered voters from casting a ballot prior to Election Day could, in fact, limit more knowledgeable voters from turning out to vote in November.

Why has President Trump relentlessly attacked the opportunities of Americans to vote by mail? Putting aside his baseless claims about voter fraud, efforts to curtail registered
voters from casting a ballot prior to Election Day could, in fact, limit more knowledgeable voters from turning out to vote in November.

Well before the COVID-19 pandemic made it public health necessity, a growing number of
states had been expanding ways for registered voters to cast ballots prior to Election Day, either in person or by mail. Drawing on five Cooperative Congressional Election Study (CCES) pre- and post-election national surveys, as well as an original survey of registered voters in Florida, Enrijeta Shino and I find in our new article, “Political Knowledge and Convenience Voting,” in Elections, Public Opinion & Parties, that more politically knowledgeable voters are significantly more likely to cast their ballots before Election Day.

Why might more knowledgeable voters be willing to cast their ballot early? Won’t they possibly miss the unearthing of a scandalous 11th hour event that could tip their decision to support a different party or candidate? We argue that such last-minute information—no matter how salacious—does not alter the electoral sensibilities of voters who have higher levels of political knowledge. We argue that prospective voters who have a command over basic facts about government institutions and political actors—what are known as “static-general” facts—are more willing to take advantage of “convenience” voting opportunities, casting their ballot days, or even weeks, prior to Election Day. In short, having a greater facility of the players and the “rules of the game” affects both when and how voters decide to vote, even after controlling for standard socio-economic, political, and campaign factors, as well as a respondent’s partisanship, ideology, and political engagement and awareness.

We find that those who possess less political knowledge, as well as Republicans, are much more likely to hold off to cast their ballot on Election Day. If voters with less political knowledge across the American states are less likely to vote early—particularly by mail—is it any wonder the President has made voting-by-mail Public Enemy #1?

OK, there’s been a tremendous amount written on voter registration trends, by party, in Florida. It’s all wrong. Here’s why.

I’ve published quite a bit on the topic, served as an expert witness in dozens of successful lawsuits, and know these files inside and out.

Here are the facts, using proper voter files (i.e., contemporaneous), comparing Jan-July 2016 registration numbers with Jan-July 2020 voter registration numbers, comparing apples to apples.

To look at new registrations (that is, how the parties and groups are doing on the ground), you cannot merely use the Florida Division of Elections summary files to figure this out, as I explained four years ago, here.

OK, here are the numbers. Comparable voter registration, as of July 1, 2020, was down by a total of 136,392 registrants. And Democrats and Republicans both account for 32.1% of new registrants over the first six months of the year.

New Registrations by Party, January-June, 2016 vs. January-June 2020

Dem Rep NPA 3rd Total
Jan-June 2016 152,320 131,059 149,090 10,273 442,742
34.4% 29.6% 33.7% 2.3% 100.0%
Jan-June 2020 98,439 98,472 99,879 9,560 306,350
32.1% 32.1% 32.6% 3.1% 100.0%
Difference (2020-2016) -53,881 -32,587 -49,211 -713 -136,392
-2.3% 2.5% -1.1% 0.8%

 

So, cut these numbers as you will, but by no means can it be said that Democrats are killing it out there.  In fact, a total of 33 more Republicans registered to vote anew between January 1 and June 30 (and remained registered as of June 30) than newly registered Democrats.

COVID-19 is obviously the major reason why Democratic numbers are down, as nonpartisan groups who usually hit the ground are not as active, SOEs who usually are in the schools preregistering young voters had no classrooms to go to in April or May, etc.  We’ve seen this pattern before, in 2011, after the Republican legislature passed HB 1355, which, among other things, cracked down on voter registration efforts by 3PVROs, as Michael Herron and I have written about before.

Perhaps Democrats and their allies will turn it around before the October registration date. Young voters who register immediately before an election in Florida are more likely to turn out in that proximate election, as Enrijeta Shino and I find, but their turnout levels aren’t sustained in subsequent elections, casting some doubt on the habitualization of voting.

But until we get some book closing numbers, the data are what they are. Republicans, as a proportion of new registrants in Florida, are doing better than they did four years ago over the first six months of the presidential election year.

Interested in Vote-by-Mail? Two papers on rejected VBM ballots in Florida & Georgia, as referenced in @NYTimes https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/25/us/vote-by-mail-coronavirus.html are available here:

“Voting by Mail and Ballot Rejection: Lessons from Florida for Elections in the Age of the Coronavirus”

“Voting by Mail in a VENMO World: Assessing Rejected Absentee Ballots in Georgia”

 

Voting by Mail and Ballot Rejection: Lessons from Florida for Elections in the Age of the Coronavirus

New paper by Anna Baringer, Michael C. Herron, and Daniel A. Smith, available here.

Abstract
The coronavirus and its concomitant need for social distancing have increased the attractiveness of voting by mail (VBM). VBM voting is nonetheless not a panacea for election administration in the time of a pandemic, and this is because a widespread move to this form of voting risks exacerbating existing inequities in mail-in ballot rejection rates across voters and jurisdictions. This motivates our examination of over 8.2 million ballots cast in the 2018 General Election in Florida, including 2.6 million VBM ballots, of which approximately 1.2 percent were rejected by local election officials. We theorize as to why rejected VBM ballots might be linked to individual voter characteristics and to election official discretion, offer a battery of descriptive statistics detailing rejected ballots in Florida’s 2018 election, and provide results from a selection
model that analyzes all of the state’s voters in 2018. We find that younger voters and voters needing assistance are disproportionately likely to have their VBM ballots rejected. We also find disproportionately high rejection rates for out-of-state and military dependents. Lastly, we find significant variation in the rejection rates of VBM ballots cast across Florida’s 67 counties,  suggesting a non-uniformity in the way local election officials verify these ballots. As interest in VBM swells in light of the coronavirus, protecting the rights of all voters requires understanding why some voters’ mail ballots are rejected—diminishing their ability to participate in electoral politics—and how this might be rectified.